by Julian Spivey
The milestone 40th anniversary season of “Saturday Night Live” was pretty much a trainwreck. It’s the worst season of the show in recent memory, which is quite stunning because the bulk of the show’s cast right now is supremely talented. It was such a weak ‘SNL’ season that three of the 10 best sketches of the year actually came during the show’s 40th anniversary special in February.
10. Musical Montage (40th Anniversary Special)
This one almost seems like cheating to include it, but was one of my favorite ‘SNL’ moments of the season and a true highlight from the 40th anniversary special that aired in February. The musical montage segment from that 40th anniversary special brought back many of the show’s fantastic musical characters and moments for a quick few seconds or minutes of greatness that brought back so much nostalgia. The bit was hilariously hosted by Martin Short and Maya Rudolph as Beyonce and included performances from The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd & Jim Belushi), Dana Carvey’s Derek Stevens, Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer as The Culps, Steve Martin reprising “King Tut,” Adam Sandler as Opera Man and the funniest moment of all … Bill Murray doing Nick the Lounge Singer performing a theme for the movie “Jaws.”
9. Old New York (Woody Harrelson)
Woody Harrelson hosted one of the best all-around episodes of the 40th season of “Saturday Night Live.” He and Bill Hader were probably neck-and-neck for best host of the year, with both episodes unfortunately coming toward the beginning of the season and making for a good drought afterward. One of Harrelson’s best sketches was as a grizzled New Yorker who stumbled upon a bar of fellow New Yorkers (Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan and Kenan Thompson) reminiscing about how good things used to be in the city. Harrelson’s character keeps talking about how good the cocaine used to be in the old days much to the annoyance of his fellow bar patrons. Harrelson’s performance in this sketch is certainly one of the funniest by a host all season.
8. Sump’n Claus (Martin Freeman)
Kenan Thompson, now the second longest tenured cast member in ‘SNL’ history, has the remarkable talent to turn something that should be annoying and unfunny into something quite enjoyable as he does with the “Sump’n Claus” bit during Martin Freeman’s episode. Thompson’s Sump’n Claus is a pimped out version of Santa Claus who gives sump’n to everybody, even the naughty, and that sump’n is white envelopes filled with cash.
7. The Office: Middle Earth (Martin Freeman)
Martin Freeman is primarily known for three things: the British version of “The Office,” “The Hobbit” and “Sherlock.” ‘SNL’ was able to brilliantly meld two of those things (if only they could’ve added “Sherlock”) in the witty “The Office: Middle Earth” sketch from Freeman’s hosting stint in which the characters from “The Hobbit” movies took jobs at a paper company.
6. Chris Rock’s Monologue (Chris Rock)
The best ‘SNL’ monologues always seem to be when the show gets a stand-up comedian to host, which is not a frequent occurrence. These monologues also tend to be the most controversial, because people can’t take a joke in today’s society. The monologues this season by both Chris Rock and Louis CK drew many complaints from folks on social media claiming the jokes told to be offensive. Louis CK drew complaints due to jokes about pedophilia, while Rock’s monologue, the better and funnier of the two, drew criticism for joking about the Boston Marathon bombing and 9/11. Rock’s stand-up is always hilarious and frequently deemed offensive and both of those aspects were shown off brilliantly here.
5. New Marijuana Policy (Woody Harrelson)
It’s no secret that award-winning actor Woody Harrelson enjoys a little pot, so the New Marijuana Policy sketch was a no brainer for the episode hosted by him about the NYPD’s policy of no longer arresting for a minor amount of marijuana. This news sends the stoners into a frenzy of excitement with all of them spilling out into the streets of New York to celebrate. The funniest moment comes at the end with new cast member Pete Davidson, a noted pot lover himself, starts to light up a joint and the cops explain that the law allows people to carry it on their person, but not actually smoke it in public.
4. Wayne’s World (40th Anniversary Special)
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s Wayne’s World sketches are a must-have for any true “Saturday Night Live” fan, so it was not much of a surprise when Myers and Carvey reprised Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar for the 40th anniversary special in February. The sketch featured Wayne and Garth giving one of their famous Top 10 lists with the topic being the appropriate “Top Ten Things About ‘SNL’.” It’s always nice to see two of the greatest characters in ‘SNL’ history again.
3. Herb Welch (Bill Hader)
You always like to see former great cast members return to host “Saturday Night Live” once they’ve left to do other things and Bill Hader returned to the show for his first hosting stint this season after leaving the cast two years ago. Hader was a breath of fresh air during a mostly horrible season and brought back some of his fan-favorite characters like Stefon and Herb Welch. Hader always brings the laughs as the cantankerous newsman Herb Welch who likes to berate his interviewees and occasionally bat them on the head with his microphone.
2. Lincoln Commercials (Jim Carrey)
The greatest sketch of the 40th season that actually came from one of season’s 20 new episodes was Jim Carrey’s hilarious take on the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln car commercials that you frequently see on television. Those commercials just beg for parody and ‘SNL’ did it right. Who knew Carrey has such a spot on McConaughey impression and the pseudo-commercials with him riffing like the real McConaughey does in the real-life commercials was absolutely brilliant. Three fake Lincoln commercials aired during Carrey’s stint as host. He would then reprise his McConaughey impression in the sketch at No. 1 on this list.
1. Celebrity Jeopardy (40th Anniversary Special)
“Celebrity Jeopardy” is potentially the greatest recurring sketch in the legendary 40 year history of “Saturday Night Live” so its reprisal for the 40th anniversary special in February was almost a necessity. The sketch gave the brilliant Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond and Norm Macdonald the opportunity to bring back their uber-hilarious Alex Trebek, Sean Connery and Burt Reynolds impressions and also allowed for other past cast members and famous hosts to show off their impression skills. It almost seems like it’s cheating to include a moment from the 40th anniversary special at No. 1 on this list of the best sketches from the show’s 40th season, but there’s little doubt in my mind that this bit produced the most laughs of any sketch all year.
by Julian Spivey
Now what am I supposed to do every weeknight at 10:35?
For years that’s been my appointment viewing for the “Late Show with David Letterman” a man who’s had a bigger impact on my life than anybody inside my television honestly ever should have. But, Dave was a comedic hero of mine. He was somebody who taught me that you could laugh out loud at stupid, absurdist stuff and be serious all at the same time. Nobody has ever bridged the line of comedy and seriousness as well as David Letterman. He’s going to be missed that’s for sure.
But, his finale on Wednesday night (May 20) was absolutely beautiful and fascinating to watch from start to finish, beginning with announcer Alan Kalter’s perfect opening statement of “From a Magical Place Not Found on Any Map ... It's the Late Show with David Letterman" and introducing Letterman as he ran out for the final time as “a boy from a small town in Indiana.”
Letterman’s final monologue included the brilliant joke: “I've got to be honest with you it's beginning to look like I'm not going to get ‘The Tonight Show’" and other self-deprecating jokes that perfectly encapsulated his humor over these last 33 years on both ‘Late Night’ over on NBC and the ‘Late Show’ on CBS.
The entire finale for Letterman was one great, big highlight, but one of the biggest of those was his final Top 10 list where 10 of his most famous recurring guests came out onto the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater and announced the “Top 10 Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave.” The A-listers participating in this absolutely terrific Top 10 were Alec Baldwin, Barbara Walters, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Peyton Manning, Tina Fey and Bill Murray (who had been Letterman’s final guest ever on the show the night before). All in all, the final Top 10 will likely go down in history as one of the long-running segment’s very best.
Another great highlight from Letterman’s finale was the behind the scenes look at what happens at the ‘Late Show’ before they tape each episode. It was really nice to see Letterman interacting with his crew behind the scenes, as he’s always made a joke out of the fact that he doesn’t really have anything to do with them (but you always knew this wasn’t true because he knows all of them by name).
The best comedy bit of the Letterman finale came via a classic 1996 segment of Letterman as a drive-thru order taker at Taco Bell, which is maybe the funniest comedy segment the show has ever produced and likely one of the 10 funniest moments in television history – certainly in late night television history.
The hardest part of the show to watch without getting all emotional (and I admittedly failed) was, of course, at the very end when Letterman said his final farewell to America by thanking his staff including Kalter, stage hand Biff Henderson (who’s been with him for 35 years dating back to his first show “The David Letterman Show” in the morning) and Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra. Letterman then thanked his loyal viewers for tuning in every night and most importantly his wife Regina and son Harry who were both in the audience. He then signed off by saying: “The only thing I have left to do, for the last time on a television program, thank you and goodnight” before his very favorite band the Foo Fighters performed his very favorite song “Everlong” to close out the show over a truly fascinating montage of his 33 years on late night television. This montage with “Everlong” rocking in the background is truly the part of the show that finally got me teary-eyed (as I’m sure it did much of America) as it brought back to mind all of the absolutely beloved memories from the past.
There’s never going to be another David Letterman on late night television again, although every single one of today’s late night hosts from Conan O’Brien to Jimmy Kimmel to Jimmy Fallon have jobs today because of the groundwork Letterman paved before them. It’s truly saddening to me that Letterman has called it a career, but he reminded us for the very last time on Wednesday night why he will always be the true king of late night TV.
TLC Should Cancel '19 Kids & Counting' After Josh Duggar Admits to Once Molesting Young Girls ... But Will They?
by Julian Spivey
TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” is no stranger to controversy. Over the years the show has been controversial for the fact that Arkansas couple Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar just won’t stop having children, as well as their Christian beliefs leaving them with controversial stances on issues like homosexuality.
But, the latest controversy involving the show is too much for TLC to ignore, even though as I write this the network is airing a marathon of “19 Kids and Counting.”
It was recently brought to light that Josh Duggar, the Duggar’s 27 year old eldest son, who was the executive director of the Family Research Council, an anti-gay hate group as registered by the Southern Poverty Law Center, sexually molested young girls, including his sisters, when he was a teenager.
Josh Duggar was the subject of a police investigation, which was apparently swept under the rug, for allegedly molesting five girls starting around 2002 when he was 14 years old. According to the police report Josh Duggar fondled the genitals and breasts of the younger girls, some of whom were sleeping at the time.
Earlier today Josh Duggar admitted that the accusations against him were, in fact, true and apologized for his “inexcusable” teenage actions saying he “would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions.” He resigned his post from the FRC as a result of his admission.
Unfortunately legal action can’t be taken against Josh Duggar, despite his admission of guilt, because the statute of limitations has run, according to a TMZ article. Duggar is currently married with three children, one of them a daughter, and expecting another daughter in July. One would wonder has he changed enough in 13 years to be safe around his children, especially those daughters?
The law might not be able to do anything about Josh Duggar’s past transgressions at this point, but his television network TLC sure can. TLC must finally step in and cancel “19 Kids and Counting,” currently in its tenth season. This family of bigoted, pedophilic, zealots has finally gone too far. Josh Duggar might have only been a 14-year old when he committed his disturbing and disgusting acts, but even 14-year olds know those are unlawful and horrible things to do.
Yet TLC seems to be reveling in the controversy airing a “19 Kids and Counting” marathon tonight when it could have easily and obviously should have pulled the show from its schedule. TLC seems to realize that scandal and controversy can drive ratings and opted to keep the show on its schedule instead. If the network won’t even pull the show from its schedule on the day that one of the show’s stars admits to once sexually assaulting minors how could one expect them to do the right thing and cancel the series.
It looks like the law or TLC aren’t going to do anything about Duggar’s crimes … and the only punishment he will receive is having to resign from a registered hate group.
Do you think “19 Kids & Counting” should be cancelled?
by Julian Spivey
The last few weeks of the “Late Show with David Letterman” produced some of the greatest, funniest and most tear-inducing moments in that show’s legendary history. Here’s a rundown of the 25 best moments from the show’s last couple of months on the air ...
1. Dave Signs Off
David Letterman signing off for the very last time on late night television was bound to be the top spot on this list all along. It was a moment full of grace and class as the legendary comedian/broadcaster thanked his crew, his audience and most importantly his wife Regina and son Harry. He then signed off with the simple, yet eloquent: “The only thing I have left to do, for the last time on a television program, thank you and goodnight.”
2. Foo Fighters/Best Of Montage
The very final thing to ever appear on the “Late Show with David Letterman” was a performance of Dave’s favorite band the Foo Fighters performing his favorite song “Everlong.” Letterman has mentioned multiple times on the show why this song and band is so important to him and he did it once again on Wednesday night (May 20) when he explained how the Foo Fighters had canceled a tour in South America just to play this song for him on the episode in 2000 when he returned from open heart surgery. The Foos played an epic version of “Everlong” as the show was sent off air by an amazing montage of the greatest clips of guests and moments in the show’s wonderful history.
