Pete Davidson, Chris Redd & More Tell The Stories Behind This ‘SNL’ Season’s Best Musical Shorts, From ‘Tiny Horse’ to ‘Stu’
Check out how the pieces came together during the show’s second pandemic season, why Davidson just can’t get enough of Slim Shady and Fineman’s bananas story about the smelly bodybags that were too scary to make the cut. (Interviews edited for clarity and length.)
“NFTs”: Musical guest Jack Harlow joined Davidson and Redd — rapping lyrics penned by Davidson — in a short that helped explain non-fungible tokens to the tune of Eminem’s “Without Me.”
Davidson: “Without Me” was such a big, sick video when I was 9 years-old, and getting to dress up in the actual outfits? When we got to set, it was the actual exact Shady sweatsuit from 2000 that I’m wearing. The wardrobe department f–king gets s–t!
Robles: I grew up in a super Christian house and only listened to Christian music, so the early 2000s was a blind spot. But I happened to watch a behind-the-scenes video for “Without Me” on YouTube where they interviewed people who worked on the video and they showed the sets, so we were able to re-create a lot of it based on seeing how they did it.
Davidson: It’s like what I assume a writer of a movie feels like when you get to watch one of your favorite actors say your words. That’s what it felt like for me to see a legitimately poppin’ rapper rapping the weird s–t that we wrote on a Tuesday night.
Redd: I was trying to figure out who I would be in the video because the only other black dude in it is Dr. Dre, and he’s kind of Morpheus from The Matrix, but he’s Dre. So I was like, “What if I’m just Morpheus Morpheus?” and that was definitely the fastest I’ve ever rapped.
Davidson: Chris went f–king in on that, and it’s a legitimately hard verse. Even rap dudes were impressed by that!
Robles: As for the NFT part, I didn’t understand what they were either, and a lot of us didn’t know how to take the concept and make it so a middle-aged mom watching the show that night would not be confused either.
Redd: I could tell you all the buzz words and fake my way through a conversation about NFTs because I looked them up, but I still don’t understand what you do with a picture of a shoe with a rat in it.
Davidson: I did zero research and I still don’t know what it is now. We did a full video and then we had Elon Musk as host on the next week, and we all talked about it and I still have no idea what it is.
“Murder Show”: With everyone on lockdown during the pandemic bingeing every true crime show in sight, Fineman thought it was time to dive all the way in with an insanely killer bop.
Fineman: All I do to relax is listen to murder podcasts and shows, and so a year ago I thought I wanted to do a “Murder Pod, Murder Pod” sketch. But this year there were so many great murder series, including the Jeffrey Epstein one, which just made it more dark and twisted comedy to do a simple bop about women’s obsessions with true crime and how disturbed a boyfriend [guest host Nick Jonas] is that this is how I unwind. I was totally Googling weird key terms in true crime documentaries, and things like “Munchausen by proxy” and that liquid they use to try and discover blood to give it some specifics. My favorite was when at 2:00 in the morning, Bulla called and said, “We need it to be worse. How about a scalpel? We want some fingers eaten!”
Bulla: That was all Chloe. She texted me that she had that idea, and with some things you can tell immediately that no one had done it and it was immediately relatable. For sure my wife and sister did binged murder shows and it immediately came to life and I could picture it. I was proud of finding a rhyme for “Munchausen by proxy,” because when you write a song like this, once people know the hook is good and the idea is funny, every line has to work for it to be successful. You want to hit people with different kinds of laughs, but if you can sniff out the rhyme and guess the punchline, they won’t laugh, so “who can come up with a rhyme nobody can think of?”
Levy: We were super exited when we read the first draft of the script and the song and we wanted to do something kind of St. Vincent-inspired with a monochromatic red background.
Robles: Of course, we were also big fans of The Vow, so we felt like getting Nick Jonas to do the [NXIVM leader] Keith Raniere look was perfect.
Fineman: I told castmate Melissa Villaseñor about the idea — she has such a beautiful voice and I am not a singer at all — and I told Ego Nwodim, and they were pretty into it, and I was so lucky Kate McKinnon came on to do it. They definitely related to it. There was one part of the shoot where I wanted us in these body bags, but, like, make it cool. But having to watch Kate zipped up into a body bag was bad. There was a ridiculous conversation about, “Can we bedazzle the body bags?” And I was like, “I am not bejeweling a body bag!”
I think because of the pandemic, they smelled really bad and they had us all lying down and looking dead and they just smelled so bad and I turned to Kate and told her I was so sorry. Also, [Netflix true crime series] Hotel Cecil came out that week, and I used to live right next to the real hotel and my room looked out on that water tower. I thought, “I was born to do this, baby!” My goal this summer is to take singing lessons so I can carry it a bit better. I’m from Berkeley and I grew up worshipping The Lonely Island, and my goal in life was to do anything close to what they do.
“Stu”: Davidson clearly found his lane embodying Slim Shady this season, and this Christmas-themed reimagining of Eminem’s iconic obsessed-fan hit “Stan” paid homage in the nerdiest way possible.
Davidson: The first album I ever bought was The Eminem Show in 2002, and I had to get the clean version because my mom wouldn’t let me get the real one. I grew up with 8 Mile, and being able to act like a jackass and dress up like him and reproduce one of his videos and them letting me do it?
The great thing about SNL is they build the whole thing in a warehouse — because you can’t shoot on location anymore for the time being — and I showed up and they were like, “We’ll make it look exactly like the [original] video.” That original video is nostalgic for everyone, and when you’re parodying something like that, you have to make sure it’s f–king great because the wolves will come for you if you don’t.
