Tittererer’s Digest #13 (feat. SNL)

This week’s Tittererer’s Digest is all about Saturday Night Live. The more cynical among you may suggest that every Tittererer’s Digest is mostly about Saturday Night Live anyway, so what’s the f*cking difference? To them I say; fair point, but there’s really no need to be so aggressive about it. SNL turned 40 this weekend and so the very least I can do for the most influential comedy programme in history is give over my silly little column to it (entirely) for one week. Here we go.

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Clip of the Week (Last 40 Years of SNL)                                                        

OK, so instead of my favourite comedy clip of the week, I’m going to pick out four of my favourite SNL sketches – one from each decade of its life. There have been 779 episodes of SNL to date and, at around eleven sketches a show, that means that we’re looking at over eight and half thousand sketches. Even if you take away the bad ones (of which there are hundreds, maybe even thousands) and the ones I just plum haven’t seen, there’s still loads and loads to choose a measly four from. So I am by no means claiming that this is in any way definitive. This is an instinctive list of sketches that I like, more than what I would necessarily argue are the best.

1) 1975 – 1985 I’ve gone for White Like Me, an Eddie Murphy 1984 pre-tape about how white people behave when there are no black people around. I’ve always loved this sketch. It was made at a time when Murphy was at the top of his game. He had recently become one of the biggest movie stars in the world and this sketch was somewhat apt, given he was gatecrashing Hollywood’s predominantly white A-list table.

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2) 1986- 1995 Down by the River (Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker). So much energy and not an ounce of it wasted. Every single limb flailed by Chris Farley was just hilarious. This sketch is him at his absolute finest. This is what SNL is all about – an energy that other shows just can’t recreate. I could watch him hitch up his waist band over and over again.

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3) 1996 – 2005 Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult (More Cowbell) is my third decade pick. This is my favourite type of sketch. It’s so dumb and it’s based on something so small but it’s expanded into something utterly farcical and important feeling. There’s no doubt that Will Ferrell is one of the all-time great cast members – perhaps the best ever and this is his SNL calling card. Guest host Christopher Walken is also just perfect. “I’m tellin’ ya, fellas. You’re gonna want that cowbell.” I was about to write; that Jimmy Fallon can’t hold it together is a testament to just how funny this sketch is – but Jimmy Fallon could never seem to hold it together (see Samberg and Sandlers Digital Short further on in the post!).

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4) 2006 – 2015 The Palin/Hillary Cold Open of 2008 came during a perfect little purple patch for the show. SNL prides itself on doing great political satire and during the ’08 presidential race it out-did itself. The highlight of the season was undoubtedly Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton jointly addressing the nation. Poehler and Fey are two of the finest cast members of all time and they’ve never been so good together as they are in this sketch.

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On TV (SNL) This Week                                                                                         

On Sunday night NBC devoted three and a half hours to Saturday Night Live’s big anniversary. It was a star-studded affair with a live audience made up of past hosts, musical guests, writers and cast members. Even Kanye West was there.

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Yeah, it’s self referential but that’s the whole point. For an infinite number of comedians/comedy fans (such as myself), perhaps the strongest underlying desire coursing through our veins is to be part of that show. To be a writer or a cast member. The folklore surrounding it all, the fun they always appear to be having, how funny and smart they all seem, how in New York it is. It’s all so intoxicating, addictive and overwhelming. Oh yes, I’d let Lorne Michaels take his pick of my testicles, I’d happily give either to be hired.

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Sometimes, I hear critics say that it’s no longer relevant, that it’s too cocooned in its own lore, that it’s just a comedian’s comedy show. But, as Níal said in his piece on the site yesterday, SNL is one of the last remaining bastions of show-biz razzmatazz. And people still love that, don’t they? People outside of comedy’s inner circle still look to SNL for excitement, commentary and dumb fun. No mere comedian’s comedy show could have had the impact on popular culture that SNL has had (and continues to, for my money).

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It’s often ramshackle. The hit rate of the sketches is often low. But that’s sort of the whole point. You can’t experience the magic that this sort of live television comedy creates, without the jeopardy of it potentially falling on its face. As much as we are probably loathe to admit; you can’t have meaningful success without the spectre of failure ever-looming. Being terrible sometimes is a good thing.

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In terms of television comedy, only The Simpsons can truly rival SNL in terms of importance over the last forty years. Certainly it’s been a massive inspiration to me (and many of my peers). It was one of the main reasons I wanted to do comedy. Anyway, happy birthday Saturday Night Live. I’m oh so pleased that you’re in my life.

Any Other Business (SNL Things to Talk About)                                         

– Rolling Stone did a (much more comprehensive than mine) list of the 50 greatest SNL sketches. They also did a stunning ranking of all 141 cast members from worst to best (look away Robert Downey Jr.) [Read More Here] and [Read More Here] respectively.

– About ten years ago 60 Minutes did a wonderful episode behind the scenes of SNL. It was actually the week that Ashley Simpson’s mime-track got went so horrifically awry. I had a copy of it a while ago, but now can’t seem to locate it on YouTube or anything. It’s out there though, so I suggest you track it down if you can. It’s a fascinating peep-hole into the show’s unique production. There’s a fascinating-in-its-own-right snippet from the show on the 60 Minutes site. [Read More Here]

– If you haven’t read it already, and you have even the slightest, most passing interest in the show, you need to pick up a copy of Live From New York. It’s the indispensable oral history of SNL and it’s an unbelievably entertaining read. There’s an updated edition coming out in a matter of days. [Read More Here]

That’s it for this week’s SNL special. See you next week for a wider range of comedy rounding up. Although I can’t guarantee there’ll be no SNL. You know what I’m like.