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What Is ‘Saturday Night Live’ Without the Shameless Self-Promotion?

When Saturday Night Live announced that Timothée Chalamet would be hosting on November 11, it looked like an act of optimism. Up until then, the show had dodged the Screen Actors Guild–strike rules against promotion this season by bringing on either hosts with nothing to sell (the alum Pete Davidson) or artists whose work didn’t fall under the contract in question (the musician Bad Bunny and the comedian Nate Bargatze).

But Chalamet was different. If the strike had gone on, Chalamet would’ve appeared with a chocolate-making proverbial elephant hanging out in the room. In December he has a big studio movie coming out, the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory prequel musical, Wonka, which is exactly the kind of film actors hit up SNL to shill.

Last week, however, the actors reached a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the strike officially ended on Thursday. So when Chalamet took the stage last night for his monologue, it was a celebration that doubled as a return to business as usual. He wasted no time, reminding the audience not only that they can buy tickets for Wonka, which is out December 15, but also that he can sing and twirl well enough to play the famed character from Roald Dahl’s book.

“Now the strike is over,” he began, as the twinkly sounds of the Wonka-theme “Pure Imagination” kicked in. “It’s like we’re all returning to this magical world where actors can once again talk about their projects.” As he sang, he amended the lyrics: “Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of shameless self-promotion.” He cracked jokes about the union’s battle for protections against artificial intelligence. “You know, after spending 118 days thinking about AI, it is so refreshing to be here amongst real human beings,” he said, making a woman in the audience giggle as he took a seat next to her and commented on how she smelled “great.”

For hosts on SNL, “shameless self-promotion” is usually the name of the game. An actor takes the gig to coincide with a movie premiere or an awards run. Sure, they get to show off their comic chops, but there’s a purpose behind it—a purpose that had been mostly missing from the first three episodes of the current season. To be clear, there was something almost quaint and pleasant about a run of hosts who were sort of just … there to be there (though Bad Bunny did have a new album out). Last night was a return to normalcy for SNL, and a game of catch-up. Chalamet had to both cheer on his fellow union members and launch what was essentially a marketing campaign that was a little behind schedule.

The Wonka-themed “old-timey stuff,” as defined by the cast member Marcello Hernandez, was quickly dispensed, and Chalamet continued the night signaling that he would be a younger, hipper Willy Wonka than Gene Wilder before him. With Hernandez, he launched into a furious rap about having a “baby face” that featured the chorus, “I’ve got a baby face, but my hips don’t lie / say I’m a bad kid, bitch, I’m a bad guy.”

Music was a theme of the night—but not exactly the music you’d expect from Willy Wonka. It was clear from the shift during the monologue that Chalamet is more comfortable rapping than crooning, even if the show did write him a new equine ode for a sketch dedicated to a dystopian “Giant Horse,” a follow-up to his “Tiny Horse” ballad from 2020.

Immediately, Chalamet reprised his popular character from his previous appearance on SNL, the Gen Z rap star named $mokecheddathaassgetta, a twerp with pink hair and no sense of history. The character showed up on a sketch titled “Museum of Hip-Hop Panel,” where the performance of his song “Cling Cling Cling” got him spanked by Kenan Thompson playing Cornel West. Chalamet, whose very own high-school rap about statistics has gone viral, is at ease playing the role of insolent youngster, capturing the bratty aesthetics of a clueless TikToker who thinks he can spit bars.

Later on, Chalamet swayed his hips in another sketch that defined him as a youth whisperer. He portrayed the queer pop star Troye Sivan as a “sleep demon” who infected the brain of a straight woman played by Sarah Sherman. He received squeals from the crowd as he showed off his “tiny little red undies.” It was a bit that might have been hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t familiar with Sivan’s sultry videos, but it nonetheless offered a picture of Chalamet as someone down to try trendy “choreo.”

Now that Chalamet actually can promote Wonka, he seems to be aware of the challenge he’s going to face in that role. He’s in a huge splashy movie aimed at children, based on a property that feels staid and overdone. He’s finally free to talk about it, but he has to also reassure his fanbase: Don’t worry. He’s still cool.

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