How Ryan Gosling Gets Away With Laughing ‘Too Much’ on SNL

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images/SNL
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images/SNL

When Ryan Gosling sat down with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show this week, the conversation inevitably turned to his experience hosting Saturday Night Live. Although the show’s fanbase has been thrilled ever since Gosling’s return was announced for this weekend, Gosling himself seems worried. “I feel like I laugh too much,” he confessed, and later added of the SNL crew, “They take it very seriously, this comedy thing.”

Gosling tried asking Fallon for advice on how to stop laughing, but they both acknowledged that he was “not the right person” to help him with this issue. Fallon, also famous for breaking in sketches, instead skipped the advice and simply comforted Gosling for being an “easy laugher” like himself. “People like Will Ferrell will attack us,” he joked. “They know we’re going to laugh and they just do something that’ll make us laugh and break.”

Although it’s been seven years now since Gosling last hosted, most SNL fans are familiar with his concerns. The writers and cast members ramped up the wackiness when he was around, and part of both episodes’ charm was that Gosling was not able to handle it with a straight face.

Case in point: “Close Encounter,” Gosling’s first-ever sketch, in which three strangers testify to the U.S. government about experiencing an alien abduction. Gosling and Cecily Strong’s characters both share their wholesome, awe-inspiring interactions with the aliens, but Kate McKinnon’s character describes a far sleazier situation. McKinnon, who absolutely dominates this sketch, was later described by writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell as an “assassin” at the height of her powers, getting everyone to break one by one without straining a muscle.

Poor Ryan Gosling didn’t stand a chance.

He flubs multiple lines from giggling, and at one point has to hide his face in his jacket just to maintain some semblance of professionalism. “He’s crying,” Strong ad-libs at this point, although nobody in the audience had any doubts over what was actually going on there. You might think Gosling would get in trouble for something like this, especially since showrunner Lorne Michaels allegedly hates it when performers break in sketches, but the whole thing went over well.

“We loved it because [Gosling] seemed to always be having fun up there,” the writers said. “He’s an adorable giggler, right?”

Gosling broke his way through most of the live sketches that episode, and did the same when he hosted again in 2017. The writers had him falling in love with a chicken, defending his girlfriend when she’s tricked into eating Pizza Hut, and playing a horny elf trying to make Santa step on him. Of course Gosling was going to break. “I have this weird disorder: when I find something funny, I laugh,” Gosling explained afterward to Jimmy Kimmel, though there was no need to defend himself. Basically everyone found Gosling’s laughter charming. His breaking was contagious, bringing in an extra energy that elevated the material and made both of his episodes a standout of their respective seasons.

The positive reaction might seem counter-intuitive, as plenty of cast members over the years have gotten heat for laughing in sketches. Fallon, for instance, had a constant habit of breaking that apparently led to fellow cast member Tracy Morgan yelling at him behind the scenes.

“That’s taking all the attention off of everybody else and putting it on you, like, ‘Oh, look at me, I’m the cute one,’” Morgan vented in a 2007 interview with The New York Post. “I told him not to do that shit in my sketches, so he never did.” Of course, this didn’t stop Fallon from breaking in what felt like hundreds of other sketches over his SNL tenure, from “More Cowbell” to “Aquarium Repairman,” to seemingly any time he played a minor role.

Fallon did manage to keep it together in a lot of sketches where he was the lead, but that hasn’t quite redeemed him among SNL fans. To those already inclined not to like him, it further demonstrated his selfishness and lack of respect towards his castmates. The fact that he could stay professional when he was the lead, or when Morgan was involved, implied that he was indeed capable of keeping things together in those other sketches as well—he just chose not to. When he wasn’t in the spotlight, the theory went, he was less concerned over whether the sketch succeeded.

When Fallon himself was asked about this, he insisted that there was nothing calculated or intentionally disrespectful about it. “There were tons of sketches where I didn’t laugh… we did probably 100 sketches, you remember 10 of them. I laughed at all those 10,” he said in a 2018 interview. “I was in a sketch with all these funny people, and I couldn’t hold it… Will Ferrell’s a genius, I couldn’t hold my own… I had to laugh.”

Fallon’s repeated shoutouts to Ferrell over the years do a lot to help his case, as Ferrell was particularly famous for throwing in disorienting surprises to his performance just to mess with cast members. He once switched from short shorts to a thong in “Short shorts for the USA” right before the live show, and was secretly caressing Fallon’s leg in the Jacuzzi-centric sketch “The Love-ahs with Barbara and Dave.

