While the hiring and swift firing of Shane Gillis stole most of the headlines leading into SNL’s 45th season, the investment in Bowen Yang– whose very ethnicity and sexuality were the targets of Gillis’ slurs in his stand-up routines– is the best thing about the show.
Loveeeeee that irony.
Yang is SNL‘s first Chinese-American cast member and only its third openly g ay man. (If you think about it, these are pretty depressing stats for a long-running show that has cemented itself as a cultural institution). And undoubtedly, Yang’s presence has changed the game.
From his star turn as China’s “trade daddy” to his role as a demented SoulCycle instructor Flint (“like the water”), here are Yang’s best roles so far.
1. Chen Biao the tariff expert
In only his second episode on the show, Yang was given his breakout moment: a chance to debut a character on Weekend Update.
Yang portrayed Chinese tariff expert Chen Biao as a flamboyant dude who is living for this trade war with the U.S.– and especially for the attention, it brings him.
He threatens “Don-Don” about picking a fight with “Big Red” and notes, “this trade war is tit for tat, baby. And in China, we got some tiggggg ol’ bitties.”
2. Flint the SoulCycle instructor
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As a SoulCycle instructor auditioning for a full-time spot, Flint tells the riders “what he’s about.” This turns into increasingly outrageous about how Lincoln died– “poor guy”– and how Flint would have stopped the assassination.
But, he explains, “I wasn’t. WILL YOU BE?!” A perfect parody of the “inspirational” stuff that plasters the company’s walls and is spouted by its instructors.
In a sharp, funny moment later in the sketch– and a possible reference to Gillis– Yang’s instructor says,
“I Googled racism, and guess what? It bummed me out. And then I Googled ‘gay racism’ and that was even worse.”
Flint says he flushed his computer down the toilet after that one.
3. Male Exotic Dancer
Chance was giggling all night in his (incredible) outing as a host and musical guest. In this sketch, Chance starred as a judge who determined guilt based solely on his first impressions of the plaintiffs and defendants.
But even with surprise guest Jason Momoa sporting earrings on his nips, and bungling a line, calling himself a “paraplegic” instead of “paralegal,” Yang’s male dancer is the only one who gets Chance to laugh. And he doesn’t even need to say a word.
4. E-sports athlete
In this sketch, Chance brings back his entirely out-of-water sports commentator Lazlo Holmes to a League of Legends World Championship tournament.
Yang’s nerdy gamer shocks the reporter by being able to pull a crowd of adoring girls backstage with him. After moments of stunned silence, Laz declares, “What I saw was so unexpected my mind went to Tom-Hanks-in-Saving Private Ryan– mode.”
5. Earth, Wind and Fire backup dancer
Yang got into a lot of sketches with Chance– one of the most recent episodes — so it seems like SNL is already catching on to his talent.
And while this one mainly relied on 17th-year cast member Kenan Thompson’s dance instructor/ secret werewolf yelling, “THE MOON! THE DRAPES!” while pulling down three very complicated sets of drapes to block its light, Yang scores laughs here as a dancer catching onto the secret, remarking, “He has some kind of beef with the moon!”
Hired as a writer in 2018, Yang also wrote or co-wrote some of that season’s best sketches, including “Cheques” starring Sandra Oh (who Yang calls his inspiration) and Emma Stone’s “The Actress,” about a female porn star finding the essence of her throwaway character.
He also starred that year as Kim Jong Un in a sketch with Sandra Oh, perhaps foreshadowing his upcoming tenure. Here’s to years of more Yang!