3. Norm Macdonald’s Stand-Up
Norm Macdonald’s final stand-up routine on Friday, May 15 was the very last stand-up routine performed on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and certainly one of the most memorable. Letterman has always enjoyed Macdonald’s brand of sarcastic, witty humor that frequently mirrors his own. Macdonald was as funny as ever during the set, but it’s really how emotional he got telling Letterman how much he meant to him that just made this a classic moment. Macdonald broke down in tears while telling his favorite Letterman joke, one that he claims is his favorite joke of all-time.
4. Jack Hanna’s Farewell
For my money zoologist Jack Hanna is the greatest guest of all-time on David Letterman’s late night programs thanks to the camaraderie the two men have together and the hilarity that always ensued through Letterman’s interactions with Hanna’s many great animal guests over the years. The farewell appearance for Hanna, who appeared on Letterman’s shows more than 100 times, included a fantastic montage of his greatest moments on the show that teared the long-time guest up.
5. Final Top 10
David Letterman has had some huge names come out to read his nightly Top 10 lists in the past, but no Top 10 has ever been as star-studded as his very last one on Wednesday, May 20 when 10 of his favorite recurring guests walked out onto the Ed Sullivan Theater stage to announce 10 Things I Have Always Wanted to Say to Dave. The celebrities included Alec Baldwin, Barbara Walters, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Peyton Manning, Tina Fey and Bill Murray and the final Top 10 turned out to be one of the funniest and most memorable of all-time.
6. George Clooney Handcuffs
Over the last two months of the “Late Show with David Letterman” many celebrities have remarked that Letterman was making a huge mistake in his decision to retire and how much they loved him and didn’t want him to go. Oscar-winner George Clooney took this one step further when he came out for his final appearance of the show on Thursday, May 14 and he handcuffed himself to Letterman. Clooney remained handcuffed to Letterman for the remainder of the episode through his entire interview, an interview with musician Tom Waits (in which Clooney had to awkwardly proportion himself on a stool between the two and Waits’ musical performance. Taking the gag one step further Clooney returned the next night still handcuffed to Letterman and the two were finally freed by Paul Shaffer and some wire cutters.
7. Michael Keaton Embarrasses Dave
Over the years Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton has been one of the very best guests on the “Late Show with David Letterman” because he and Letterman are longtime friends that have a great rapport with each other. The two became friends in their stand-up comedy days in the late ‘70s, which included a guest spot on a Mary Tyler Moore television special in which the two had to sing and dance. Letterman is obviously not the type of guy you’d ever have expected to participate in such an event and thus Keaton thoroughly embarrasses him to the point of hiding under his desk when he shows the clip of the two of them from the late ‘70s special.
8. Norm Macdonald Last Interview
Late night television has turned into more of a medium of “what can we get people to watch us doing on YouTube or Hulu tomorrow?” Thus a great and crucial part of the medium – the actual interviews – have taken somewhat of a step back (particularly when it comes to Jimmy Fallon’s massively popular “The Tonight Show”). Well, in his last appearance as an interviewed guest back in March Norm Macdonald showed the world exactly what a late night talk show should be when he thrilled and cracked up his comic hero David Letterman with terrifically hilarious life stories. You can read more about that appearance: HERE
9. Adam Sandler Tribute
The funniest thing about Adam Sandler’s career has always been his musical comedy and this dates back to his earliest days on “Saturday Night Live.” So it was no surprise when Sandler’s tribute to Dave was a musical one, as many of the tributes to Letterman on the ‘Late Show’ over his last few weeks proved to be. Of all of these memorable musical tributes Sandler’s was the funniest and also the most emotional with the funny man tearing up toward the end of his performance. It was amazing just how many comedians both on the ‘Late Show’ and those hosting their own late night shows (Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon) got teary-eyed in tribute to Letterman. That just goes to show his legacy and the impact he’s had on others.
10. Jerry Seinfeld’s Stand-Up
The great thing about Jerry Seinfeld is that every time to this day, even as a celebrity worth $900 million, that he appears on any late night talk show he will perform a stand-up set before being interviewed. This was no different during his final appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” but what was different about his final appearance was the stand-up set itself. Almost nobody in the audience both in the studio or watching on television knew this at the time until Seinfeld was being interviewed by Letterman afterward, but the entire set was the very first one that Seinfeld had ever performed on Letterman’s ‘Late Night’ all the way back on his very first appearance in 1982. Letterman said that it took him until about halfway through Seinfeld’s set before he realized this. It was a truly special tribute from Seinfeld and proof of just how well his comedy stands up over 30-plus years.
11. Jason Isbell’s Warren Zevon Tribute
Perhaps David Letterman’s all-time favorite musical guest was the vastly underrated Warren Zevon, who memorably had an entire episode dedicated to him and his music in 2002 when it was announced that he had incurable cancer and would soon die. One of Letterman’s favorite guests of recent years has been critically-acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter Jason Isbell who brilliantly, along with his wife/musician Amanda Shires, paid tribute to Zevon with their cover of his “Mutineer,” which he himself had performed on his last Letterman appearance. It was a brilliant cover that truly left Letterman a bit misty-eyed. You can read more about that performance: HERE
12. Tracy Chapman Sings “Stand By Me”/First Aid Kit “America”
Many of the greatest moments over the last couple of months of the “Late Show with David Letterman” were musical moments, almost all of them seemingly hand-picked or requested by Letterman or band leader Paul Shaffer. Two of the ones that particularly stand out are songs that Letterman said he would sing to his son Harry when he was younger. Ben E. King’s standard “Stand By Me” and Simon & Garfunkel’s great “America.” “Stand By Me” was breathtakingly performed by Tracy Chapman on the show just a couple of weeks before King would pass away. Americana/Folk duo First Aid Kit would thrill Letterman’s audience with their beautiful take on “America.”
13. Julia Roberts Kiss
Throughout the years Julia Roberts has obviously been one of David Letterman’s very favorite guests and the two have mutually flirted with each other on the air throughout their entire television friendship, usually culminating with Roberts wanting to kiss Letterman. Roberts has gone on record as saying she was thoroughly frightened the very first time she went on Letterman because she had seen the way he eviscerated other celebrities on the show whom he might not have cared for. Letterman, however, took a liking to Roberts right away and the bond never swayed. Roberts and Letterman memorably shared one final kiss on her last appearance in early May.
14. Behind the Scenes
One of the truly great things about David Letterman’s farewell episode of the ‘Late Show’ on Wednesday, May 20 was the behind the scenes segment that showed fans of the show exactly what Dave does before the tapings each day. The segment showed Letterman arriving to the studio incredibly early in the morning, just to typically catch a few more hours of sleep in his office, as well as joking around with staff members and then trying to compile jokes and segments for the nightly episode.
15. Ray Romano’s Gratefulness Toward Letterman
Without David Letterman there would be no Ray Romano and Romano knows this as a fact and told Letterman so on his final appearance on the show in early May. Romano was a struggling stand-up comedian in the early-to-mid ‘90s who went on Letterman to do a set and immediately captured the iconic comedian’s interest. We’ve all heard stories of how doing well on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” could make or break a young comedian’s career as it had made Dave’s when Carson liked his act so much. Letterman repaid the favor with Romano whom he’d contacted shortly after his appearance on the ‘Late Show’ and said he’d like to make a sitcom based on his comedy for his Worldwide Pants company. That show would become “Everybody Loves Raymond,” one of the most successful sitcoms of all-time. Romano’s teary-eyed thanks to Letterman was a true highlight, even though Letterman humbly (and wrongly) claimed he had nothing to do with Romano’s success.
16. Martin Short Tribute
Martin Short has been no stranger to performing musical tributes to David Letterman over the years on the ‘Late Show,’ but his farewell musical moment to him will likely be remembered as the very best, even though it’s one the comedian said he never expected to perform until Letterman’s funeral. This nearly five-minute performance proves that Martin Short is the king of musical tributes. If the Tony Awards are looking for a future host he should be their first phone call.
17. Billy Crystal’s Tribute
Musical tributes to David Letterman were plentiful over the final weeks of his show with ones being done by Martin Short, Adam Sandler, Nathan Lane and Billy Crystal. Crystal’s musical performance included the hilarious lines: “You survived shingles and a bypass/Proving you actually had a heart” and “it’s true Cher called you an ***hole, but you’re the ***hole we love.”
18. Howard Stern Tries to Kiss Dave
Howard Stern has been another one of David Letterman’s favorite recurring guests on his broadcasts for nearly 30 years and the two seem to have a warm feeling for each other. Letterman is famously not emotional or even one for emotion, so things got incredibly funny when Stern asked Letterman for a hug – which the comedian initially wanted no part of before finally relenting. Things got even funnier when Letterman finally went in for the hug and Stern attempted to kiss him with Letterman trying his best to squirm away.
19. Eddie Vedder’s “Better Man”
Eddie Vedder’s performance of the Pearl Jam classic “Better Man” on the final week of David Letterman’s shows on Monday, May 18th will no doubt go down as one of the very best and most memorable performances ever to appear on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” Vedder gave one of the most high-energy performances ever on the show just playing solo with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra brilliantly backing him up. Pardon the corniness, but there will never be a better man on late night television than David Letterman.
20. Steve Martin & Guests “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”
During Steve Martin’s final appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” the two old friends spent a lot of time playing off of each other as they so brilliantly have for 30-plus years with Martin acting half of the time like he didn’t actually care much for Letterman. Letterman than re-aired a fantastically funny segment the two shot in the late ‘90s called “Steve & Dave’s Gay Vacation” where the two comedians fall in love with each other. The real highlight of Martin’s final visit was seeing him, a Grammy-winning banjo player, perform the traditional country music standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” with the incredibly talented Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Amos Lee.
21. Bob Dylan’s “The Night We Called It a Day”
Bob Dylan is not one to perform on late night television talk shows very often. That made his appearance on David Letterman’s final week of shows this week quite the big get for that show. Dylan had performed on Letterman’s programs a couple of times before, but Tuesday (May 19) was his first in 20-plus years. Dylan, who frankly didn’t necessarily appear to have wanted to be there (but does the prickly performer ever?), performed the fitting Frank Sinatra standard “The Night We Called It a Day.” Before the appearance Letterman announced that there were two things he always wanted his son Harry to know: 1) treat everybody you meet with kindness 2) Bob Dylan is the greatest American songwriter ever.
22. Bill Murray Bursts Out of Cake
Bill Murray has a great history of incredibly outrageous performances on David Letterman’s programs over the last 30-plus years. Murray has memorably been Letterman’s first guest both on ‘Late Night’ on NBC in 1982 and on the ‘Late Show’ on CBS in 1993. On Tuesday, May 19 Murray also became Letterman’s very last guest and made his entrance by popping out of a huge cake and subsequently embracing Letterman and getting cake remnants all over the departing host. Just another outlandish entry from a man full of them over the years.
23. Reminiscing with Tom Dreesen
Tom Dreesen may not be a household name to many, but this stand-up comedian who famously spent much of his career opening for the legendary Frank Sinatra has been a friend of David Letterman’s for a very long time since they were up-and-coming stand-ups in the ‘70s. Dreesen always thrills the audience with stories of his time working with Sinatra, but on his final appearance he regaled the audience with lovely stories of his time spent with Letterman on the comedy club circuit back in the days of old.
24. “Not Getting The Tonight Show”
It’s not easy to remember monologue jokes, even if they made you almost split your side open from laughing so hard, but David Letterman made a joke toward the beginning of his last ever monologue on Wednesday, May 20 that is absolutely priceless and will be hard to ever forget. Letterman came out and said to his audience: “I’ve got to be honest with you, it’s beginning to look like I’m not going to get ‘The Tonight Show.’ It was the perfect sendoff to the decade’s old story of how Letterman was screwed out of hosting “The Tonight Show” in the early ‘90s even though he always seemed like the legendary Johnny Carson’s hand-picked and rightful replacement.
