In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked every cast member of Saturday Night Live from worst (Robert Downey Jr.?) to best (John Belushi!). As is the case with all articles of this sort, the SNL list was designed to generate debate. (As a viewer who came to the show in the late ’80s, Phil Hartman was and always will be the GOAT in my eyes.) However, if a similar list were made today, I suspect there would be more consensus about who belongs near the bottom of the list. I refer to the most despised cast member that I can recall from more than 30 years of following SNL, Mr. Colin Jost.
There have been other SNL cast members that have antagonized a large segment of viewers — your Jim Breuers, your Jay Mohrs, your Victoria Jacksons. But nobody has been quite as disliked, while also being as central to the show, as Jost. Among the people I know who like SNL, Jost (at best) is a benign presence whose essential blandness precludes feeling one way or the other about his tenure on “Weekend Update,” or (at worst) a smug hack who relies far too often on easy, frat-dude punchlines about porno movies and penis sizes.
As for the people who already despise the show — seemingly everyone in my Twitter feed — Jost is nothing less than the epitome of white-male mediocrity, an empty vessel who is handsome (but not that handsome), smart enough (but not all that smart), and, well, passably funny (though only if you grade on a generous curve). He seems less like a comedian than a cardboard ’80s movie villain — like James Spader if he looked like a beefier Andrew McCarthy — with zero self-consciousness when it comes to bragging about how he gets his boat shoes wet at the finest beaches in the Hamptons.
Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t hate Jost, though he does reflexively bug me for reasons I hadn’t bothered to contemplate (until now). But I don’t know a single person who is a self-described Colin Jost fan. This might say more about the class of people I associate with than it says about Jost. Because Jost apparently is adored by some extremely powerful people, including Tina Fey (one of the people who hired Jost at age 22 right after he graduated from Harvard), Lorne Michaels (his greatest patron), and Scarlett Johansson (his movie-star girlfriend). Then there are the people who run the Emmys, the editors at the New Yorker, the studio that bankrolled his 2015 semi-autobiographical Adventureland rip-off Staten Island Summer, and the gatekeepers at Netflix who ensure that you can watch this, yes, thoroughly mediocre movie right now.
I think this is what ultimately is so maddening about Jost — that this guy somehow became the prince of America’s reigning comedy institution while also sleeping with one of the Avengers. For those of us who don’t get Colin Jost, however, it’s worth figuring out what they’re seeing that we’re not.
Saturday Night Live to me has always been more like a baseball team than a normal TV show. When I started watching SNL, I became a fan of the franchise as much as any individual cast member. Over the years, I’ve stuck with SNL through good seasons and bad seasons and absolutely atrocious seasons, in the same way that, say, Cubs fans have stuck with their team for decades. If you’re committed to the idea of a team, it will transcend specific lineups and the day-in, day-out vagaries that any club encounters. You keep on caring because keeping on caring is simply what you do.