Ayo Edebiri asks Nikki Haley about the Civil War in the 'SNL' cold open

After two weeks of “Saturday Night Live” episodes featuring actors who couldn’t quite overcome the challenge of hosting the long-running series, it was time to let a comedy pro take the reins. And run it right to the winner’s circle. Recent Emmy winner for “The Bear” Ayo Edebiri proved more than capable, bringing her quick-delivery and comedic energy to nearly every sketch, even the cold open.

Edebiri got emotional in the monologue, sang in multiple sketches, and even got to be the person to confront Nikki Haley (the real Nikki Haley, appearing in the cold open) about omitting slavery when she was asked what caused the Civil War. The host was part of a filmed musical ode to the internet-sexualized “Dune 2” popcorn buckets that have a sandworm mouth on them. With Mikey Day, she portrayed one of two college students who take a hard line against microdosing. Edebiri was one of several people in relationships giving a “New York Morning” show correspondent (Bowen Yang) a hard time because they have less than idyllic meet-cute stories for Valentine’s Day. She played a contestant on a game show, “Trivia Quest,” who gets special treatment from the host (Ego Nwodim); a woman who is stuck on an elevator and wants to create a new society based on hooking up; and the victim of a horrific hairstyling who goes on “The People’s Court,” among other sketches.

Musical guest Jennifer Lopez performed “Can’t Get Enough,” with rappers Latto and Redman, and “This Is Me… Now.” Lopez didn’t appear in any sketches, but comments that Edebiri made on a podcast about her that resurfaced Friday were addressed in a game show sketch we’ll discuss shortly.

Does Haley still have a shot against Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner? The former South Carolina governor hasn’t had a chance to debate Trump in this election cycle, but she was able to confront the next best thing: James Austin Johnson. Johnson appeared as Trump in the cold open, as part of a CNN Town Hall hosted by Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) and Gayle King (Punkie Johnson).

Trump took questions from cast members in the audience about topics including Taylor Swift (“Biden has brainwashed TayTay!”) before launching into an extended conspiracy theory about her “Midnights” album. But the big surprise was Haley appearing on the show as a “concerned South Carolina voter” asking why Trump won’t debate her. Trump mistook her for Nancy Pelosi, prompting Haley to ask, “Are you doing OK, Donald? You might need a mental competency test.” Trump riffed on Haley’s name (“Nikki Haley Joel Osment, ‘Sixth Sense,’ I see dead people…”), which set Haley up for her big punchline: “That’s what people will say if they see you and Joe on the ballot.”

Haley didn’t escape unscathed: Edebiri posed the last question to her: “What would you say was the main cause of the Civil War and do you think it starts with an ‘S’ and ends with a ‘Lavery’?” Haley said sheepishly, “Yeah, I probably should have said that the first time. And live from New York, It’s Saturday Night!”

Edebiri’s monologue started with the guest host holding back tears as soon as she said, “‘SNL’ means so much to me. This really is a dream come true.” But she pressed on, her background as a stand-up comic making lines like this one shine: “I was born and raised in Boston, making me the first Black woman to ever admit that.” Edebiri said she put together a comedy packet for “Saturday Night Live” but never submitted it. She flipped through its pages, revealing ideas for a “White Jeopardy” sketch (“just white people playing ‘Jeopardy!’”) and the catchphrase that never made it to the show: “Hop on to it now!”

In the first game show sketch of the night, contestants were confronted by nasty Instagram comments they’ve made on other people’s posts. One contestant exits immediately, but a backup contestant (Chloe Fineman) is brought in to explain why she responded to a post about a New York factory explosion with a link to a bad song she wrote about Jägermeister. A misogynist contestant (Andrew Dismukes) must answer to gross comments he made on a post by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which it turns out he only made in hopes of eventually having sex with her.

But it’s Edebiri as the contestant Annie who steals the sketch by revealing the truth about why she wrote, “Die.,” after Drew Barrymore posted a video of herself enjoying some rain outside. “I meant die; I’m dying, I love this vid so much! I meant slay but I forgot the word.” It turns out she’s alone a lot and wants to ruin someone else’s happiness. The sketch was an opportunity for Edebiri to address her real-life comments about Jennifer Lopez, at least indirectly. She said it’s wrong “to run your mouth on a podcast and you don’t consider the impact because you’re 24 and stupid.” Not to fuel the flames of online gossip, but at the end of the show, Lopez and Edebiri did not appear to embrace.

Also good: Mr. Fantasmic won’t release Solomon’s mind

As great as she was throughout the show, Edebiri’s best performance of the night may have been as Solomon, an awkward student who tells a visiting hypnotist that they absolutely do not consent to being hypnotized. The confused hypnotist (Dismukes) chooses a different volunteer but Solomon keeps interrupting and threatening to call their mother and the police. The twist is that Solomon wants the attention to reveal not only that they’re bisexual but that they are great at singing, particularly the Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown song, “No Air.” It could have been a ho-hum sketch, but Edebiri’s over-the-top line readings and full-bodied spasms as Solomon elevate it to one of the best of the week.

‘Weekend Update’ winner: Sarah Sherman as Colin Jost’s son

Cast member Sarah Sherman has a history of mocking Colin Jost on “Weekend Update,” but it’s been awhile. This time, she appeared as 18-year-old C.J. Rossitano, a young man dressed just like Jost in a suit and tie. C.J. is the son of a former housekeeper who happens to live where Jost’s former housekeeper lives. The joke, of course, is that Jost is the boy’s real father and it’s punctuated with bursts of the song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The father and son share some similarities: they have similar genitalia (in the shape of a pig’s tail); Rossitano is dating an actress who’s so beautiful, “No one can figure out why she’s with me,” a dig at Jost’s marriage to Scarlett Johansson; and they both name their favorite food: cocaine.

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