The Emotional Satire of Straight Male Friend on SNL

The sketch show’s latest spoof of emotionally distant men had a surprising amount of heart.

Kyle Dubiel/NBC

Super Bowl winners once went to Disney World to celebrate their victories, but Saturday night live has occasionally offered another option. Last night, Kansas City Chiefs tight end and two-time Super Bowl champion Travis Kelce joined quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, both of whom hosted the sketch show shortly after winning the big game. Kelce’s supreme athletic presence, a rarity on the SNL stage, gave the show an opportunity to examine masculinity from multiple angles, also with a surprisingly emotional tenor.

In the pre-taped commercial spoof Straight Male Friend, Bowen Yang played a gay man who is overwhelmed by the financial and emotional demands of his friendships with straight women. He touted the relief he had felt at being friends with a straight man played with sincerity by Kelce. Yang praised this form of “low-effort, low-stakes relationship that requires no emotional commitment, no financial investment and, apart from the occasional video game-related outburst, no drama.”

On the surface, the ad appeared to be another onslaught of men – similar to recent sketches such as the infantilizing “Old Enough! Longtime Friends!” and the bitter “Big Penis Therapy”. But “Straight Male Friend,” which Yang co-wrote with Streeter Seidell and Alex English, captured the isolating norms that contribute to toxic masculinity with a seriousness that amplified its comedic beats. At one point, Kelce mentioned that his father “died last week,” which caused shocked concern from Yang. But Kelce brushed off the difficult experience and later apologized for “being a pussy” about it.

Thanks to Kelce’s sincere, almost affectionate way of playing the straight male friend who seemed enveloped in his own flat, affectless world, and the warmth Yang and his writing team brought to the sketch, “Straight Male Friend” found a more poignant one Ways to satirize straight men — including the social conditions that can make it difficult for them to develop and maintain meaningful friendships. Despite the parodic framework, the sketch seriously portrayed the life of Kelce’s character and made clearer the consequences of the isolation and emotional limitations that society places on men.

SNL has been making frequent jokes about straight men lately, often in a mocking tone. “Old Enough! Longtime Friends!” was a fake American spin-off of the hit Japanese reality show Old enough!, which follows toddlers as they run errands on their own; The update decided to shadow “an equally helpless group”. By equating men with children, the sketch – in which male actors (Mikey Day, Kenan Thompson) played their grown men wide-eyed and helpless – took on a surreal, over-the-top quality. Similarly, last year’s commercial spoof “Man Park” promoted recreational facilities similar to dog parks for straight men who need male friends; In it, girlfriends and wives watched with relief as their partners hopped around like canines. As the narrator put it, “It’s not her fault that masculinity makes intimacy so difficult.”

Another recent skit, “Big Penis Therapy,” took a perceptive look at the damage that unaddressed men’s problems can cause. A woman (Amy Schumer) convinced her “toxic” partner Glenn (Andrew Dismukes) to seek therapy, explaining that it was for men with large penises. Making emotional vulnerability more palatable to Glenn had an effect that was both youthful and effective: although many of Glenn’s male colleagues initially mocked him for going to therapy, they eventually grew jealous when he showed off the toy badge he later earned six months. If therapy can’t unilaterally solve the problem of angry young men, the sketch goes, that’s at least a start — but getting more men to tap into this resource remains a significant hurdle. (According to a CDC survey, women in the U.S. are more likely than men to seek treatment for mental health issues.) “Heteromale Friend” implied this, closing with a slogan explaining that these types of men are found everywhere… except therapy. The difference between what felt satirical and what just felt true gave way SNL‘s latest sketch on the subject with a difference.

A misstep last night underscored the no-nonsense but effective approach that “Straight Male Friend” took. “Garrett From Hinge” used a completely unfocused premise to explore a different breed of straight male—an angry one. Yang played a Hinge user who was fired at the last minute and looked like a “sucka”. He tracked down the woman he was supposed to be dating (Heidi Gardner) and the man she dumped him for (Kelce) and broke into their apartment demanding answers. Taking turns that felt increasingly bizarre, Garrett repeatedly excused himself into the bathroom, where he told himself he wasn’t going to kill her. The sketch reached a point about Cringe Men and Garrett’s potential for violence, but it felt vague and underdeveloped. If “Straight Male Friend” was a sort of preview of what men need, “Garrett From Hinge” uncomfortably revealed the dark turn things can take when they don’t get it. Although both sketches caricatured the same subject, Yang showed an important possibility with the former: the deeper humor that comes from infusing a comedic perspective with a bit of heart.

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