Levy: We took stills from the original video and pieced them together to make the layout of the set, and figure out where everything is in relation to everything else.
Robles: The trickiest part was making Santa’s workshop and then figuring out how to merge these two worlds in a way that made sense in the beginning, since that shot of Eminem going down the steps to the basement is so iconic. We knew if we could nail that, people would get it right away, and we got a laugh from the first shot of him coming down [in dress rehearsal], and we knew we had it because people knew where it was going.
Castillo: “Stu” was the first thing we approached Pete with, and we didn’t know what to expect because we’d never worked with him before. It ended up being great, because once we pitched the idea, he was onboard. He watched the original “Stan” video to make sure his mannerisms were the same as the character and he would study it to make sure he got it right. He was like a man on a mission, so motivated and dedicated.
Bulla: Bowen [Yang] could not have been funnier as Elton John. He commits so hard — as does everyone, but when we thought of Elton at the Grammys and mimicking that performance and leaning into how dramatic it was, Bowen just went for it. He was incredible on set. We had five people pushing a full piano into the scene with Bowen as Elton sliding in from the darkness into the light in his full Grammy costume.
Castillo: The Eminem cameo was all the SNL producers. They said they were trying to get ahold of him and we thought they were joking. “There’s no way he would say yes.” And we were just always worried, like, “Is it going to happen or not happen?”
Davidson: The line about “Santa’s b— t—” — that was as joke I fought for, and I’m fine with that being in this article.
“Tiny Horse”: One of the weirdest, and funniest, musical numbers of the season featured guest host Chalamet singing an oddly moving homage to his mini-mare.
Bulla: I didn’t study music, but I was always in bands growing up, and in high school I was in drumline and took drums really seriously. Songwriting at SNL is different for everyone — some cast members and writers come up with an idea, but not the music — so we call up our music director Eli [Bruggemann] and he’ll come up with something incredible. For “Tiny Horse,” I recorded a demo and once Castillo was into it, we gave it to Eli and he fleshed it out and we recorded the full version.
Castillo: I had that idea last summer. It was loosely inspired by “There Goes My Miracle,” from Bruce Springsteen’s last album [Western Stars]. I always think in terms of parody, and I remember showing it to Bulla and saying, “Obviously we have to make an original song,” and he came back in a couple hours with the most beautiful song I ever heard in my life. Typically I’ll walk around my house singing a parody song, and I was singing “There Goes My Tiny Horse” and Bulla has a knack for writing the catchiest thing ever.
Bulla: Early in the week we’ll get a sense of if the host can dance, sing, do accents, impersonations or rap — and I think we heard that Timtohée can sing.
Robles: The first thing we were told when we were assigned that video was that we can’t spend a ton of money on this. So we stripped down our original idea of making this big barn set, and simplified it to make it just about Timothée as much as we could, in the hopes that people wouldn’t notice that the set is so tiny.
Castillo: It was one of the few times we got called in into [SNL boss Lorne Michael]’s office and he gave us a note — sometimes our comedy brain could make it go dark at the end. And he said, “People will love the Tiny Horse, so make it sweet at the end.” That was a great note, because it could have broken people’s hearts. Lorne said he’s seen it done too many times, so he said, “Let’s do something nice for once.”
Robles: We were absolutely surprised Chalamet could sing that well. That sketch, more than anything we’ve done on the show, has become TikTok-popular. We hear references to it on TikTok, where people sing “Tiny Horse” or re-create it shot-for-shot. I even saw a “What’s in My Bag” video the other day from Pia Mia, who keeps a tiny horse in her bag!
“Weird Little Flute”: If you love Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” the Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot” or Future’s “Mask Off” you know exactly why Davidson, Redd and Kid Cudi had to delve into why so many rap songs have big woodwind energy.
Bulla: A big piece of this is that this cast is so musical and good at this stuff. Pete and Chris and Kenan Thompson have done a lot of raps and music video stuff, and a big part of Castillo’s and my comedy has always been music. We didn’t start the season saying, “Let’s do a ton of music,” but that’s often where ideas come from when you work with a cast who are also thinking along those lines. Pete really wanted to do something with Kid Cudi, and I was messing around at home making a track. I shared the song and it felt like it was missing something, and we were like, “It needs a weird little flute.”
Redd: We were talking about hip-hop, and how some of my favorite songs have flutes on them, and wouldn’t it be fun to expand on that? Bulla pulled down the rough structure and I was like, “This is super silly!”
Bulla: Once we had the core concept the big thing for me was hitting some of those details and fully collaborating. Chris had so many funny pieces, like he came up with the idea of being at TSA and riding through the scanner playing the flute.
Davidson: Bulla and Castillo do the heavy lifting and Chris has so many great ideas. My favorite thing about SNL ever was the Lonely Island rap videos and what was so cool was how f–king hard a– and dope they were. Chris did Popstar with Andy Samberg and Lonely Island where he rapped, and then the next year he was cast and I was so excited to finally have someone I can do f–king weird little rap videos with. Chris loves character work and I am the complete opposite. When I show up to wardrobe I’m just wearing my own clothes, and Chris has been there for three hours getting that beard on and a crazy wig and tatting his face.
Redd: The flute community was definitely heated at Pete for holding a flute the wrong way.
Davidson: I’m not a method flute player at all — but when you make stuff like that you want to make it great, because it will be online forever.