JJ on SNL

J.J. Watt suits up and scores some laughs in Saturday Night Live debut

J.J. Watt suits up and scores some laughs on Saturday Night Live

JJ Watt Man of the Year
Watt was charming and earnest in his Saturday Night Live debut.  Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Houston Texans superstar J. J. Watt suited up for a pre-Super-Bowl gig on Saturday Night Live, and not since Hall of Famer Peyton Manning has a pro football player scored as many laughs. 

Credit the writers and producers for playing to Watt’s charm, charisma, and physical presence. The chortles started in the opening monologue, a daunting task for even the most seasoned entertainers.

“My name is J.J. Watt and I play defensive end for the Houston Texans,” he began, as if he needed that introduction. “See, the Texans are a football team, football is the sport with the helmets...I’m sorry guys, I didn’t think I’d need to explain that, but the writers backstage seemed super confused.” (Oh, writers.)

He playfully zinged some of his fellow Texans — and himself — with a riff on dumb jocks. “When I found out I was gonna be hosting SNL, I told some of my teammates. And not to fulfill a stereotype, but at least half of them asked me, ‘what day do they tape that?’” Cue audience chuckle.

“I mean, dude,” he continued, “it’s Saturday Night Live — how the hell am I supposed to know? I don’t work there.” Cue bigger audience laugh.

Watt gave some love to his brothers who also play in the NFL. “Our names or J.J., T.J., and for some reason, Derek.” Watt explained that his father was done having kids, but that his mother really wanted to try for a kicker. You know, someone she could dress up, and buy cute clothes for.” That line got an even bigger laugh and applause.

Speaking of dear Mrs. Watt, J.J. imparted a potentially useful parenting tactic for arguing boys. For example: “If we were ever fighting over Super Nintendo, my mom would take the controller, throw it down the basement, turn off the lights, blast Metallica, and say, “whoever brings that back to me gets to play that next.” The audience responded with a laugh, with Watt noting, “that’s not a joke, guys.”

While not every sketch landed (we actually loved when Watt would grin or break character — a charming SNL staple), a sports-themed skit truly stood out.

“Robbie,” the story of an undersized college football hopeful trying to crack the Notre Dame squad — a clear play on the popular football flick Rudy — opens with the team turning in their jerseys and refusing to play unless little Robbie takes the field. One by one, they sacrifice their spots, except for Riley, Watt’s No. 99 character. “You want Robbie to take your spot?” the coach asks Riley.

Slight pause, then Watt’s Riley character rips into a profanity-laced tirade on how pathetic Robbie is as a player. “You guys want Robbie to play in a playoff game? That is bat-sh*t crazy — we’re gonna looooooooose!” Watt nails the incredulous player who scoffs at the goodwill. “I’m sorry, but he’s dog sh*t.”
“You know what, maybe you don’t believe in me, Riley…” Robbie starts. “I definitely don’t,” Riley perfectly interrupts.

The skit even includes a motivational janitor — who gets real with Robbie. Finally, it’s a showdown between Robbie and Riley. You can probably guess how “five-foot-nuthin’” Robbie fares.

Overall, Watt performed admirably in one of the hardest acts in showbiz. We especially loved his recognition of Kobe Bryant — Watt donned a No. 24 Lakers jersey at the close to honor the Lakers star killed in a helicopter crash last week.

So, maybe we’re homers, but we choose to ignore the haters and applaud Watt on his SNL debut. (Some in the media, disagree with our assessment.) After all, the gridiron superstar made no secret where he’d rather have been on Saturday night.

“Would I really trade hosting SNL for the Super Bowl,” he asked in the open. Dramatic pause. “Yes, I definitely would ... if you guys want to call me, I’ll leave right now.”