Saturday Night Live‘s typical demi-decade exodus took place during its Season 47 finale this past Saturday. I know you’ve already heard about it: Anything concerning Pete Davidson—celebrity culture’s favorite BDE supplier and latest Kardashian boyfriend—is big news. Even if you don’t know why you care about him, and even if you hardly care about the show, Davidson’s departure was unmissable news.
But Pete’s exit is hardly surprising. Since shacking up with one-time SNL host Kim Kardashian in November, Davidson has appeared in just one episode, in which he killed off his fan-favorite character Chad. By fan-favorite, I also mean “only;” Davidson was known best as a Weekend Update fixture, in which he did his self-effacing stand-up as himself, not a character. A good bit, but not a show priority.
That defines most of Davidson’s tenure on the show. By his own admission, he was uncomfortable in and underskilled at sketch comedy. He was, and is, an excellent stand-up. And there are places for that on SNL, like Weekend Update. Davidson was the best part of the show’s worst segment for the majority of his run.
thigh SNL is about the ensemble, which grows bigger and bigger by the year. Davidson, whose star remained brighter than that of almost any of his 20 castmaters, drew buzz because of his off-screen pursuits more than his on-screen talent.
Davidson’s importance to the overall fabric of SNL is minimal, especially compared to his other department co-stars. I’m not talking about Kyle Mooney, who probably should have left with weirdo bestie Beck Bennett last year. I’m more so talking about Kate McKinnon, winner of two Supporting Actress Emmys during her 10-year run. McKinnon was a team player as much as she was a dominant, singular presence. She is, was, and will be remembered as the Kristen Wiig of her cohort; it’s funny to think that she and Kristen Wiig overlapped for a while.
Mostly, though, I’m talking about Aidy Bryant.
Bryant and McKinnon spent their entire tenure together, a decade that Bryant sweetly referenced in her final Weekend Update correspondent skit Saturday. “Sweet” describes Bryant, but not in a patronizing way; to reduce her to the sweet Southwesterner is to diminish the breadth of work that she did on the show. In sketches, she was as loudly ribald as she was generous. She played straight as well as she played broad and absurd. And her breaking was infection, like in this viral sketch below, where a costume assistant mistimed a cue and was caught on camera, leading Bryant to erupt into a giggle fit:
She did all this while subverting a role that was everywhere in the 2010s: the funny plus-size woman. Bryant’s figure stood out among her female co-stars ‘, but she was n’t pigeonholed as, say, the unattractive friend. She regularly Lambasted that notion and embraced sensuality, in digital shorts where she shook her booty and sketches where she played characters literally named “the Sexual Woman.” In that latter sketch, from Oscar Isaac’s March episode, the joke wasn’t that someone like Isaac was thirsting after someone like Aidy. It was that Oscar Isaac believed that this was a recurring sketch.
In “Aidy B & Cardi B,” she channeled Cardi B’s brash confidence, beginning the sketch by saying, “I think I need to be more like Cardi B,” before telling a confused Chadwick Boseman, “I’m not afraid of you , bitch.”
One of her first recurring characters when she joined the show 10 years ago was Tonkerbell, a sass-talking, crude, and hyper-sexual riff on Tinkerbell. “I have no time for being embarrassed,” she once told The Daily Beast about how it seemed so renegade for her to play these types of characters. “I just don’t give a fuck anymore. I just want to be myself, and I really can’t say I’m sorry for it. I just can’t.”
Bryant’s Hulu show Shrill, which ran three seasons, had her more open tackle body image in the workplace. It blended comedy and drama, affording an unconventional TV heroine Bryant’s trademark sensitivity and multi-dimensionality. Shrill wasn’t always satisfying, but a post-SNL career in that direction would suit both Bryant and her fans well.
But the legacy she’s leaving behind on SNL is big and unforgettable, no matter what. She could be any kind of character, perhaps more than any of her female colleagues; she was believable as a mom, a child, a sex goddess, a sexless talking head, and even a man.
I’ll most miss how she was so effortlessly funny while never mean on the show, even when mocking a celeb or public figure. It’s a tricky balance to nail snark without sneer while always seeming fully yourself—I don’t think most of the other cast members ever handled that mix so reliably. Bryant could, and it was always warm and impressive.
What I find most telling is a recent comment from featured player Sarah Sherman, in an interview with Nylon earlier this month. “I would die without her basically,” Sherman said of Bryant. “It’s a big, scary place and no one tells you anything. … She’s the one who just told me everything and helped me out.”
Sherman went on:[Aidy]’s been there for 10 years and you think about like, She’s been helping people there for 10 years. It’s 10 years of emotional labor. She she’s been my angel. ” I bet that’s true of the entire cast—and those of us who have been watching regularly the entire time.