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Melissa McCarthy took many pies in the face on Saturday Night Live to remind us good comedy is timeless

For McCarthy's induction into SNL's 5-time host club, she went all in on physical comedy.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Many, if not most, people tuned into May 13’s live coast-to-coast episode of Saturday Night Live in order to see host Melissa McCarthy’s famed Sean Spicer impersonation, which she duly delivered in a big, bold sketch that saw her making out with Alec Baldwin’s President Trump.

But the talented comedian, whose hosting gig marked her induction into SNL’s Five-Timers Club, was also out to remind the audience that her comic chops extend far beyond her now-famous impression of the White House press secretary.

McCarthy launched her hosting gig with a charming monologue in which she took a mom from the audience on a backstage tour of Studio 8H in celebration of Mother’s Day, and followed it up with a sketch in which she basically got hit with pies in the face on a loop. The sketch — which centered on a game show called “Just Desserts,” in which contestants compete to win cash and avoid getting randomly hit in the face with pies and cakes — was essentially an excuse to watch McCarthy get hit in the face over and over again with whipped cream pies, confetti, and water.

Lest you think a comedy staple that’s been around for more than a century was a boring or safe choice for McCarthy, think again: The pie sketch was a reminder that physical and sight gags are still a cathartic part of modern comedy — and a necessary break from political comedy, which has become SNL’s stock in trade under the Trump administration.

McCarthy’s pie gag appeared in between two staunchly political skits, one a cold open satirizing the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the other a homoerotic spoof of Spicer’s fraught relationship with the president. Inserting a sketch devoted solely to “pieing” added some much-needed comedic texture to the proceedings — and watching McCarthy take pie after pie to the face became a kind of Zen activity that recalled her first appearance on SNL in 2011, when she famously got up close and personal with a bottle of ranch dressing.

Whether or not you’re a fan of McCarthy’s Spicer impression — or even a fan of McCarthy herself — it’s easy to see the basic appeal of a skit that succeeds on the basis of putting its affable guest star through a little lighthearted humiliation.

And that McCarthy clearly seemed to be enjoying the hell out of it just made it that much better.

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