25. Paul Shaffer Interview
Paul Shaffer has always been such an integral part of David Letterman’s programs over the last 30-plus years as the show’s band leader. It’s because of Shaffer that the show has always been the best one on late night television when it comes to fantastic musical moments. However, Shaffer has only had the opportunity a few times over the years to be interviewed by Letterman and his boss made sure to get him some airtime in the show’s last couple of weeks. Shaffer told stories of his favorite musical moments on the show, like the time he met Bob Dylan backstage, before debuting a special music video of “On Broadway.”
What was your favorite moment from David Letterman’s last couple of months on the air?
by Julian Spivey
The legendary David Letterman, who’s arguably the most important figure in the history of late night television talk shows, will say goodbye on Wednesday, May 20 after 30-plus years of great laughter and memories. Many things about late night television will never be the same when Letterman hangs up his suit for the last time on Wednesday night, but this should be a time of celebration for one of TV’s true legends and in celebration of Letterman’s career here are the Top 10 Reasons We Love David Letterman:
10. Throwback to TV’s Heyday
David Letterman is the comedian that bridged the gap between television’s late night beginnings and heyday with Johnny Carson to the modern day late night talk show where younger stars like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and James Corden thrive. Letterman still gives us that old time talk show feeling though about what the medium is supposed to be through his smart interviews mixed in with hilarious comedy. Someone like Fallon playing games on a nightly basis with his guests is truly a waste of what the medium could and should be, but as long as Letterman was on you could still get quality conversation from the host and guest.
David Letterman is the greatest interviewer in the history of the late night talk show medium and I’m slightly afraid that this great aspect of late night will disappear when he retires on Wednesday night. Most people tune into late night talk shows for the comedy and many will even switch off the program once the celebrity interviews start, but Letterman always made sure viewers watched from start to finish and did so by being a fantastic interviewer whether he liked his guests or didn’t. Letterman was a pleasure to watch when he had a guest on his show that he had a great rapport with like a Michael Keaton or Bill Murray, but could be even more pleasurable when interviewing a guest that you knew he couldn’t stand like Paris Hilton or Justin Bieber and you knew it because he didn’t hide the fact. What made Letterman’s interviews one-of-a-kind too is he didn’t just book celebrity after celebrity on his show like every other late night show. Letterman frequently invited interesting guests like honored military veterans and authors who wrote books on important political or global topics and had interesting and informative conversations like you’d hear on a program like “60 Minutes.” I guarantee those interviews won’t ever be seen on late night TV again.
I previously mentioned that Letterman was the bridge between Johnny Carson and today’s younger talk show hosts and part of the reason why is that he completely changed and innovated late night TV singlehandedly. First of all, Letterman pretty much birthed the “late, late show” aspect of late night television. Before his ‘Late Night’ program began on NBC in 1982 there was no such thing as a “late, late show.” It was basically “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and then that was it until the next morning. But, Letterman gave viewers a reason to stay up into the wee hours of the morning with his irreverent humor and out-of-the-box style interviews and inspired a generation of future comedians, especially late night talk show comedians like Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien. Without David Letterman there’s no telling what late night TV might look like today.
The thing that’s always made David Letterman such a fascinating late night talk show host is his “I don’t give a damn” type of personality that frequently made him seem more dangerous than other talk show hosts. It was more of a thing on his NBC ‘Late Night’ show in the ‘80s, but even today at age 68 Letterman is still, by far, the most seemingly dangerous host in late night television. This is because he doesn’t care if he offends people and isn’t worried or phased by something like television ratings. Part of the reason he seemed so dangerous over the years is his stunts, whether it be hilariously dressing in a suit of Velcro and hurdling himself at a wall of Velcro, wearing a suit of Alka Seltzer and dunking himself in a giant tank of water, driving around town constantly giving pointless traffic updates, working a drive-thru at a local Taco Bell or spraying passersby outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater with water he’s always seemed unpredictable and outrageously funny because of it.
One of the things I’m going to miss the most about David Letterman’s show is his taste in music that gave his show a more unique and independent feel than any other late night talk show. For instance, David Letterman’s love of Americana has led to incredibly talented artists like Jason Isbell, Rodney Crowell, Sturgill Simpson and others being broadcast on his show multiple times. When’s the last time you saw somebody that wasn’t from one of the big three genres or top 40 charts on Jimmy Fallon’s programs? Letterman always booked the best musical guests on his show and I worry these great forms of independent or non-radio music will ever get the chance they deserve again on late night.
5. Sense of Humor
David Letterman has always spoken to the hearts of many of his fans because of his style or sense of humor that is incredibly dry, witty, sarcastic, sardonic and cynical. It’s a type of humor that has frequently turned viewers off, because they mistake it for being mean spirited or cruel, but the honest fact is that some people just flock to that type of humor. It’s a style of humor that really fits my personality and half the time I credit Letterman for that – as I think many others probably do, as well. If you like sarcastic, dry and witty humor Letterman is probably your comedy God. There just seems to be something so intelligent about this style of humor. But, at the same time Letterman was also one of the most absurd comedians on television with great bits like throwing stuff off of the Ed Sullivan Theater rooftop just to get a laugh when it shattered or busted upon hitting the ground or the many, terrific non-sequitur jokes he’d tell during his nightly monologue.
This is something that’s briefly been brought up in a few of the posts preceding this one, but David Letterman’s grumpy, sarcastic, “I don’t give a damn” attitude or really personality has over the years become incredibly endearing to his loyal fans. Sure, it’s been a reason why a good portion of the television audience has never cared for him, but in a way that just makes us fans love him even more. Letterman is our guy. If Jay Leno was your guy that just made us feel more intelligent and like we had a better and more challenging sense of humor than you do. I guess what I’m saying is Letterman’s fans were as often as prickly as he was and that’s how he became so endearing to us.
Some late night talk show hosts seem a little fake. Jay Leno always seemed fake. Jimmy Fallon, even though he’s incredibly funny and often innovative in his own special ways, can come off as fake. David Letterman never seemed fake and a lot of that had to do with his honesty. Letterman is very likely the most private person on television – maybe ever on television – but when he’s given us insight to his personal life whether it being about talking about his heart surgery, his son Harry, his emotional response on his first episode back after 9/11 or especially his admission to having affairs with members of his paid staff he’s always been honest and truthful with us. We admire him for that. It’s why Letterman has always seemed like the most realistic comedian on late night.
I think if one were to tell David Letterman that he’s the most important figure in late night television history that he’d say that’s ridiculous and that his hero and mentor Johnny Carson was and always will be. And, while Carson’s impact on late night television was huge and he certainly influenced Letterman and Jay Leno I don’t believe there’s anybody who has influenced more of today’s late night hosts than Letterman. Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien have all gone on the record before on their respective shows and in print on how much Letterman’s comedy and shows impacted their lives and careers. Letterman was the comedian they idolized and grew up wanting to be and now that they’re successful they aren’t forgetting him as his time on television comes to an end.
1. Part Of Our Lives for So Long
David Letterman has been on television for so long, longer than my entire life in fact, that he’s become ingrained in many of our lives. He’s become much more than just a television personality. He’s become our friend, our comedic hero, a nightly appointment for us over the years. It’s to the point that many of us aren’t sure what we’re supposed to do with our nights once Wednesday’s episode comes to an end. It might sound ludicrous to put that much importance and emphasis on something like a television show, but to us Dave is more than just a television show. He’s someone who’s shared his life with us for half of his life and most, if not all, of ours. He’s someone who’s personally given me more laughs than anybody else in my lifetime and I’m not sure there will be another comedian or really anybody in general who will ever come close. It’s incredibly hard to say goodbye to somebody who’s been there for you every night for so long even if it was just inside of that box on your entertainment center. I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to spend so much time with Dave over the years. I wonder what the first night without him will bring.
by Julian Spivey
After more than 30 years on late night television David Letterman is retiring after his final show on Wednesday, May 20. The legendary comedian who has inspired nearly all of the comedians you see hosting shows on late night TV today has had some truly entertaining recurring guests throughout his long tenure in late night. It’s truly a hard task to compile a list of his 10 greatest guests and some really memorable ones like Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Tina Fey and Michael Keaton failed to make this list.
One reason Letterman will truly be missed is his interviews with celebrities, especially those you could tell he really respected and admired made his show more interesting and entertaining than any other show on late night. No other current late night host seems to have the same rapport with their guests and that’s one reason to be worried about the format come the end of Wednesday night’s farewell.
10. Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix is not a better all-time guest than Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis or Will Smith per se. He’s appeared on Letterman’s ‘Late Show’ far fewer times than those legends, but his appearance on the ‘Late Show’ on Feb. 11, 2009 was so memorable that he couldn’t be left off of this list. Letterman’s interview with Phoenix was the greatest single interview I’ve ever seen on the ‘Late Show,’ and even though we all know now that it was an act on Phoenix’s part for a mockumentary he was filming with fellow actor Casey Affleck it is still fantastic because Letterman didn’t know at the time it was an act and treated Phoenix accordingly. Letterman’s bite has rarely been as effective as it was during this interview as he completely obliterates Phoenix for his unusual behavior.
9. Norm Macdonald
Norm Macdonald was built for late night television appearances. The extremely hilarious and personable late night guest clearly admires Letterman and has frequently reminded him, especially in his previous appearance on March 18, that he’s his comedic hero. Macdonald even impersonated Letterman on “Saturday Night Live.” What makes Macdonald such a fascinating guest on the ‘Late Show’ is that he generally can crack Letterman up unlike no other comedian I’ve ever seen on his show and his hilarious long-form jokes and stories show exactly what a late night talk show was meant to be. Macdonald’s most epic guest appearance on the ‘Late Show’ came when he announced he was fired from ‘SNL’ on Jan. 7, 1998.
8. Warren Zevon
David Letterman has had just about every big star you can possibly think of as a musical guest during his 30-plus year tenure on late night television, but the one musical guest that he was perhaps closest to was the underrated and often unheard of Warren Zevon. Zevon appeared on Letterman’s ‘Late Night’ and ‘Late Show’ numerous times between 1982 and his death in 2003. His final appearance on the show was extremely memorable and touching as Letterman dedicated the entire episode to Zevon as not just the musical guest, but his lone interview as well. During the 2002 episode Zevon performed multiple songs, including a request from Letterman to do “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” which would become his final public performance.
7. Robin Williams
The late, great Robin Williams would most likely appear on the top 10 greatest guests list of any late night television show that’s aired over the last two-plus decades. The incredibly talented and wild improvisationalist was pretty much out of control with hilarity every time he stepped on a late night stage, but especially during his many appearances on David Letterman’s programs. It was never really an interview, just Letterman kicking back at his desk and enjoying Williams’ little one-man show for 15 minutes. After Williams’ tragic death from suicide in 2014 Letterman gave a memorable teary-eyed tribute to the comic legend, whom he’d met as a stand-up before either of them had even hit it big.
6. Andy Kaufman
Speaking of wild comedians on David Letterman’s programs there was none wilder than the late Andy Kaufman who made many a memorable appearance on Letterman’s early years on ‘Late Night’ on NBC with his charades and gags. Kaufman appeared on ‘Late Night’ an incredible 11 times in just a two-year span from 1982-1983 and even appeared on Letterman’s “The David Letterman Show” morning show in 1980 multiple times. His most famous, or infamous if you’d rather, appearance on ‘Late Night’ came in 1982 when his mock wrestling feud with pro wrestler Jerry Lawler came to a head when Lawler slapped Kaufman across the face and sent Kaufman on a profane and naturally censored for television tirade in the studio. The incident was memorably recreated for the Andy Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon,” starring Jim Carrey in 1999 with Letterman and Lawler portraying themselves.
5. Steve Martin
Steve Martin has always been an incredibly fun guest on David Letterman’s programs with his sarcastic style of humor playing off of Letterman’s very well. You could always tell that these two comedic giants had a great respect and liking for one another and the comradery between the two has always been incredibly fun to watch, especially when Martin has acted over the years like he doesn’t like Letterman at all. The best ‘Late Show’ bit between Letterman and Martin came in the form of the hilarious 1998 segment ‘Steve and Dave’s Gay Vacation.’
4. Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks is likely the greatest actor in cinema of the last three decades, but has spent the bulk of his film career in very dramatic roles. But, Hanks is a generally funny guy and seemingly one of the most personable celebrities in Hollywood and this has always come out in his extremely entertaining guest spots on Letterman’s ‘Late Show.’ Hanks always showed up to the ‘Late Show’ with a bevy of fantastically hilarious stories from his daily life that always managed to crack up both Letterman and his audience both at the Ed Sullivan Theatre and those watching at home. Hanks is a great late night guest no matter what talk show he appears on, but he always had such a great rapport with Letterman that it feels like his best late show TV appearances are bound to be behind him.
