Lizzo’s meteoric rise is one of pop music’s more well-earned success stories. By 2019, the longtime Houstonian had spent the first half decade of her career mostly as an underground act. But with the release of her third album, Cuz I Love You, she emerged into pop stardom fully formed. She spent the rest of that year nigh ubiquitous; “Truth Hurts” sat atop the Hot 100 chart for seven weeks, she made her film debuts as a voice actor (UglyDolls) and a costar (Hustlers), and appeared on Saturday Night Live as the show’s musical guest. She was also omnipresent on social media, especially Instagram and TikTok, where she displayed her enthusiasm for two of her favorite activities: twerking and playing the flute. It appeared that the pandemic had slowed her down, but it turned out Lizzo was simply putting together the next steps in her plan. Her reality competition show, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, debuted on Amazon last month. She announced the follow-up to Cuz I Love You, released the album’s first single (a funky, up-tempo bop called, appropriately, “About Damn Time”), and returned to SNL—this time, as both musical guest and host. We’ve long known that Lizzo could sing, of course, and she’s established herself as a dynamic screen and stage presence over the past several years. But hosting SNL is a tall order, and not everyone who does it succeeds, which prompts the question: Is Lizzo funny? Let’s investigate.
Lizzo’s persona is joyful, relatable, and unpretentious, but it’s not exactly funny. On social media and onstage, she shares silly memes and rarely takes herself seriously, but being charming isn’t the same thing as making us laugh.
She’s been funnier in interviews, where she has someone to play off of. In an appearance on the Daily Show in 2019, she’s thoughtful, introspective, and insightful, engaging sincerely with host Trevor Noah’s questions. He clearly comes from a place of respect and admiration—which doesn’t give Lizzo much to work with. She’s at her funniest when she interacts with the audience, hamming it up in her reactions and flirting with Noah to wild applause. An interview with the decidedly stodgier British talk show host Jonathan Ross gave her more opportunity. When Ross described twerking as “annoying,” Lizzo defused what looked to be an offensive line of questioning by explaining the cultural history of twerking with good humor and physical comedy. Should she have to react that way to the question? No. But she can, which gives us our first insight into the question of whether Lizzo is funny: she can be, when the situation calls for it.
During her SNL monologue, Lizzo noted that fans likely know her sillier side and mentioned that she can be serious too (she pointed to her 2021 TED Talk, which expands on the history of twerking she referenced in her interview on Ross’s show). The monologue didn’t have much in the way of jokes, though, which may have spoken to the SNL writers’ estimation of her ability to deliver them. Mostly, she was just charming in the way we already know Lizzo is charming.
Once the sketches started, Lizzo alternated between playing silly and playing straight in an iffy night of comedy. First, she played a game show contestant in a regular sketch starring SNL cast member Kenan Thompson that tends to be a layup for most hosts. Thompson is an all-star straight man, and Lizzo acquits herself well throughout. It’s the sort of sketch that SNL seems to keep in its pocket for any first-time host. It didn’t draw much on Lizzo’s talents, but was funny enough to open the episode.
Lizzo was more fun to watch in the sketches that were written specifically for her. She brings out the best from her fellow performers in one in the back half of the episode in which she plays a flutist auditioning for a symphony orchestra, something that could exist only for and with Lizzo. In another of the episode’s better moments—an extremely meta prerecorded digital short—she plays herself preparing to host Saturday Night Live, but suffering from writer’s block as she attempts to write the songs for the night’s musical performance. Here, Lizzo was at her funniest of the night, with better comedic timing when she wasn’t performing live, perhaps because of a directorial hand and the option for multiple takes. If Lizzo weren’t funny, the sketch would have been built around getting her to do a silly song with goofy costumes, but the short didn’t need to rely on that. The music gags were relegated to just the final thirty seconds, which makes this the strongest piece of evidence in Lizzo’s favor on the question “Is she funny?”
Other sketches were more mixed. When Lizzo was cast in the role of the straight character, she struggled to keep from laughing, as in a bit in which she and Aidy Bryant played a pair of record executives in a recording session with the Black Eyed Peas in 2008. She mostly spends the scene being enthusiastic and encouraging, at one point rapping Fergie’s “Boom Boom Pow” verse and cracking herself up. In a sketch about a song from a decade and a half ago, it’s tough for anybody to be particularly funny in (talk about two thousand and late!), and this ultimately didn’t ask much of her. In another, built around an old Six Flags ad, pretty much nobody is funny—but that’s just part of hosting SNL, and we can’t really hold that against Lizzo.
Mostly, Lizzo seemed like she had a good time hosting a bad episode of Saturday Night Live, with a few funny moments mixed in. She broke character in almost every sketch, which Lorne Michaels probably hated, but given the night’s weak material, it was at least a sign of life, and an example of the sort of relatable charm that’s been part of Lizzo’s persona since she broke into the mainstream three years ago. So is Lizzo funny? She’s funnier than a lot of musicians who’ve hosted the show (Justin Bieber . . .), with good comedic timing and a proficiency with physical comedy. She’s also effortlessly watchable, which means that we’re inclined to laugh even when her material isn’t great. Being funny isn’t necessarily the first thing on her mind when there’s a camera on her, as in her interview with Noah. She hasn’t yet had the sort of moment onscreen where she proves that she could have a side gig in comedy (SNL did not offer her a Justin Timberlake “D— in a Box” moment), but if she ends up in a supporting role in, say, a Judd Apatow movie, we’ll watch.