If your reaction to a headline about Colin Jost possibly leaving SNL is, “but who will play Pete Buttigieg?” then I cannot help you. (I don’t know, Jason Bateman? There, I tried.) If you want to ponder what that might mean for Jost’s future and the future of the SNL Weekend Update desk, well, hello.
According to Variety, a proof of Jost’s new memoir, the hilariously titled, “A Very Punchable Face,” indicates that the 15-year show staffer (and current co-head writer and co-anchor of Weekend Update) may be looking for an exit after helping the show through what is sure to be a… let’s say eventful election cycle. The reason is to pursue new things. It’s at this time that I want to highlight Variety’s caveat that Jost’s exit is “neither certain nor imminent.” So there is no “no backsies” written into the book, basically.
Your opinion on Jost’s tenure behind the Update desk may vary, but he’s been a foundational piece of the show for a long time so it’s bound to shake things up if he leaves. For one thing, Jost’s exit removes the most prominent behind-the-scenes creative force in the show’s universe that might, someday, become the heir to Lorne Michaels’ executive producer role. Which… Lorne Michaels is going to live and work on SNL forever, or until he cracks a good Three Amigos 2 idea, so there’s probably no need to even speculate about someone ever replacing him. But still, there’s a minor bit of palace intrigue that comes attached to thoughts about Jost leaving.
The second thought is, of course, Update. Would they go all-in on Michael Che as the solo option? Pair him with an existing cast member or new recruit? Change things up entirely? The segment is an institution in and of itself and when its equilibrium is off, so too is the show’s, so a post-Jost Update desk would be a major question. Again, like him or loathe him, he fills a role.
As for what Jost would do post-SNL, that’s anyone’s guess. The book is an obvious effort to better define his personality away from his job and he has, in recent years, tried to put himself more out there. The Wrestlemania appearance, he’s got some kind of role in an upcoming Tom And Jerry movie. And let’s not forget his 2015 film, Staten Island Summer, that he wrote, pulling on nostalgia threads from his Staten Island youth.
For all the praise the show receives as a wellspring of talent, it also acts as a great fooler when it comes to our perception of what someone is capable of. It pulls so fully on people’s time, sucking seemingly every bit of creativity out of them to fuel this massive machine, giving us a very specific look at the kind of work that they can do. And then they go off and they create stuff like Barry (Bill Hader) or Shrill (Aidy Bryant, who is, of course, still on the show) or they become a stand-up comic approaching comedy-God status (John Mulaney), an indie force of nature (Jenny Slate), or they revive the Saw franchise (Chris Rock, who is, of course, also a stand-up legend despite a so-so SNL run). There are several other people who have found a different and/or better path after leaving the show, as well, either capitalizing on the experience or committing to the need to redefine (Sarah Silverman, Robert Downey Jr., and so on).
It’s a thought that’s been on my mind a lot as we see Pete Davidson get ready to launch a buzzy new indie film and a stand-up special. I wouldn’t exactly say SNL isn’t for him, but it’s interesting seeing what he can do in his own space and in other projects. And having seen Pete live, I can say (freely because I didn’t sign an NDA) that that’s a space where he’s clearly very at home. So, maybe there’s something out there that’s a better fit for Jost (or a better fit for what he wants to do next).
That’s an odd thing to say when assessing someone who has been working on SNL as a writer for 1/3 of its 45-year run, particularly when they’re such a divisive figure, but, again, it’s been proven true before with other people we all thought we had a handle on. So, while people will snark about Jost’s run, it might be worth keeping an eye on him to see what he creates when he has time to breathe and explore… should he actually decide that the time is right to make a change, that is. Might be interesting, might not…