3. Bill Murray
Bill Murray has been a monumental guest for David Letterman all the way through Letterman’s late night career. Murray was Letterman’s very first late night guest on ‘Late Night’ over on NBC in 1982. On that episode Murray told Letterman, “You got out of Indianapolis and didn’t look back. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to fall on you, man, and I want to be there when it hits the floor! I had a chance to strangle Richard Nixon and I didn’t – and I regret it!” Murray was also Letterman’s first guest on ‘Late Show’ in 1993. Murray has always been a fascinatingly entertaining guest as he usually comes out in a wild outfit or does some sort of musical bit in honor of Letterman. It was recently announced that Murray will fittingly be Letterman’s final guest on the ‘Late Show,’ although his appearance is the night before Letterman’s finale. Any guests, if the show chooses to have any, for the finale have yet to be announced.
2. Jay Thomas
Jay Thomas is very likely the least famous person on this list, but he’s easily been one of the greatest guests on Letterman’s ‘Late Show.’ Thomas has two great traditions on the ‘Late Show’ annual Christmas episode that date back to 1998. His traditions include throwing a football with Letterman at the giant meatball that sits atop the Christmas tree on the ‘Late Show’ stage and telling a story that Letterman has deemed “the greatest late night story of all-time.” The football throw started in 1998 when then New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde was on the show and trying to knock the meatball down. Thomas, in the green room as the next guest, grew irritated that a professional QB couldn’t hit a meatball off a tree and ran out to the stage, grabbed a ball and immediately knocked the meatball off. Letterman has invited him back every year since (except for 2013 when Thomas had surgery) to join in the tradition. The “greatest late night story of all-time” is the incredibly funny story of Thomas’ younger days as a local DJ and having to do a gig with Clayton Moore, the actor who portrayed TV’s Lone Ranger, and getting into a road rage incident with the Lone Ranger in his backseat. As long as late night television continues there will never be a greater story told on a talk show.
1. Jack Hanna
Jack Hanna has appeared on David Letterman’s talk shows more than 100 times over the last three decades. Only Regis Philbin and Marv Albert have appeared on more episodes during Letterman’s legendary run. The award-winning zookeeper and animal expert has brought many exotic and fascinating animals to Letterman’s stage over the years and Letterman’s reactions and interactions with both the animals and Hanna has proven to elicit perhaps more laughs than any of these other nine guests on this list combined. Every time you saw that Jack Hanna was scheduled to be on ‘Late Night’ or ‘Late Show’ you knew it would be must-see TV. Hanna’s final appearance on the ‘Late Show’ on April 29th was a highly emotional one for the legendary zookeeper who was brought to tears when the show did a terrific montage of his appearances on the show over the last three decades.
Who do you think was Letterman’s greatest guest of all-time?
by Preston Tolliver
As far as comic flicks go, there's no question who's always ruled the box office. Marvel, for the last several years, has churned out at least two major films a year, running laps both in fan interest and profits around the company that has only given us a handful of noteworthy films in the last 10 years. But where DC Comics has lacked in feature films, it's made up for it in television. With “Arrow” in its third season and “The Flash” and “Gotham” entering their highly-anticipated (and very, very good) first seasons, DC looked like it had finally gained the upper hand on Marvel.
And then Marvel pulled the rug out from under them.
“Daredevil” premiered April 10 on Netflix, the first of five series the streaming service had announced for Marvel (the others being Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and a Defenders series following the four characters' own seasons, in which it'll bring all four back as a single team).
DC's shows face certain limitations just in their respective networks — with “Arrow” and “The Flash” airing on the CW, and “Gotham” on Fox, there are a lot of restrictions that prevent the shows from doing some things that fans have grown to like. The language is kept generally family-friendly, and their action scenes are reduced to mere skirmishes. “Daredevil” didn't have those restrictions. With it airing on Netflix, the show was able to introduce a new darkness to the Marvel universe, and with that an extraordinary level of grit. While the show would be deemed too dark for primetime networks, it's something that could fit in easily on AMC, matching the channel's shows in both intense storytelling and creativity (If you need proof of the show's uniqueness, just watch this scene. You always expect some sort of breathtaking battle scene in any action movie. You don't expect it to be filmed in a single take.
With “Daredevil,” Marvel introduced a brand new, unprecedented phase to its cinematic universe: it abandoned the lightheartedness that has brightened the central storylines in all its films — jokes made throughout the movies keep viewers from worrying too much about the film's outcome, while a hurried attempt to fit as much action as possible into two-and-a-half hours keep at bay any emotional connection to any of the central characters. Whereas movie-makers are awarded maybe 30 minutes to an hour to explore a character's depth before that character would be required to plunge into an hour of endless kicks, punches and shield-throws or web-slinging.
Protagonists have it even worse. First off, just to get it out of the way, the 2003 “Daredevil” film was awful. In that film, Michael Clarke Duncan played The Kingpin, a man hell-bent on taking over Hell's Kitchen for his own profit. But as good as Clarke Duncan was (and he was probably the only good part of that movie), that's about all he gave us. And it wasn't because of any flaw of the movie — the flaw, in this case, was that it was a movie. In the Netflix series, however, we get significant parts of several episodes that explore the life of Wilson Fisk, and how he became the Kingpin. Unlike the movie, we see more than his life in a world against the Devil. We find out why he is the Kingpin. 2003's movie gave us the Kingpin; the series gave us Wilson Fisk.
The series was so well-received that Marvel and Netflix have announced a second season, and let's hope it continues to plunge into darkness. If they bring in fan-favorite Bullseye, Matt Murdock's biggest rival, there's nowhere to go but into the dusk. This series, the first of the five, also shows that maybe Marvel's niche isn't in its films. Sure, the films are great, but they lack heart. Here's hoping Marvel doesn't stop its series after “The Defenders” (please, please give us a Punisher series).
My brother asked me after “Daredevil” first arrived on Netflix if the show is darker than “Gotham”; the truth is, “Daredevil” makes “Gotham” look like a sunny day, while DC is back to looking like second fiddle.
by Julian Spivey
The season four finale of CBS’ excellent drama “Person of Interest” ended with a literal bang as John Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Root (Amy Acker) went out guns blazing in protection of Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) and his damaged baby, The Machine against an army of Samaritan’s soldiers as the season came to an end after an all-time classic scene.
The ending of “YHWH” on Tuesday night (May 5) was the culmination of a very well-written and acted season of “Person of Interest,” which for my money is the best show currently on network television. Because of an unexpected and sudden ratings drop it unfortunately might end up being a de facto series finale for the show, as well. The season finale was actually the least watched episode of the show in its four season run, which is almost unheard of for a finale. Most prognosticators do think CBS will renew the show for a fifth season, but this is a great time to remind viewers that you actually have to watch your favorite shows if you want them to survive.
A fifth season of “Person of Interest,” shall it come, will be somewhat of a rebirth for the series as Finch’s Machine has been greatly disabled by Samaritan, the super A.I. trying to take over the world, in the finale. The final scene of Finch trying to talk the Machine out of overriding itself was incredibly touching, a gift of an acting performance from Emerson and the writing staff to get us to truly feel saddened for the potential death of a supercomputer. The scene was greatly enhanced by Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” playing over it.
While Samaritan, perhaps the show’s greatest and certainly its biggest villain yet, is doing better than ever at the end of season four and will be in complete control it seems if the show is renewed for another season the series did say goodbye to two notable villains in the finale, one of which has been around as long as the show itself.
The Brotherhood’s Dominic (Winston Duke) and New York’s biggest crime boss Elias (Enrico Colantoni) have finally come to blows in the season finale for what seems like it will be the last time when Dominic kidnaps Elias, along with Reese and Det. Fusco (Kevin Chapman) and is threatening to kill them if they don’t lead him to Finch – whom he plans to make his own. Thanks to a little help from The Machine Reese is able to break free from his shackles and take control of the situation, with Dominic and Elias being arrested in the end. However, while both men are being transported by Fusco one of Elias’ men crashes into the police transport and frees him. In perhaps the most shocking moment of the finale, both Dominic and Elias are soon gunned down by a Samaritan sniper as the supercomputer shows what it’s truly capable of and supposed to do by riding the world of horrible men. It’s not too much of a surprise that Elias’ time on “Person of Interest” has finally come to an end after four seasons, but it’s a little unfortunate as Colantoni’s character was one of the best recurring characters recently on television.
“Person of Interest” has really set itself up for another fantastic season if the show is indeed renewed and what really sets it apart from other shows on television is its terrific writing and the fact that it can draw out an interesting storyline for the bulk of a season, as it has with the Samaritan storyline. Unfortunately, though, this is probably one of the biggest reasons the show is bleeding viewers. Network television viewers have proven to prefer shows that tend to have a different storyline per episode, rather than season long arcs like “Person of Interest” is so deft at. “Person of Interest” used to mix these kind of episodes in with their overall arcs, but dropped the “crime of the week” aspect for much of this season. That coupled with the fact that it’s lost two main characters in Taraji P. Henson’s Det. Carter and Sarah Shahi’s Shaw over the last two seasons has probably led to certain viewers getting turned off on the show. That has resulted in the show losing almost two million viewers per episode just this season alone.
“Person of Interest” is a truly fantastic show that really deserves the new life that Finch is going to attempt to give The Machine come next season. Perhaps CBS renewing it for one last season might be in everybody’s best interest as it would allow the show to wrap up its storyline without the possibility of cancellation before it gets that sendoff it truly deserves.
by Julian Spivey
Note: This was originally published as a series of articles on Examiner.com
“Saturday Night Live” is celebrating its milestone 40th anniversary this season and as a huge fan of the show I wanted to celebrate it with a list of what I consider to be the show’s 40 most memorable moments. Trying to condense a show like "Saturday Night Live" into 40 memorable moments for its 40 years on television is a fool's errand. One-hundred moments wouldn't be enough. So there are going to be moments throughout this list that cause controversy because they are included when others aren’t, but that’s what happens when you have such a legendary show and it’s the debate caused by those moments chosen and those left out that truly makes a list fun and worthwhile.
#40. Wilford Brimley for Liberty Medical (Nov. 3, 2001)
This is one of those sketches that you probably wouldn’t see on any other list of great or most memorable “Saturday Night Live” moments or best ‘SNL’ sketches lists, but it’s a sketch that has always stayed with me since the very moment I saw it for the first time live over 13 years ago. It’s easily one of my favorite ‘SNL’ sketches and one of the ones I can pretty much recite by heart. It doesn’t hurt that I used to record ‘SNL’ episodes on VHS and sit there with my VCR remote and rewind and fast-forward the tape over and over again to transcribe favorite sketches of mine to submit to the website SNL Transcripts. This is one of the ones I contributed to them because I loved it so much.
John Goodman has appeared as host of “Saturday Night Live” 13 times, only Alec Baldwin (16 hosting stints) and Steve Martin (15 hosting appearances) have hosted more episodes of the show. He’s obviously one of the most legendary hosts of the show’s four-decade history and a treasured member of the “five-timer’s club.” In my opinion, Goodman’s impression of veteran character actor and diabetes medication advocate Wilford Brimley endorsing Liberty Medical supplies is his finest moment as ‘SNL’ host.
There aren’t too many occasions on ‘SNL’ where the host can take a sketch completely on his own and run with it with full hilarity, but Goodman does it here to perfect effect. Among the funniest moments of the bit are when Goodman as Brimley explains how he has to get off from atop his horse by “getting onto a smaller horse, and then onto a large dog, until I’m near enough to the ground to roll off.” But, my favorite line from the sketch to this date and one that I like to use in everyday situations whether people get the reference or don’t (and the sketch is so criminally unknown that almost nobody does without explanation) is, “My doctor isn’t even sure I’ve got diabetes. He just says I look like somebody who would have it.”
The real kicker to the entire bit, other than the fantastic writing, is Goodman’s delivery, especially mimicking the way Brimley pronounces the word “diabetes” as “diabetus.”
If I had to give a vote for most-underrated “Saturday Night Live” sketch of all-time, this one might get it.
#39. We’re Cowboys & We’re Proud (May 16, 1992)
There are a few sketches in the history of “Saturday Night Live” that I’m 100 percent certain that the show could not get away with today in our world of political correctness often run amuck. Some of those are among the greatest in the show’s illustrious history, like the Word Association sketch between Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase from the show’s first season in 1975, which might be one of the five greatest sketches in the show’s history.
