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Aidy Bryant broke character on SNL. It made a good sketch great.

From left, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Woody Harrelson and Kenan Thompson during the SNL "Inside the Beltway" sketch. (Will Heath/NBC) (NBC /Will Heath/NBC)

“Saturday Night Live” had been on for nearly an hour over the weekend when a mildly amusing political sketch morphed into one of the season premiere’s highlights — thanks to uncontrollable laughter from one of the show’s more reliably poker-faced players.

Aidy Bryant was playing the host of a fictional Texas news program called “Inside the Beltway,” which featured Kenan Thompson, Cecily Strong and SNL host Woody Harrelson as pundits weighing in on the House’s recently launched impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The punchline was obvious early on: It had been yet another crazy week in Washington, and the pundits were offering talking points that sounded very familiar.

Thompson, the show’s longest-running cast member, was an early standout as an African American studies professor convinced that nothing Trump does or says could have any real implications for his presidency. “Ain’t nothin’ gon’ happen” he said repeatedly as the show flashed back to the same panel reacting to other controversial moments from Trump’s presidency. Each utterance of the professor’s cynical refrain became more exaggerated — at one point Thompson pulled out a box of popcorn and began eating from it. “Ain’t nothing gon’ happen,” he reiterated.

The quiet brilliance of Kenan Thompson

Bryant’s host pushed back: “Well, sometimes people surprise us,” she said. “And I think it’s possible that some Republicans are about to have a moment of real moral clarity.”

Bryant was right about one thing: A moment was certainly on the horizon. Thompson’s character called for another flashback — to 2016, just before Trump ascended to the presidency. “Inside the Beltway” cut to a series of news clips, ending with coverage of the crude language Trump used in a 2005 exchange with “Access Hollywood” personality Billy Bush. The footage allowed for a quick costume change for the panel, who were shown reacting to the 2016 bombshell report.

There had been, perhaps, an inside joke already brewing. Viewers picked up errant laughter at the end of the clip sequence, and Bryant was already smiling when the panel came back into view. Then a woman walked onto the set to swap out Bryant’s bright pink blazer for the gray one she wore in “Inside the Beltway’s” 2019 timeline. Bryant attempted to stifle her laughter while politely waving her colleague away, but she was in stitches following a cutaway sequence that enabled her costume change. She giggled her way through the rest of the sketch, which ended with her character delivering a line that may or may not have been scripted: “Go to commercial!”

It’s common knowledge among SNL fans that sketches can get pretty zany following “Weekend Update.” “Inside the Beltway” was sandwiched between a sketch about a locker room pep talk interrupted by the ditsy girlfriend of a high school football coach and a “Downton Abbey” spoof. For that reason, it’s common to see some comedians break character in the latter half of the show. For others — ahem, Pete Davidson — breaking character is shtick in and of itself.

Bryant also laughed copiously, alongside Kate McKinnon, during the night’s final sketch — a wacky sketch about a sister-owned and poorly operated apple orchard. But it was rare to see her break character so uncontrollably in what would have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill SNL skit. And somehow, the off-the-rails moment felt at home in a sketch about a cycle of insanity within the nation’s politics.

Over on SNL’s YouTube channel, “Inside the Beltway” ranks among the most popular clips from this weekend’s episode. “This skit went from being in the forever forgotten pile to one of the most memorable of all time just because of the character break,” one fan wrote in the comments. “Honestly the end of this sketch is the kind of chaotic energy i feel america is” right now, another wrote.

Others wondered whether the SNL staffer would face consequences for her unscripted appearance on the show. But Bryant vouched for her colleague in an Instagram post, where she identified the woman as Audrey, her “dresser for the last seven years."

“I just adore this woman and she has helped me pull pants on in the dark, become a chicken, a teacher, a dinosaur and always helps me feel confident to get up there and do it,” Bryant wrote.

Audrey responded to Bryant’s post, appearing slightly embarrassed. “You must know that I adore you and will run fiercely towards you whether I should or not,” the dresser wrote. “To many more, but hopefully less traumatic memories.”

But the experience didn’t seem so bad to others. In his own comment directed toward Audrey, Thompson wrote: “Last night could not have been more incredible!!”

Watch more:

“Saturday Night Live” opened its 45th season on Sept. 29 by covering a lot of political ground. (Video: The Washington Post)

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