The famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center has arrived and is ready to be lit, but the real 30 Rock star this past weekend was Canadian Simu Liu as he made his Saturday Night Live hosting debut. The 32-year-old Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star (whom many Canadians know first and foremost from Kim’s Convenience) hit the stage to helm the November 20 show with musical guest Saweetie.
And from the moment he appeared onscreen it was clear that this guy had done his homework—at least when it comes to nailing the show’s famous late-night sketch comedy.
When you go from a Canadian sitcom star to a Marvel superhero you only deserve to brag about it, right? That’s the route Liu took as a first-time host and people were there for it. The two-minute bit was Thanksgiving-themed (it was the U.S. Thanksgiving show, after all), and he listed all of the things he was thankful for.
“I am officially Marvel’s first openly Chinese superhero,” he joked after doing an exuberant spin to kick things off. “I am also the first Chinese host on SNL…. to be the fourth Chinese host on SNL.”
Sometimes if you want something badly enough, you’ve just got to manifest it. And while representation should be standard and the norm, Liu definitely made it a mission to get Marvel to hire its first Asian superhero—a role he also happened to want pretty badly. The actor revealed as much during SNL, telling viewers that it all started with a tweet from 2014.
“The truth is I got Shang-Chi how every Canadian gets their big break; by asking politely,” he jokes. “At the time I think the tweet got like 10 likes, which was like 10 more than I usually got, but I worked hard. And five years later Marvel did make their first Asian superhero movie and, after I got the part, I went on and tweeted, ‘Thanks for getting back to me.’ Clearly, I’m Canadian.”
The role is also something of a full-circle moment for Liu, which he also explained during the opening monologue. “I really can’t believe my life right now because 10 years ago I actually had a job dressing up as Spider-Man for kids birthday parties, which meant parents would pay me to entertain their kids while they were day-drinking,” Liu continued.
“I’ll never forget this one birthday, his name was Trevor. I don’t want to say anything bad about him but let’s just say he was a real Trevor. He kept kicking my shins and screaming, ‘You’re not Spider-Man, you’re not Spider-Man!’” he continued. “And look… I don’t know if you’ve ever been kicked by a 7-year-old while wearing a $30 Walmart Spider-Man suit, but it will break you. It will break your spirit. But it also lit a fire under me. And I don’t know where he is now, but Trevor if you’re watching, I just want to say you were right. I’m not Spider-Man. I’m Shang-Chi, bitch!”
Monologue aside, Liu made a fairly big mark on the overall show by appearing in seven sketches throughout the night—two of which were prerecorded. He played a bunch of characters including an annoying vegan at Thanksgiving dinner, a contestant on a game show called Republican or Not, and a contestant on a Food Network baking show who accidentally opens a portal to hell.
The sketch that got everyone talking, though, came towards the end of the night, when Liu and Asian cast member Bowen Yang had a face-off of sorts about their respective “firsts” in the industry. “I mean this has never happened before, right?” Yang asked Liu in a sketch in which Liu visits him in his dressing room before the show. “Asian-male host, Asian-male cast member…”
The pair then launched into a bit in which they both patted each other on the back for all of their “firsts,” like the first Asian to deadpan on Splash Mountain or first gay Asian SNL cast member to mispronounce “boutique.”
The sketch was as much a social commentary as it was a funny bit, really driving home the fact that there are still too many firsts, and we all have a long way to go in terms of making diversity and inclusion the norm. It was the perfect sketch for Liu, who has spoken out about representation in the past.
While fans seemed thrilled by Liu’s overall performance on the sketch show, and critics pointed out how well he did with the material and was just the right amount of enthusiastic, there was one thing that grinded gears, particularly with the #Kimbits out there: Liu didn’t mention the five-season comedy that first made him a household name (at least here in Canada), let alone do the sketch fans were hoping for in the days leading up to the show.
A lack of Kim’s references aside, it’s safe to say that Liu won the night—both with fans and for himself. At the very end when he resurfaced on the stage, this time masked with the rest of the cast to say farewell, we could all hear him say one thing loud and clear: “This is a dream come true. Good night!”
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