Woody Harrelson Is the Latest “SNL” Host With a Controversial Monologue

A rambling story turned into a conspiracy theory

Woody Harrelson
Woody Harrelson in a promotional spot for this week's "SNL."
Rosalind OConnor/NBC via Getty Images

There was once a time when Saturday Night Live monologues were relatively informal affairs. Some hosts opted for physical comedy or guest stars; in some cases, when a comedian hosted, they might do a short routine. This season, things have gotten a little more contentious, with Dave Chappelle’s monologue addressing Kyrie Irving a few months ago prompting copious analysis and discussion all over the internet. Now it’s Woody Harrelson’s turn.

On the February 25 episode of Saturday Night Live, Harrelson delivered a rambling monologue in which he described his manager transporting weed across state lines for him, alluded to his own Marxism and argued that the project that he was there to promote — the basketball movie Champions — would be a bigger hit than Avatar. And then, at the end of this long and rambling story, Harrelson threw in a bit of COVID-19 conspiracy theorizing.

The context: Harrelson described reading a screenplay in 2019 while very stoned. Its plot? “The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians, and force all the people to stay locked in their homes — and people can only come out if they take the cartels’ drugs and keep taking them over and over,” Harrelson said.

It’s worth mentioning here that Harrelson got big laughs at certain points in his monologue. (Generally when he alluded to smoking weed or getting drunk.) At the point in which where he was going with this particular story clicked into place, it sounded like all of two people were laughing.

Harrelson’s talk of conspiracy theories in his SNL monologue got plenty of press coverage. But it’s worth noting that Harrelson endorsing COVID-19 conspiracy theories in the “big pharma is bad” vein is not exactly shocking. He spoke about his skepticism regarding large pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic last year, in conversation with Bill Maher. Harrelson also mentioned a conspiracy theory about 5G and the pandemic on his Instagram account.

Granted, to hear reports that the pharmaceutical companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines are pondering raising their prices is not something that’ll renew your faith in those companies. But to imply that the entire pandemic was a hoax for profit crosses a whole lot of lines — and likely explains why this part of Harrelson’s monologue was largely greeted with silence, right up until he started telling stories about his own drug intake again.

SNL is a show where what’s happening backstage is often compelling reading. And watching Woody Harrelson deliver his monologue, it prompted one question and an immediate followup: did the show’s producers know this was coming? And if they didn’t, how did they react?

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.