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Brendan Gleeson’s ‘SNL’ Monologue Was So Utterly Delightful

For the past few seasons of Saturday Night Live, I generally tune out the introductory segments because yeesh, they’re awkward. The cold opens are rarely funny, let alone poignant in any way, and are usually just stand-ins for broad political statements that you could probably find on Minion Mom Facebook. And then the monologues, oh, Christ, those monologues. We get it, writers, The Celebrity is in a thing and it’s customary to promote that thing, but let them have a little personality, for god’s sake!

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I’m so used to seeing those poor hosts being left to flounder on stage, at the whims of whatever the writers cook up for them, and the whims of their own lack of a stage presence. We live in an age of ads, lads, and everything just feels like a carefully-curated publicity stunt. It almost feels dumb to complain about it because that’s just the way it is.

But then, this past Saturday, Brendan Gleeson got onstage and reminded us of how things used to be:

Now, I didn’t grow up watching a whole lot of late-night TV, but when I was younger (and in an “I’m gonna be an artist” phase), I used to watch old talk-show interviews while I painted. The kind of “routine” that Gleeson is doing here used to be incredibly common back in the day: the guest would converse and play along on their terms, showing off the particular charms and quirks that made them successful in the first place.

One of my favorite examples is of Prince playing for Maria Bartiromo (before she became a Fox newsie):

This sort of live performance is so rare nowadays, especially on a format as sterilized as SNL’s. So seeing Gleeson really do his own thing and charm us on his own terms was just utterly delightful, to the point where I’d consider it to be the highlight of the episode.

You can tell that joking around on his own isn’t his strong suit, so he does what any good performer does and angles his shtick over to what he is good at: storytelling. And the ol’ talk-and-play is such a fantastic method of telling stories (all you have to do is listen to Pete Seeger LPs to know what I mean), but in the modern spirit of fast-paced ad placement, it’s become somewhat outmoded.

And what a horrible shame, because you can tell everyone is enraptured by what he’s doing. Who wouldn’t be? A man as renowned and experienced in the art of storytelling and theater as Brendan Gleeson, he could charm the bite out of a bear.

Now, it’s not like hosts haven’t tried to spice things up a bit and add some music to their monologues–for instance, Timmy Chalamet played piano for his Christmas monologue in 2020. And sure, it was a little awkward, since we mid-twenty-somethings are still in the process of finding our strides. But it was still 100% more charming and fun to watch than other monologues in the season, since playing music and telling stories seems to bring something very anciently human out of us. A “Beowulf-instinct,” if you will.

Where Gleeson really brought it home is in his mastery and comfortability of his craft, which translated beautifully in his monologue. I doubt we’ll see more performances of that sort on major television down the line (“late night is dead” and so forth), but I’m still appreciative that he reminded us of how magical those sorts of performances can be. Maybe it’s time to hit up Shakespeare in the Park again…

(Featured Image: SNL/NBC)

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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).