It was a shock for Saturday Night Live viewers to tune into the December 19 episode and see... nobody. Well, Tom Hanks was there, backing up fellow five-time host Paul Rudd, along with former cast member Tina Fey and current players Michael Che and Kenan Thompson. Thanks to the Omicron surge cresting just when the New York-based late-night institution was preparing to send 2021 off with the undeserved gift of a star-studded, Rudd-hosted holiday episode, it was NBC that decided to yank its long-running comedy cash cow into the barn and shut things down until this latest COVID mutation had wreaked its contagious chaos.
That was the revelation SNL star Kenan Thompson shared on Thursday’s Tonight Show, currently one of only two late-night talk shows currently operating after both Late Night’s Seth Meyers and The Late Late Show’s James Corden cancelled shows this week after testing positive. (Both are vaccinated and boosted, and apparently doing okay.) “The show must go on,” is how Thompson explained his presence in an eerily deserted Studio 8H on Rudd’s big night. And while some may quibble with the glorified clip show SNL soldiered through after the pandemic bug-out (and the idea that “the show must go on” in the face of a highly contagious disease outbreak), it only makes sense that longest-serving cast member Thompson would hold down the fort.
“Represent for the cast, baby,” Thompson told Fallon, gamely, even as Fallon revealed that his own intended participation in Rudd’s scaled-back Five Timers Club celebration was scuttled when he—you guessed it—tested positive for COVID in the same week. Thompson also revealed that he was “asked to stay” for the Rudd episode along with Che, lending comic credence to Che’s on-air joke about just why he and Kenan were the only cast members called on to remain at Rockefeller Center that night.
Thompson also said that it was NBC’s call (and not producer Lorne Michaels’) to make the unprecedented step of sending everyone else home, and that that call came on Saturday itself, leaving the 30 Rockefeller Center stages echoing with the ghosts of hastily abandoned sketches. “He’ll get his get-back,” Thompson promised of everybody’s-favorite Rudd, while teasing that Rudd is now the only member of the Four-And-A-Half Timers Club.
Kenan, who is once more nominated for an Emmy for Saturday Night Live (and his Michaels-produced sitcom, Kenan), also addressed the inevitably viral tweet from recent celebrity guest Dionne Warwick back in September. Noting that the iconic singer and late-in-life Twitter star’s tweet suggesting that both Michaels and Thompson would have to sign off on her eventual appearance alongside Warwick impersonator Ego Nwodim is a case of how “Black people migrate towards each other,” Kenan dutifully waved away any suggestion that he, despite being in the midst of his 19th season, is actually the one making the booking decisions. Thompson also confirmed (or at least stated optimistically) that SNL will return on January 15, with host Ariana DeBose and musical guest Roddy Ricch.