It’s really a shame that people take offense to every little thing these days and ‘SNL’ has seen its share of controversy just this season thanks to a Chris Rock monologue touching on such topics as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing and the most recent episode of ‘SNL’ taking on the subject of a black “Annie.” It’s the topic of race that most commonly stirs the controversy pot.
This is why a sketch like the cowboy sing-a-long “We’re Cowboys & We’re Proud” from season 17 (1992) would almost certainly never be broadcast on television today. It’s a simple sketch really. Host of the week Woody Harrelson along with two of the greatest cast members in ‘SNL’ history Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey are perched atop of fake horses in cowboy garb singing a tune about why they’re glad God made them cowboys. The punchline is that cowboys are about the only thing worth being because every other race, gender or type of people is inferior.
This sketch would be incredibly offensive if it were serious, but the audacity and nerve of the cast to pull off a cowboy sing-a-long filled with racial stereotypes makes it one of the more daring and, because of this, funniest sketches I’ve ever seen. There’s seemingly a belief in comedy that something isn’t racist if you’re poking fun at everybody equally and this sketch fits that to a T.
I think there’s a distinct possibility that “We’re Cowboys & We’re Proud” is actually funnier today than if I had seen it live 22 years ago, because it’s so unlike anything you would see on television today in our over-sensitive society. I think it’s one of those few sketches that might actually get funnier the more time passes – or it might be viewed as a moment of “geez, how could they have been that insensitive?” Perhaps it already is …
38. Five-Timers Club (Dec. 8, 1990)
“The Five-Timers Club,” which originally appeared on Tom Hanks’ fifth hosting stint on Dec. 8, 1990, and was hilariously reprised during Justin Timberlake’s fifth hosting appearance in 2013 is one of the most memorable moments in the great history of “Saturday Night Live” just for the sheer quantity of talent involved.
“The Five-Timers Club” is an exclusive club that only includes those select few celebrities who have had the great opportunity to host ‘SNL’ at least five times. The club currently includes 15 members, with both Timberlake and Ben Affleck being inducted last year. But, when the sketch debuted with Hanks in 1990 he was only the group’s seventh member along with Buck Henry, Steve Martin, Elliott Gould, Paul Simon, Chevy Chase and Candice Bergen. (Interesting Fact: Alec Baldwin, who’s hosted the show a record 16 times, had only hosted the show once at the time of this sketch)
The debut of “The Five-Timers Club” was a memorable moment because it featured so many famous faces who had hosted the show before with Martin, Simon and Gould (Chase and Bergen did not appear). It was also funny to see cast member Jon Lovitz, who frequently appeared in sketches with Hanks, as the club waiter. It’s also fun almost 25 years later to see Conan O’Brien, a then-unknown ‘SNL’ writer, as the club’s doorman.
Tom Hanks recalled how the sketch initially came about in the terrific 2002 book “Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live As Told By Its Stars, Writers And Guests” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller: “The Five-Timers Club’ is still one of my favorite sketches. By that time I had figured that the secret of being the host of the show is to concern yourself only with the monologue. Because if you have a good monologue, everybody thinks the entire show was great. So by the fifth time, I was like pushing for something slam dunk. We must have a magnificent monologue. And I think [‘SNL’ creator/producer] Lorne [Michaels] said, ‘Well, why don’t we do something like, you get to join a select club?’ And that was that.”
The Timberlake “Five-Timers Club” monologue is perhaps even better because it features more members of this exclusive club that Timberlake dubbed “the most exclusive club in New York.” Timberlake’s version featured Simon, Martin, Chase, Bergen, Hanks and Baldwin and included the nice touch of ‘SNL’ legends Dan Aykroyd as club bartender and Martin Short as waiter.
#37. Extremely Stupid (Dec. 11, 1976)
Breaking character is always going to be an issue with live television, particularly live comedic television. Sometimes the jokes you say or the humorous antics you have to perform for a live audience and the millions watching instantaneously at home are just too funny not to laugh to or at yourself.
‘SNL’ fans have always had a love/hate relationship with performers breaking character on the show. Some are strict in their opinion that professionals should never break character while others love the fact that cast members occasionally crack themselves up and admit that at times breaking character actually makes a sketch much funnier than it would have been otherwise.
There have been many memorable instances of breaking character on the show from the almost-never-to-crack Phil Hartman doing so in Frankenstein makeup to Bill Hader’s hilarious crack-ups at last second joke inserts by writer John Mulaney during Stefon bits on Weekend Update. The most famous “breaking character” cast members were Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz, whose frequent crack-ups were a common annoyance to those who hate seeing such things.
Perhaps the best-timed flub in the 40 year history of “Saturday Night Live” came in its early years and started a crack-up so hilarious that it almost completely brought the entire sketch to a standstill … and in doing so turned what certainly would’ve been a long forgotten sketch into a classic.
It happened on Dec. 11, 1976 during the show’s second season and the third episode of the series hosted by actress Candice Bergen in just a year-and-a-half span. It was a simple plot. Bergen was supposed to be the straight woman in the sketch about a message from the Right to Extreme Stupidity League about how all Americans deserve their right to extreme stupidity. Gilda Radner was to be the American diagnosed with “extreme stupidity.”
Bergen’s character is named ‘Fern’ and Radner’s is named ‘Lisa,’ but at some point in the sketch Bergen mistakenly flip-flops the names and says, “You’re not too bright are you Fern [breaking character by laughing at her mistake] Whatever your name is! [continues laughing].” Radner interjects “Lisa!” to which Bergen continues with the sketch as written, “As a matter of fact you’re extremely stupid.” Radner says, “Well, you’re right Fern. And, you know I’m proud of it. [At this point she turns to the camera for emphasis] You know, we all can’t be brainy like Fern here … [the emphasis she puts on the name is something only a comedic genius like Radner could do].” At this point Bergen absolutely loses it to the point where she is in tears and can barely continue the sketch.
I’m not sure whether the “we all can’t be brainy like Fern here” line was written as part of the sketch or improvised on the spot by Radner, but it feels totally improvised when you watch it, and it makes it seem all the more hilarious.
I’m sure if you asked ‘SNL’ fans what their favorite memory of Radner is from her time on the show they’d probably name one of her memorable characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna or Emily Litella, but her quick wit and perfect timing upon Bergen’s misfortune in this sketch is my favorite memory of her.
#36. Debbie Downer (May 1, 2004)
Every now and then something will happen on “Saturday Night Live” that will wind up permanently engrained in the American lexicon. Debbie Downer is one of those things. Because even people who have never seen a single one of the Debbie Downer sketches on ‘SNL’ know what the term “Debbie Downer” means and have probably used it on an occasion or two. “Debbie Downer” has become synonymous with a depressing person seemingly bent on destroying any positive atmosphere within a group of people.
The character, which quickly became the greatest and most recognizable character of veteran cast member Rachel Dratch’s tenure on the show, debuted on May 1, 2004 in an episode hosted by Lindsay Lohan and instantly became a classic due to the outrageousness of the character and more importantly the giggles it created amongst every single member of the sketch. Debbie Downer would go on to appear on the show six more times, but it never quite lived up to the hilarity of the first time.
In the first appearance Debbie Downer (Dratch) is eating breakfast at a restaurant at Walt Disney World, the supposed happiest place on Earth, with her family members played by Lohan, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen and Horatio Sanz. The family is extremely pumped about their breakfast, except for Debbie Dower, of course, who interjects depressing facts about the horrors of life amidst her families’ excitement.
Dratch’s punchlines as Debbie Downer are hilarious, but the real humor of the bit comes early on when the entire cast seems to come down with a fit of the giggles on live television. The first sign of the giggles comes after Debbie Downer’s interjection about Roy from Siegfried and Roy not doing well and the slide trombone sound effect seems to make her break character ever so slightly – which sets notorious gigglers Fallon and Sanz off immediately. Within a half minute the entire cast in the sketch has completely lost it. The best part of the whole thing is how much Dratch loses it because of how depressing her character is supposed to be.
The first Debbie Downer sketch is one of the most memorable sketches in ‘SNL’ history because it’s incredibly rare to see every single member of the sketch in hysterics and almost unable to carry on. At one point in the sketch you literally see Sanz wiping tears from his eyes because he’s laughing so hard. You know it’s one of those sketches in which they probably couldn’t keep it together during dress rehearsal and just tried their best during the live show. Thank God they couldn’t keep it together, because their reaction to the sketch is what truly makes it so memorable.
#35. John Belushi’s Feelin’ Alright (Oct. 2, 1976)
The late John Belushi is one of the most beloved cast members in the illustrious 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” known for many great characters and impressions. Perhaps his best impression was that of the spastically gritty English singer Joe Cocker. Cocker is considered by many to be one of the best vocalists of all-time thanks to his gritty, bluesy voice that led Rolling Stone magazine to name him the 97th greatest singer of all-time, but it was for his incredibly spastic body movements while performing in concert that he’s perhaps most known.
It was these spastic body movements mimicked by Belushi that truly made his impression of Cocker one of the most iconic in ‘SNL’ history. Belushi impersonated Cocker five times on the program. Some might choose his first appearance doing Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ classic “With a Little Help From My Friends” in October of 1975 to be his finest Cocker turn, but my favorite was his final appearance as the singing legend in October of 1976 when Belushi actually got a chance to out-Cocker the real Cocker when the bluesy-voiced performer happened to be the night’s musical guest.
It’s the only time I can remember in ‘SNL’ history where an actual musical performance is turned into a fantastically funny comedy bit thanks to a cast member’s impression.
The musical performance starts with just Cocker performing his hit “Feelin’ Alright” dressed in white pants, a white sport coat and a black T-shirt underneath that had ‘Stuff,’ the name of his band, written in pink lettering. After Cocker finishes the first chorus Belushi comes out onto the stage dressed identically to Cocker and performs the second verse of the song. Seeing Belushi’s impression right next to Cocker proves just how brilliant it really was. Belushi, of course, takes it a little bit further by drinking a beer and wildly pulling at his frizzy white boy afro during the song.
I loved Belushi’s impression of Cocker so much that one Halloween during college I even dressed up as John Belushi impersonating Joe Cocker from this very performance with my hair all messed up and wearing a black t-shirt with ‘Stuff’ written across it. Nobody got the joke.
#34. Patriotic Shorts (Oct. 6, 2001)
Patriotic Shorts was a very important sketch at the time for “Saturday Night Live” as it came less than a month after the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11 had caused so much pain to not only New York, where the show is, of course, performed, but the entire nation. It was important, I think, for two reasons. 1) Because people really could use a good laugh after so much tragedy and 2) Because the nation had already been taken over by over-patriotic symptoms (that frankly it hasn’t gotten over even 13 years later) and that’s something that needed to be poked fun of to some extent.
Will Ferrell is arguably the greatest cast member in the 40 great years of ‘SNL’ and this is probably one of his greatest hits on the show.
The sketch, which appeared in just the second episode of ‘SNL’ after 9/11, features the week’s host Seann William Scott as a boss of an office who wanting to show his American pride allows his employees to wear patriotic attire like ties adorned with the flag or flag pins. One employee, Ferrell’s Dale McGrew, takes things just a little bit too far when he shows up for a company meeting wearing a half shirt that says ‘USA’ that completely bares his midsection and flag shorts that have been cut into a thong.
The punchline of the sketch is simply Ferrell’s wacky attire that shows off a sense of over-patriotism. Things get uncomfortably hilarious when Dale McGrew wanting to pour himself a cup of coffee turns his back to the camera showing off both of Ferrell’s butt cheeks. Ferrell was known to be the one cast member to truly go above and beyond for laughs and this was a clear sign of his willingness to make people laugh.
A great aspect of the Patriotic Shorts sketch is how the rest of the cast members in the sketch (Horatio Sanz, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers) struggle to keep their giggles under wraps throughout the entire six-plus minute sketch, oftentimes failing in doing so. Things get particularly hilarious when Ferrell leans back in his chair and places his feet upon the meeting room’s table completely exposing his red, white and blue crotch.
Patriotic Shorts was the perfect sketch for “Saturday Night Live” to air less than a month after our nation’s worst tragedy. It was probably the first time some people had laughed since before 9/11.
#33. Colonel Angus (Feb. 22, 2003)
I have to admit that the first time I saw the Colonel Angus sketch live in February of 2003 it wasn’t one of my favorite sketches. I laughed, but never thought years later I’d look back on it with such fondness.
