Whether playing Michael Collins, a renegade garda or Paddington Bear’s personal chef, there is little Brendan Gleeson hasn’t seen or done in his decades on screen. But this year has opened a new chapter for the Irish actor, who is part of the Oscars conversation for his role in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin.
Not uncoincidentally, he is also making his debut hosting Saturday Night Live, the American TV show that is a place of pilgrimage for Hollywood stars with projects to plug or best-actor nominations on their bucket lists.
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But if Gleeson is one of our great actors, it is fair to say a future in light entertainment does not beckon. Hair slicked back, red-grey beard neatly trimmed, he’s a fuzzy fish out of water as he delivers his first SNL opening monologue.
These involve the guest host rattling through 10 minutes of one-liners, generally at his or her own expense. Gleeson is blessed with comedic timing but is not a raconteur or glad-hander. And so, while his smile remains wide, his eyes narrow into dark pinpricks as he reads from the teleprompter.
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Did he write the gags? Surely not, as they are toe-curling with bells on. “If you don’t recognise the accent, I’m Irish,” he says. “If you don’t recognise the face, I’m the fella you’ve seen in that thing you can’t remember.” Oh, God, make it stop.
It does not stop. Instead, Gleeson is handed a mandolin, whereupon he declares, “I’m not really used to telling jokes, so I’d thought I’d play a tune for you instead.”
He tiptoes through a trad piece made famous, he reveals, by Barney McKenna of The Dubliners. Rescuing him is his Banshees of Inisherin costar Colin Farrell, who arrives wearing a Super Mario moustache.
Saturday Night Live is a comedy institution in the United States, which is remarkable considering it is rarely funny and, with its signposted nongags and mugging performances, often unwatchable
They then pretend that Farrell is needy and that Gleeson is withholding his affection, which is essentially the plot of their new movie. “Slightly awkward but charming,” says Entertainment Weekly, which feels about right.
Saturday Night Live is a comedy institution in the United States, which is remarkable considering it is rarely funny and, with its signposted nongags and mugging performances, is often unwatchable. It has also dipped its toes in recreational Hibernophobia: when Saoirse Ronan guest-hosted she was required to joke about her “difficult to pronounce” name, and her sketches orbited the theme of Irish backwardness.
Worst of all is a piece that tries to lampoon the dreadful Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde. Gleeson, with beard intact, plays an oldish woman reading fan mail to Monroe. It is thuddingly unfunny, and you sense the guest star is desperate for it to end
Did Gleeson put his foot down about the “Oirish” stuff? Perhaps, as his Irishness is treated as background wrinkle rather than punchline. Not that this makes the episode any easier to sit through.
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There’s an atrocious bit in which Gleeson plays a marketing executive at the Denver tourism board dealing with a colleague wearing plastic google eyes. He’s also lumbered with a skit in which he portrays a “67-year-old Irishman” pretending to be in his final year of US high school.
Farrell returns to mess about with his old mucker Gleeson in a pointless — even by SNL standards — scene in which a photographer takes their pictures.
Worst of all is a piece that tries to lampoon the dreadful Netflix Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde yet is somehow even more excruciating than that movie. In it, Gleeson, with beard intact, plays an oldish woman reading fan mail to Monroe. It is thuddingly unfunny, and you sense that the guest star is desperate for it to end. Viewers — Irish ones at least — will know exactly how he feels.
Brendan Gleeson should be applauded for having the chutzpah to try something new. And if it pushes him along the road towards an Oscar nomination, good for him
Gleeson should be applauded for having the chutzpah to try something new. And if it pushes him along the road towards an Oscar nomination, good for him. But when he looks back on his career and its many highs and lows, Saturday Night Live is a footnote he may be happier to pretend never happened.