SNL writer John Mulaney would pull similar tricks during Bill Hader’s “Weekend Update” segments as Stefon, changing lines in the cue cards at the last minute so that audiences could see Hader’s honest reactions to the jokes he was telling. It was (and is) a charming bit, although Hader’s recounting of it later on makes it sound like psychological warfare on Mulaney’s part.

“I have real bad anxiety and so I get very very nervous before I go out. I’m someone that goes over my lines kind of obsessively… and John knows this,” Hader recounted in a 2013 interview with Howard Stern. He talked about how he apologized to Lorne Michaels at one point for breaking too much during this era of the show, and how he was deeply worried about the laughter seeming disrespectful, or feeling “too inside” for the audience.

“I legitimately feel awful after that happens. If you saw me after every Stefon, I’m going like ‘fuck!’ You know, I get very mad,” Hader explained. Luckily, Michaels turned out to be cool with the breaking, at least when it came to Hader. “If what you’re saying is not funny… then I’d get mad, but what you’re saying—especially Stefon—is ridiculously funny,” Hader recalled Michaels telling him, “don't worry about it so much.” The Stefon character continued being a fan favorite, returning with much fanfare even years after Hader officially left the show.

A more divisive recurring segment, however, were the “Californians” sketches. Their entire premise was that they allowed the actors to talk in silly, intentionally terrible Californian accents that were almost impossible to pull off with a straight face. The first time this sketch aired it was an absolute joy, and the dress rehearsal version (released on YouTube a few years later) was even better, but the show just kept making more of them, with the actors breaking long after the joke had worn thin.

By the time they aired the agonizingly long “Californians” sketch in the 40th anniversary special, it was clear that the only appeal left was the actors breaking. But the breaking no longer felt organic. This was partly because it was the fifth sequel, and partly because this was the same episode where Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg sang a song about the history of breaking on SNL, including a confession that sometimes performers will intentionally laugh in an attempt to save an otherwise lackluster sketch. It’s a technique a lot of viewers had suspected of the show, but this was the first time it was acknowledged outright on SNL itself. This might’ve been a mistake—any charm that comes with breaking vanishes the second audiences suspect it’s forced, and now Sandler and Samberg had given this suspicion extra merit from that point forward.

Most sketches since then that have gone viral for the breaking, like “Lisa From Temecula” in February 2023, are initially great, but the follow-ups tend to feel utterly soulless. It was hysterical the first time Ego Nwodim made Bowen Yang burst into laughter, but when she did it again in a sequel, in almost the exact same way, Yang’s break is immediately suspect. The laugh suddenly feels calculated, deceitful. It no longer feels like a delightful accident but a desperate attempt to recapture the magic of the original sketch, a feat the writers should surely understand isn’t possible.

It’s a miracle, then, that the 2017 sequel to “Close Encounter” doesn’t feel this way, even though it had the same dynamic with Ryan Gosling breaking yet again. This sketch works because, much like with Stefon’s “Weekend Update” segments, the audience can tell they’re watching some mischievous game being played before them. With this second sketch, the writers placed Gosling directly next to Kate McKinnon, giving him nowhere to hide as she involves him even more in her material.

While the first sketch had McKinnon flicking Strong’s breast to demonstrate a point, this time she’s pressing her hands (and then face) on Gosling’s ass cheeks for a solid minute straight. Gosling’s laughter is planned, but not by him. What we’re watching is Gosling desperately trying to keep his composure while McKinnon breaks down his defenses one by one.

This is the key to Gosling’s success as a giggle-prone host: We know beyond a doubt that he’s trying his best to stay professional, that he’s straining to stay in character the whole time, but he can’t quite pull it off. He can only succeed in the digital shorts, with their allowance for multiple takes, where he uses his serious dramatic acting chops to deliver modern classics like “Papyrus” and “Santa Baby.” Gosling gives an Oscar-worthy performance in both of those sketches, assuring potentially skeptical viewers that yes, he truly is giving this episode his all.

So perhaps it should be no surprise that his SNL prowess led directly to his third Academy Award nomination this past year. As Barbie director Greta Gerwig revealed, it was watching Gosling on SNL that made her realize he had the comedic chops to play Ken. Specifically, Gosling told Fallon this week, it was his performance as “Guy Who Just Joined Soho House,” which featured the opening line, “Sgt. Blackout reporting for booty,” that sealed the deal.

He was able to deliver lines even more ridiculous than that one as Ken, but there’s just something about going live that makes him lose control. Gosling’s laughter works on SNL because we know there’s nothing calculated or lazy or arrogant about it. As long as he keeps trying his best, as long as he doesn’t try to force the laughter, Gosling and his perpetual breaking will always be welcomed by SNL fans with open arms.

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