In the sketch the week’s host Christopher Walken, a noted member of the Five-Timers Club, played a Civil War hero returning home from war. His name was Colonel Angus and for some reason the ladies around Shady Thicket absolutely loved him. When you hear the name Colonel Angus said with a Civil War era Southern accent you begin to realize why they’re so fond of him.
I think I truly began to appreciate this sketch years after I saw it when I found out that it was written by Tina Fey and revisited it. Something about a sketch with such ribald, tawdry wordplay written by a woman piqued my interest, because such things in the past had typically been considered with a “boys club” mentality. Here was Fey, who thanks to her magnificent NBC comedy series “30 Rock,” I’d grown to absolutely love, respect and admire for her acerbic sense of humor, showing the world that women could be just as raunchy and dirty-minded as the men when it came to comedy.
Some would say that the writer of a sketch shouldn’t matter all that much when it comes to the overall greatness of it, but if Adam Sandler had written the Colonel Angus sketch it just wouldn’t have felt the same. It would have been typical Sandler. From Fey the numerous double-entendres that make Colonel Angus so much fun weren’t as expected and it really adds to the humor and greatness of the entire bit.
It’s nice knowing which writers have a hand in writing which sketches, but that’s something that unfortunately isn’t well-known or publicized throughout the great history of ‘SNL.’ We remember the cast members and lines that made us laugh, but rarely get a chance to know the genius behind the words or plots.
Colonel Angus came at a particularly important time in ‘SNL’ history when female cast members like Fey, Amy Poehler and later on Kristen Wiig were about to steal a show that had always been dominated by men.
#32. Andy Kaufman Sings Mighty Mouse (Oct. 11, 1975)
Andy Kaufman was a misunderstood genius. What he did for comedy was so before his time that a lot of people at the time, and probably even some now just don’t understand. The thing was he wasn’t really a comedian in the natural sense. He didn’t tell jokes. In fact he once said: “I am not a comic, I have never told a joke. ... The comedian's promise is that he will go out there and make you laugh with him. ... My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can. ... They say, 'Oh wow, Andy Kaufman, he's a really funny guy.' But I'm not trying to be funny. I just want to play with their heads.” Kaufman was a performance artist. And, somehow the fact that he just wanted to mess with people more so than even make them laugh makes him all the more endearing to me.
On many occasions he would both mess with people and still make them laugh. One such time was his first appearance on “Saturday Night Live” during the show’s very first episode in October of 1975 when he lip-synched with gusto to a record of the “Mighty Mouse” theme song. It was a variation of his Foreign Man routine, which would later be adapted into the character of Latka Gravas on the popular ABC sitcom “Taxi,” which was a source of frustration for him as he hated sitcoms. That very first episode of “Saturday Night Live” is not only one of the most important episodes of the series’ great run, but also one of the all-around best and it can be argued that Kaufman’s act was the highlight of the episode.
According to ‘SNL’ creator Lorne Michaels, Kaufman’s bit was an integral part of that first episode saying in the terrific “Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller: “I taught at an art school in Toronto, I was teaching improvisations, the conceptual art movement which was being talked about and on the edge of things in the early ’70s. Where that and entertainment met was what Andy Kaufman was doing. It wasn’t just that he lip-synched to ‘Mighty Mouse’; it was that he only did that one part in it, that one line, and stood around for the rest. It was very conceptual, and it instantly signaled to the brighter part of the audience that that was the kind of show we were going to do.”
Kaufman would appear on ‘SNL’ 15 more times between 1975 and 1983, when the show ran a bit where Kaufman would either keep appearing on the show or be voted off forever. Votes were taken via a phone line and Kaufman was dumped by a 195,544 to 169,186 vote. He never appeared on the show again, but it was never admitted whether this was purely a gag or not; true to Kaufman’s style.
Kaufman would die a year later in 1984 of cancer at age 35, although there have always been claims that he faked his death. Today he’s criminally unknown by many, despite his iconic television moments on ‘SNL,’ “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Fridays.” He was honored in 1999 with the terrific biopic “Man on the Moon,” in which Jim Carrey portrayed the legend in arguably his finest film performance.
#31. Church Chat (Oct. 24, 1987)
There have been a few iconic recurring characters in the illustrious history of “Saturday Night Live” that stand out as the most memorable. One of those is Dana Carvey’s portrayal of the holier-than-thou The Church Lady who hosts her own talk show on religion called “Church Chat” that mostly just bashes those she views as sinners and uses the platform to remind them that they’re going to burn in Hell.
Many people may not actually realize this because Carvey’s classic character is typically referred to as “The Church Lady,” but the character actually has a name – Enid Strict. His character may be the only one in ‘SNL’ history that actually has three memorable catchphrases: “Well, isn’t that special?,” “How convenient?” and “Could it be … SATAN?” that have entered the pop culture lexicon.
Carvey is easily one of the greatest cast members in the 40-year history of ‘SNL’ and one could certainly make the argument for him being the best cast member of all-time (though my money’s on Will Ferrell). Carvey will appear numerous times on this list, but The Church Lady might be the original character he’s most known for playing. He portrayed her an incredible 21 times on the show, including three times after leaving the show when he’s returned as the host. The Church Lady has the honor of having appeared in four different decades (’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s) and the only character that I know for a fact that has ever appeared on the show more often was Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella (25 times).
If one had to pick the all-time best Church Lady appearance it would likely have to be her ninth appearance on the show on Oct. 24, 1987 when she invited actor Sean Penn (the week’s host) to be her guest. The Church Lady’s interview with Penn hits a hilarity high-note when she mistakenly refers to him by the name “Sin.” The Church Lady then begins to question Penn on his then marriage to pop star Madonna and her overt sexuality until Penn finally gets so angry that he punches The Church Lady in the face. It’s probable that Penn, a future two-time Oscar winner, was such a good actor that he was playing “angered” at The Church Lady, but at times it feels like the jokes might actually be getting to him.
#30. Joyride with Ross Perot (Oct. 24, 1992)
This has always been one of my favorite “Saturday Night Live” political sketches (or really sketches in general) for two reasons: Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey. Hartman and Carvey were stalwarts of ‘SNL’ from 1986-1993 (when Carvey left; Hartman would leave in 1994). I don’t believe there has ever been a duo on the show during the same era as great as those two.
I’m sure this particular sketch would’ve been much funnier when it first aired in 1992 after a televised Vice Presidential candidate debate, when people actually knew the name Admiral James Stockdale (or even Ross Perot). Stockdale was Perot’s vice presidential candidate during the 1992 presidential election and bombed big time during the V.P. debate in which he opened the debate by exclaiming “Who am I? Why am I here?” during his opening statement. This was perfect fodder for ‘SNL.’
Carvey was the show’s political impressionist expert and famously impersonated both President George H.W. Bush and Perot, once doing both in a memorable presidential debate sketch via the use of a perfectly timed pre-taped segment inserted into a live sketch (which must have been risky in the early ’90s).
Hartman played Stockdale in this sketch brilliantly as a senile fool constantly shouting one-liners from the debate and had absolutely no business in the realm of politics. Because of Hartman’s memorable portrayal of Stockdale I’ll often find myself using the phrase “Who am I? How’d I get here?” in random conversation.
The sketch involved Perot and Stockdale taking a joyride through parts of rural America. Perot is talking to Stockdale about the highlights of the debate, while Stockdale periodically rambles off the aforementioned one-liners. The hilarious punchline of the sketch comes when Perot fakes seeing a 10-point buck on the side of the road and entices Stockdale to climb out of the car to get a better view before putting his foot to the pedal and attempting to leave the V.P. candidate lost in the middle of nowhere.
The laughs ramp up when the sketch takes an absolutely absurd turn and Stockdale chases down Perot’s speeding car – there’s simply no way for Perot to rid himself of this hit on the ticket.
Despite being on the show together for much of a decade I don’t remember too many great sketches featuring both Hartman and Carvey in lead roles together (probably because they both owned the stage whenever featured in a sketch), so this one really stands out for me.
#29. James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub
You could argue that there’s never been a more important cast member in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” than Eddie Murphy, because without Eddie Murphy this show wouldn’t have even lasted 10 seasons.
After the original cast and creator/executive producer Lorne Michaels left the series in 1980 the show went into a severe downward spiral that very nearly resulted in its cancellation. Then Eddie Murphy showed up as the youngest cast member in the show’s history at the time and almost single-handedly saved the show from extinction with his incredibly humorous and hilarious characters and impressions in his four years on the show from 1980-1984.
One of Murphy’s most memorable impressions during his tenure on the show was the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown. Murphy’s impression of Brown was spot on, not only in voice, but also in mannerisms and dancing style.
Good impressions on ‘SNL’ have been plentiful over the show’s long run, but what gets Murphy’s James Brown on this list is the hilariously absurd sketch James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub. The idea to put Brown as the host of his own variety show set in a hot tub was wildly genius and the fact that the entire sketch just involves Brown singing about hosting ‘James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub’ sends the sketch over the top.
The call and response with Brown’s band: “Should I get in the hot tub? Will it make me sweat? Should I get in the hot tub? Will it make me wet?” was a perfect send up of Brown’s performance style, but the real kicker of this sketch and one that makes me almost bust a gut every single time I see this sketch (and that number is rather high) is when Murphy as Brown says he’s going to get in the hot tub, places his foot into the hot tub, does the quintessential James Brown scream and sings, “It’s too hot in the hot tub.” Writing about the greatness of this sketch simply won’t do it justice. It absolutely must be seen and heard to comprehend the hilarity and greatness of it all.
Eddie Murphy is remembered for a lot of memorable moments on “Saturday Night Live” from Buckwheat to Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood to Gumby, dammit, but his performance as James Brown here is probably my all-time favorite.
28. Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor (Feb. 5, 2000)
Tracy Morgan had many memorable moments during his seven seasons on “Saturday Night Live” from memorable recurring characters like Brian Fellows and Astronaut Jones to great one-off sketches like Big Bernard. I’d say he’s certainly one of my favorite ‘SNL’ cast members of all-time and believe his greatest comedy achievement actually came shortly after his ‘SNL’ tenure when he joined the cast of Tina Fey’s incredible NBC comedy “30 Rock” as Tracy Jordan, essentially a more absurdist version of Morgan himself.
Tracy Jordan is one of the greatest sitcom characters ever, in my opinion, but out of all of the things Morgan did on ‘SNL’ the most memorable for me remains Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor, which might be the greatest fake commercial in the show’s 40-year history (and believe me that’s truly saying something). It’s also the only ‘SNL’ commercial parody to make my list of the show’s 40 most memorable moments.
The idea behind Uncle Jemima, the husband of pancake maven Aunt Jemima, is simply genius. It also goes to show just how good racial humor can be when it’s done right.
The Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor commercial is set up perfectly as a parody to the long-forgotten and deeply buried Disney movie “Song of the South” with Uncle Jemima staring into the camera trying to sell his Pure Mash Liquor. The faux-commercial is perhaps one of the most quotable bits in ‘SNL’ history (again, that’s truly saying something) with memorably hilarious lines like “I’m Uncle Jemima. You probably know my wife, Aunt Jemima, the Pancake Lady. Now, she says that sellin’ booze is degradin’ to our people. I always say that black folk ain’t exactly swellin’ up with pride on account of you flippin’ flapjack!” and “Uncle Jemima's Pure Mash Liquor has a 95 percent alcohol content, and that's per volume. That means you get f***** up for less money!”
Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor is really such a simple concept, but at the same time one of the greatest of all-time for Morgan’s performance and reading of such truly funny lines.
#27. Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey (1991-1998)
Few writers in the history of “Saturday Night Live” have ever become widely known in the pop culture lexicon. Many of those who did actually became popular well after their tenures as a ‘SNL’ writer like Conan O’Brien who became popular for his late night talk show gigs. Jack Handey is one of the very few, along with Robert Smigel and some others, that became not quite household names, but at least known to many.
Handey became known for his “Deep Thoughts” which are merely one-liner jokes, usually leaning toward the surrealistic or absurd. This was a very unique and unusual thing to see on a sketch comedy show, but the quick segments were so uproariously funny that they’ve always stuck with me.
Handey initially had his “Deep Thoughts” published in National Lampoon magazine in 1984 and in various publications in the years after leading up to his stint at ‘SNL.’
