With the second season of I Think You Should Leave having arrived on Netflix, Tim Robinson is currently enjoying another wave of critical acclaim and devotion from the show's fans. With his intense commitment to a bit and the show's consistently off-kilter premises, Robinson is doing some of the best sketch work on TV. He'd have been great on Saturday Night Live, don't you think? Of course, Tim Robinson was on Saturday Night Live for one glorious season in 2012-2013, before being moved from performer status to the writing staff. After leaving SNL entirely in 2014, Robinson went on to co-create Detroiters with Sam Richardson before arriving at I Think You Should Leave.
That single season on Saturday Night Live remains so intriguing, partly because it puts him in great company. The list of performers who only spent one season as an SNL cast member is pretty illustrious: Christopher Guest, Chris Elliott, Joan Cusack, Laurie Metcalf, Robert Downey Jr., Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman, Casey Wilson, and Jenny Slate, to name just a few. Not only that, but to then scale back and join the writing staff makes Robinson a real SNL curiosity.
SNL cast members who only last one season rarely bomb their way out. They tend to exit quietly after not getting utilized very much, or their type of comedy proves ill-fitting to the house style. So what was Tim Robinson's impact on Saturday Night Live during that one season?
Robinson's first episode as a cast member was the Season 38 premiere with host Seth MacFarlane. Robinson was one of three new cast members, along with Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, making this an incredibly interesting freshman class indeed. Bryant and Strong would appear in just one sketch apiece in their first episode, while Robinson appeared in five, the first being a talk show about sex after 50, where he played a punchline boyfriend to MacFarlane. He also played an Army soldier to MacFarlane's stuttering drill sergeant and was a bit player in the "First Date" sketch where MacFarlane and Nasim Pedrad play a pair of obnoxiously apologetic daters. But in the episode's last slot, the infamous "ten to one" sketc, Robinson appeared with MacFarlane is a sketch that feels like, if not a precursor to I Think You Should Leave, then at least the kind of brief, strange comedy that best suited him, as he and MacFarlane play a pair of Amish spoon-makers looking to sell their wares on the internet. The concept is simple to the point of thin, as the men spell out their URL with primitive descriptors, but by the time they get to describing the "S" as "the river what took my son," the lunacy pays off in spades.
That first episode was, more or less, a microcosm of Robinson's season on the show. He rarely had as many as five sketches, and in fact there were more than a few episodes where he was either absent entirely or only playing extras. But he had his moments. He did a "Californians" sketch in the Jeremy Renner-hosted episode, and he played a dancing santa in the "What Up With That?" sketch where Samuel L. Jackson said "fuck" on live TV. He got perhaps the single best line in the fantastic "Low Information Voters of America" sketch that aired before the 2012 election; his straight-faced, desperately curious reading of "If you burp, fart, and sneeze at the same time, will you die?" was basically everything you needed to know about what Robinson brings to the table as a performer. His vibe was part-dumb, part-vulgar, but with a prevailing sense of innocense, or at least harmlessness.
Every once in a while, you'd get a sketch like that wooden spoon sketch, showing up late in the episode but beginning to feel out the parameters of what a Tim Robinson SNL sketch looked like. Here, he and Nasim Pedrad play a pair of married real estate agents who resent all the penis-related graffiti being drawn on their various advertisements:
He played Jennifer Lawrence's horny Civil War boyfriend who keeps writing her letters in the hope that she'll send him a topless pic:
He played John Tesh's fictional brother Dave, whose apocryphal lyrics to "Roundball Rock" were lost to history in a tremendously underrated sketch:
But easily the most "I Think You Should Leave"-ready sketch of his lone SNL season was this fake advertisement for the Z-Shirt, which was a t-shirt … with a Z on it. As guest host Kevin Hart excitedly whips himself into a frenzy asking if it's an A-shirt or a B-shirt, Robinson grows increasingly frustrated, even panicked that this lunacy will last for 24 more letters. If you're looking for a forerunner to the TC Tuggers sketch, this is it:
Tim Robinson's sole SNL season didn't end with a bang. It ended with a non-speaking role in a sketch about a crying cop family in the Ben Affleck-hosted season finale. Unlike his freshman classmates Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, he didn't go on to help define the last decade of Saturday Night Live. But a handful of his sketches pointed the path to something stranger than SNL had room for, and so this one season remains as a kind of artifact to an odd comedy marriage. We should all wear our Z-shirts to commemorate it.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson streams on Netflix, while Robinson's SNL season can be viewed on Peacock.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.