He said in Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s compilation “Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” that his “Deep Thoughts” actually had an unforeseen importance for the show.
“They proved to be pretty popular. And also they have a utilitarian purpose on the show which I didn’t foresee, which was that a lot of times they need, you know, 30 seconds to move cameras from one set to another, so they can just drop in something like that, and so it was helpful in that regard. I probably did more than 200 of them,” Handey said.
After Handey left the show in the late ’90s he would do some guest writing from time-to-time, which includes the less popular, but still hilarious “Fuzzy Memories” and “My Big Thick Novel” segments. Handey was also the creative genius behind two of the more wacky characters in ‘SNL’ history: Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Toonces the Driving Cat.
#26. Get Off the Shed (Sept. 30, 1995)
Will Ferrell is the greatest cast member in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live,” in my opinion. I know that’s going to be controversial for some and I agree that legends like Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley and others are right up there with him, but for me it’s Ferrell.
Nobody has made me bust out into uproarious laughter more on ‘SNL’ than Ferrell and it all started on his very first episode on the show. How many other cast members can you think of that had an all-time classic sketch on their very first episode?
It’s one of the most simplistic sketches in the show’s history with essentially only one repeated punchline and honestly it shouldn’t even be all that funny, but in the hands of Ferrell it turns into a masterpiece. Ferrell plays Frank Henderson who’s having a backyard grill party with his wife, played by the week’s host Mariel Hemingway, when two new neighbors drop by (David Koechner and Nancy Walls). Frank is having a nice, typical conversation with the neighbors while flipping burgers on the grill when he notices his kids (whom you never see onscreen) playing on top of the shed. Frank politely asks his kids to get off of the shed and continues on his previous conversation. Throughout the entire sketch those blasted kids of his return to playing atop the shed and Frank admonishes them for it, but with each admonishment getting louder and angrier as he goes until he’s finally screaming full throttle at them to “GET OFF THE DAMN SHED!”
It’s one of the great up the ante sketches that Ferrell was so fantastic at where he’d start out mild mannered and end up almost psychotic by the sketch’s end and every single time have you in stitches.
Interestingly the ‘Get Off the Shed’ bit was one of the pieces that Ferrell auditioned for the show with and you know Lorne Michaels and crew must have really enjoyed it if it ended up as a centerpiece of Ferrell’s very first episode.
#25. Sarah Palin (Oct. 18, 2008)
Political humor has been one of the main draws for “Saturday Night Live” since it first debuted with Chevy Chase doing a non-impersonation of then President Gerald Ford as a complete dimwit in season one. Over the years the show has seen some truly great political impersonations and some of them appear on this list from Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush to Will Ferrell as George W. Bush and both Phil Hartman and Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton. One of the truly fantastic political impressions in the show’s grand history came from a cast member who had already left the show, but returned in multiple cameos and absolutely owned each and every episode she appeared in – Tina Fey as then Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Fey appeared on ‘SNL’ from 2000-2006 as Weekend Update anchor and head writer of the show and made her first appearance as Palin in a cameo appearance on Sept. 13, 2008. She would return that season to portray Palin an incredible five more times, including once with the actual Palin in attendance (Oct. 18, 2008).
Fey absolutely owned the Palin impression hitting every nuance in her mannerisms and voice and brought out the wackiness of Palin probably before anybody else truly did, and Palin was/is so wacky she’s basically a caricature of an already wacky politician. The interesting thing about Fey’s perfect impression of Palin is that Fey is not an impressionist, in fact her Palin impression is really her only stand-out impression or sketch, for that matter, from her time on ‘SNL’ as she was primarily an excellent Update anchor. But, she thoroughly became Palin for her six appearances leading up to the election in 2008 and then twice more as host in later seasons and perhaps let the country in on a side of the Vice President candidate they hadn’t previously noticed – kind of like Chase might have done with Ford in the ’70s.
It’s almost impossible to think that a ‘SNL’ political impression or sketch could sway an entire election, but I’m sure the show has managed to change the minds of certain voters over the years – for better or worse. Fey likely made some people think whether or not they could really vote for a ticket that included someone as out there as Palin.
24. President George H.W. Bush
“Saturday Night Live” has been known for its political humor over its legendary 40 years on television such as Will Ferrell as President George W. Bush, both Darrell Hammond and Phil Hartman as President Bill Clinton and the previous entry on this list, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.
But, I believe the first truly great political impression on ‘SNL’ was Dana Carvey’s President George H.W. Bush. There had been political impressions before. Hartman did a good President Ronald Reagan and Dan Aykroyd had done a good President Jimmy Carter, but Carvey’s Bush was the very first I believe that essentially changed the country’s impression on the president at least in some minor ways.
Carvey absolutely became President Bush and the impersonation likely became the one Carvey was most synonymous with – and Carvey is probably one of the three greatest impressionists in ‘SNL’ history alongside Hammond and Bill Hader.
The interesting thing about Carvey’s Bush impression is that it wasn’t something he already had in his bag of tricks, but was actually assigned to him and he had to learn on the spot.
“I was just assigned George Bush, and I couldn’t do him at all. It was just a weird voice and weird rhythm. It’s one of those things where you go, ‘There’s nothing to do.’ But then over time, after Bush won the election, one night I just sort of hooked it, and it was that phrase ‘that thing out there, that guy out there doin’ that thing,’ and that sort of hooked it for me, and from there on I kind of refined it,” Carvey said in “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller.
Carvey’s terrific impression of Bush would revolve around these great little Bush-isms that I’m not even sure President Bush ever actually said or not, but have become synonymous with him because of Carvey’s impression like “not gonna do it” or “it wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.”
Almost 25 years after Bush’s presidency has ended and long since Carvey has left ‘SNL’ I still consider “not gonna do it” and “it wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture” among the show’s best catchphrases and ones I always find spots for in my daily conversation. I think that’s the mark of a great impression.
23. Robert Goulet Coconut Banger’s Ball It’s a Rap (Nov. 4, 2000)
Will Ferrell appears on this list an incredible seven times, which is a good reason why I believe he’s the greatest and funniest cast member in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live.” I believe many others think this too – after all Ferrell is the only cast member to ever have two ‘Best Of’ specials dedicated to his work on the show.
The fact that Will Ferrell had an impersonation of lounge singer Robert Goulet in his bag of tricks was uniquely and hilariously absurd in itself. That he portrayed Goulet as incredibly arrogant and pompous ratcheted up the laughter even more. But, Ferrell’s Goulet impression was at its absolute peak when he paired the old school crooner with some of the day’s biggest hip hop songs.
Listening to Ferrell as Goulet croon Sisqo’s “Thong Song” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Poppa” a capella is one of those ultimate ‘SNL’ moments I will never forget and constantly find myself thinking of whenever I hear any of those songs. Just the idea of Goulet singing songs with the content of those hip hop hits is enough to make somebody almost bust a gut. Goulet claims in the sketch that he can do hip hop better than the gangsta rappers selling millions saying, “You wouldn’t let a clown fix a leak in the john, so why let these hooligans tear down the biz?” I only wish Ferrell had been able to do more hip hop classics as Goulet. Frankly, his other Goulet sketches never quite lived up to this one.
However, the funniest part of the sketch isn’t even Goulet trying to pimp his record “Coconut Banger’s Ball: It’s a Rap” but toward the end of the sketch when the big horn mountain goat – the true reason he drives out to the middle of nowhere – comes wandering by and the two engage in an epic staring contest concluding in the hilarious “you win, you always do” line by Ferrell.
Few cast members in this show’s history could pull off such a ridiculous sketch idea as Robert Goulet performing rap songs and then having a staring contest with a goat and make it work as hilariously and effortlessly as Ferrell. That’s one of the many reasons he was the best.
#22. King Tut (April 22, 1978)
Does anybody remember that comedian Steve Martin actually had a top 20 Billboard pop hit in 1978 with his comedy song “King Tut”?
True story. The novelty song released by Martin and the Toot Uncommons (members of the popular group Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) from Martin’s comedy album A Wild and Crazy Guy became a massive hit selling over a million copies and it debuted on an episode of ‘SNL’ hosted by Martin on April 22, 1978.
According to authors Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad in their book “Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live,” Martin had come to the show that week and asked producer Lorne Michaels if he could perform it live on the air. Michaels put everything he had into the performance and as a result the performance became one of the most expensive productions to appear on the show, which began in 1975, to that point.
“King Tut” is a satirical, novelty song about the Treasures of Tutankhamun traveling exhibit that was popular in the United States at the time celebrating the life of the Egyptian pharaoh.
Watching Martin perform “King Tut” dressed in Egyptian pharaoh garb while doing crazy Egyptian dances that wouldn’t be made famous for almost another decade when The Bangles had a hit with “Walk Like an Egyptian” is a blast. Among my favorite lines of this zany tune are: “Buried with a donkey/he’s my favorite honkey” and “Dancin’ by the Nile/The ladies love his style/Rockin’ for a mile/he ate a crocodile.”
The fact that “King Tut” was a satire of the disco fad at the time also adds greatly to the humor of the piece, which might be lost on many hearing it for the first time today. Among the highlights of the ‘SNL’ performance is saxophonist Lou Marini, part of the first ‘SNL’ house band led by Howard Shore and a member of the Blues Brothers backing band, stepping out from a golden sarcophagus to play a blazing sax solo.
Martin, who has become quite the banjo virtuoso over the years, would revisit “King Tut” again in 2011 as a bluegrass song on his album Rare Bird Alert with the Steep Canyon Rangers. Interestingly enough both albums featuring this song were nominated for Grammy Awards.
#21. First Show after 9/11 (Sept. 29, 2001)
Eighteen days before “Saturday Night Live” was supposed to begin its 27th season in the fall of 2001 was the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11 that brought down the World Trade Center towers in New York City. The terrorist attacks which included locations that day in Washington D.C. and a plane downed by passengers in Pennsylvania to stop further destruction killed nearly 3,000 people.
It was the largest tragedy in the history of the United States and less than three weeks later the cast and crew of ‘SNL’ had to go on television live from the city most affected by the attacks and try to be funny.
The opening of this episode is one of the greatest and most emotional openings in the 40-year history of this legendary television show.
The camera centered on then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani surrounded by members of the New York Police and Fire Departments in a show of unity and a sign that they would not be defeated or brought to their knees by cowardly terroristic actions.
Part of Giuliani’s statement read: “Our hearts are broken, but they are beating, and they are beating stronger than ever. New Yorkers are unified. We will not yield to terrorism. We will not let our decisions be made out of fear. We choose to live our lives in freedom.”
Following his statement the camera panned to another stage where the legendary Paul Simon, good friend of ‘SNL’ creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, performed his Simon & Garfunkel classic “The Boxer,” a fitting ballad of a man refusing to give up amongst hard times and adversity.
Simon’s performance of “The Boxer” is the part of the opening that really stands with me all these years later as it’s an incredibly emotional song and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or heard a better performance of it.
After “The Boxer” the camera went back to Giuliani center stage where he was joined by Michaels who asked the mayor, “Can we be funny?” Many had wondered if ‘SNL’ shouldn’t postpone its season premiere for a while as jokes in a time of somberness might come off as disrespectful. Giuliani joked, “Why start now?” and opened the season with the famous “Live, from New York! It’s Saturday Night!”
The rest of the show did not disappoint and hopefully gave people of New York and the rest of the country a chance to laugh for the very first time in weeks.
#20. Wayne’s World (Debuted Feb. 18, 1989)
Admission #1: I’m not as big of a fan of Wayne’s World as most “Saturday Night Live” fans seem to be. I enjoy the sketches, but don’t find them as humorous or as classic as most do. However, some would say it’s the most notable sketch in the great history of ‘SNL’ so I felt compelled to include it on the list of the show’s most memorable moments. It’s certainly one of the show’s most important sketches and I’ll get to that in a bit.
Admission #2: Despite the fact that I like him I do believe that Mike Myers is one of the more overrated cast members in the show’s history. Incredibly funny, but just doesn’t have as many characters that I find iconic or made me laugh as much as some of the others, which leads me to …
Admission #3: I actually find Dana Carvey’s Garth Algar to be funnier than Myers’ Wayne Campbell.
Now that it seems I’m done running down Wayne’s World let’s talk about its merits and importance to the show.
Wayne’s World debuted on the Feb. 18, 1989 episode of ‘SNL’ hosted by Leslie Nielsen and before long it would go from end of the show time killer to one of the show’s most popular and successful sketches. It would end up appearing on the show 20 times, including most recently in 2011 when Carvey returned to host an episode and Myers made a cameo appearance.
What made Wayne’s World truly iconic in the history of ‘SNL’ is it spawned off into a successful movie in 1992 and then a sequel in 1993. At that time only John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blue Brothers characters from ‘SNL’ had been transformed into a film and that was less of a sketch than something Belushi and Aykroyd did on their own as a hobby. The success of “Wayne’s World” started the ‘SNL’ film franchise, for better or worse, that would see movies like “Coneheads,” “It’s Pat,” “The Ladies Man” and “A Night at the Roxbury,” almost all bombs hit the theaters based off of ‘SNL” characters.
The greatest Wayne’s World sketch in the minds of nearly everybody appeared on the Feb. 17, 1990 episode hosted by Tom Hanks (the seventh Wayne’s World sketch in less than a year) when Aerosmith guested and joined Wayne and Garth for a jam session of the “Wayne’s World” theme song in Wayne’s basement. In the E! Channel special “Saturday Night Live: 101 Most Unforgettable Moments” this was listed as the most unforgettable moment in the show’s history.
19. Samurai Delicatessen/Samurai Stockbroker (Jan. 17, 1976/Oct. 30, 1976)
The late, great John Belushi is one of the most iconic cast members in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” and was recently named the greatest cast member of all-time by Rolling Stone magazine in its extensive ranking of every cast member (that was frankly one of the worst lists in that magazine’s history once you got past the first few selections).
Belushi had a lot of great characters on the show from Jake Blues to one of the Killer Bees to his exquisite Joe Cocker impression, but his greatest character on the show was likely Samurai Futaba. According to one of the original ‘SNL’ writers Alan Zweibel the samurai character was one of the original ones that Belushi actually auditioned with for the show. Samurai Futaba made an incredible 16 appearances on the show from the first season in 1975 through 1979. The set up was that Belushi was a samurai who wielded a katana and could only speak mock Japanese and was put into a number of different occupations in which a samurai might have difficulty doing like psychiatrist, doctor and T.V. repairman.
The two most memorable Samurai Futaba sketches ever done both involved host Buck Henry in 1976. The first was Samurai Delicatessen in January of 1976, only the second time the character had ever appeared on the show, in which Belushi’s Samurai Futaba works at a deli. Henry’s Mr. Dantley goes into order a sandwich and Samurai Futaba hilariously makes the sandwich by splitting the ingredients with his katana.
Unfortunately ingredients wouldn’t be the only thing Belushi’s Samurai Futaba would split open with his katana.
During the second season of the show in October of 1976 Henry would appear as Mr. Dantley again in the Samurai Stockbroker sketch. At one point during this sketch Henry got a little too close to Belushi who struck the host in the head with the katana. The blow physically knocked Henry backed a little, but the veteran host (the first member of the five-timer’s club) finished the sketch with a bloodied forehead.
Henry recaptured the moment for the book “Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller: “On the Samurai sketches that I did with John, one never knew where it was going because John’s dialogue could not be written. You never knew what was going to happen next. In “Samurai Stockbroker,” he cut my head open with the sword, but it was really my fault; I leaned in at the wrong time. And I bled all over the set. It was a very amusing moment. You would not believe how much blood from a forehead was on that floor. We went on with the show. It didn’t require stitches, darn it, but it required a clamp for the rest of the show.
Henry finished the remainder of the show with a Band-Aid covering the cut on his forehead. Weekend Update anchor Chevy Chase appeared on the fake news segment with a bandage on his head about 10 minutes following the samurai sketch and in unison the remainder of the cast finished the show with Band-Aids on their foreheads, as well.
This sketch was proof that live television can occasionally be dangerous too.
18. Bill Brasky Buddies (Jan. 20, 1996 – December 12, 1998 & Dec. 7, 2013)
Bill Brasky is a son of a bitch. He’s a larger than life man who makes the Most Interesting Man in the World from those Dos Equis commercials look like a little boy and his buddies, who like to get absolutely hammered and talk of Brasky’s epic feats at the bar are among the funniest characters to ever appear in the grand 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live.”
The Brasky buddies were always led by the hilarious Will Ferrell in the mid-to-late ’90s typically with cast members of that era David Koechner and Mark McKinney by his side and one of the week’s hosts (usually Alec Baldwin or John Goodman). They would be drinking together at a bar or occasionally another venue, like their son’s little league baseball game, and get to bragging about their experiences will their shared friend Bill Brasky.
The group’s descriptions of Brasky always started out fairly normal with things like “I know Bill Brasky. He’s a big fella, goes about 6’4’’, 280. He loves his Scotch.” But, the descriptions of Brasky get more and more Paul Bunyan-esque as the sketch goes on and the drunk buddies try to one-up each other until the sketches reach absolute hilarity. By the end of the sketch Brasky would go from 6’4”, 280 to “a ten-foot-tall, two-ton son of a bitch who could eat a hammer and take a shotgun blast standing!”
The sketches would always end with the shadowy figure of Bill Brasky showing up and offering to buy a round for the buddies.
The sketches appeared five times from 1996 through 1998 and then in late 2013 after 15 years a miracle happened – in an episode hosted by actor Paul Rudd the Brasky Buddies returned. Rudd was appearing in support of the movie “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” which co-starred former Brasky buddies Ferrell and Koechner. The three were joined by current ‘SNL’ cast member Taran Killam to recreate the sketch, which would probably become the funniest sketch of that season on the show.
Some of the very best Brasky-isms included:
“I once saw him scissor-kick Angela Lansbury.”
“Bill Brasky once gave me a videotape of him having sex with my wife, and it was the most beautiful damn thing I ever saw!”
"Brasky got his wife pregnant and she gave birth to a delicious 16-ounce steak. The afterbirth was sautéed mushrooms."
17. Ebony and Ivory (May 22, 1982)/The Sinatra Group (Jan. 19, 1991)
“Saturday Night Live” has had the great luxury of having two incredible Frank Sinatra impressions over its legendary 40-year run on television.
Joe Piscopo was the first, as he essentially owned the impression of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” in the early ’80s on the show. It was his greatest achievement during his ‘SNL’ tenure and the thing he’s most known for more than 30 years after leaving the show (he recently appeared on the ‘SNL’ 40th anniversary special as Sinatra rather than himself). Piscopo’s Sinatra may be the ultimate – or greatest – Sinatra impression there’s ever been. But, it’s something the ‘SNL’ higher-ups actually had to talk Piscopo into doing.
Piscopo said in Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller: “The Sinatra stuff was early on, and they had to talk me into that too, because I didn’t want to disrespect my hero. When I first started doing him, I wrote him a letter and I sent him an album through his attorney – we put out this ‘I Love Rock and Roll, Sinatra Sings the Rock Tunes’ kind of thing. I was a North Jersey Italian American just like the Old Man, as we affectionately referred to Mr. S., and he couldn’t have been nicer. Matter of fact, he sent out cease-and-desist letters to anybody who’d even think of doing him and he never sent me a letter.”
Piscopo’s greatest moment as Sinatra was probably when he teamed up with Eddie Murphy’s spot-on Stevie Wonder to do a play on the hit Wonder had with Paul McCartney in the early ’80s called “Ebony and Ivory.” The parody version had Sinatra singing hilarious lines like: “You are blind as a bat and I have sight/Side by side, you are my amigo, Negro, let’s not fight.”
The other legendary ‘SNL’ cast member with an iconic impression of “The Chairman of the Board” was Phil Hartman. Hartman’s Sinatra was more mean-spirited than Piscopo’s, probably meaning Hartman didn’t have the same closeness to the source.
According to Piscopo the Sinatra family wasn’t happy at all by Hartman’s impression.
“The Sinatra family was not happy with the impression Phil was doing at all, again rest his soul. There was a meanness there to the Hartman thing. That was Lorne [Michaels] too, man. And I think there’s some kind of law: Don’t even attempt to do Sinatra unless you’re Italian.”
The greatest Sinatra sketch in the show’s history, in my opinion, was a Hartman one and came during the Jan. 19, 1991 episode hosted by musician Sting.
It was a unique idea to take The McLaughlin Group news show, which the show frequently parodied, and have it hosted by Sinatra with a panel of the day’s biggest recordings artists like Sinead O’Connor (Jan Hooks), Billy Idol (Sting) and 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell (Chris Rock). Watching Hartman’s jerk of a Sinatra grill and make fun of these younger stars was an absolute blast, especially when he’d taunt or throw insults at them.
Hartman could own a sketch with the best of them in the history of ‘SNL’ and this is, without a doubt, one of his ultimate highlights.
#16. Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers were originally something “Saturday Night Live” cast members and best friends John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd just did as a hobby to have a little fun during after-parties on Saturday night. The duo wasn’t intended as something to be broadcast on the show or meant as something comical. It was an act built out of a shared bond the two had of old blues and soul music. It was during these after-party gigs that Aykroyd got the idea for a ‘Blues Brothers’ movie.
The name “The Blues Brothers” was offered up jokingly by then ‘SNL’ band leader Howard Shore and it just sort of stuck. The duo would make their first appearance as The Blues Brothers on ‘SNL’ on April 22, 1978 as musical guest for host Steve Martin. The duo performed “Hey Bartender” and “I Don’t Know” on that episode. The two had performed together once before on the show prior to becoming The Blues Brothers in a 1976 episode hosted by Buck Henry performing “King Bee” in a Killer Bees bit. The Blues Brothers second and final appearance on the show as musical guest came on Nov. 18, 1978 in an episode hosted by Carrie Fisher. This appearance would feature their most iconic performance on the show, their cover of the Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man,” as well as performances of “Got Everything I Need (Almost)” and “B Movie Boxcar Blues.” All five musical performances by The Blues Brothers on ‘SNL’ in 1978 appeared on their album Briefcase Full of Blues, which became a Billboard number one album that year. “Soul Man” would even become a top 15 Billboard single.
The Blues Brothers act would propel Belushi and Aykroyd from ‘SNL’ cast members to national superstardom and in 1980 their movie directed by John Landis became the first in a long line of films based off of ‘SNL’ characters, and to this day is one of the most successful. “The Blues Brothers” movie gave us the full backstory of Belushi’s “Joliet” Jake Blues and Aykroyd’s Elwood Blues, something ‘SNL’ never had done.
Belushi died of a drug overdose at only 33 in 1982, but Aykroyd would continue on with The Blues Brothers legacy in a 1998 sequel “Blues Brothers 2000” that saw frequent ‘SNL’ host John Goodman attempting to fill Belushi’s shoes. More adequately filling Belushi’s shoes, however, is perhaps his younger brother, Jim, who frequently performs with Aykroyd’s Elwood as “Brother” Zee Blues.
#15. Norm Macdonald
Weekend Update has been the centerpiece of “Saturday Night Live” ever since the show debuted 40 years ago in 1975. The fake news segment has seen numerous fantastic fake news anchors over the show’s four decades from the very first one Chevy Chase to Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, Seth Meyers and the duo of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon. But, the one guy who did the fake news better than anybody else in the show’s great history, in my opinion, was Norm Macdonald.
Macdonald is considered by many to be an acquired taste, and some never seemed to have acquired that specific taste. For this reason, this selection on this list might be controversial. Macdonald had an incredibly dry and sarcastic wit and tone to his Weekend Update delivery that just worked for mocking the news. He took those witty jokes, many of which he collaborated on with legendary ‘SNL’ writer Jim Downey, and put his own special brand of “I don’t give a damn” on top of it that just sent the jokes through the sarcasm stratosphere. I think it’s the closest it has ever gotten to if David Letterman, another comedy hero of mine, had been tasked with the job of anchoring Weekend Update.
Macdonald was at his best when he was telling jokes where you couldn’t quite believe he actually went there with the punchline, even though you were well aware he had done similar things time and time before. It was this shock factor that made his version of Weekend Update the most fun it’s ever been on the show. I don’t think there will ever be a more entertaining version of Weekend Update again, and I doubt anything really even comes close. Update will certainly never be that dangerous again.
It was the dangerousness of Macdonald that made him so brilliant, but it’s also what got him fired from anchoring Update when NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, a first class idiot, deemed that Macdonald was “not funny.” Many speculated over the years that it was Macdonald’s frequent shots at O.J. Simpson during his mid-90s murder trial that got Macdonald canned as Ohlmeyer and Simpson were friends. I believe this is a more likely reason, because Ohlmeyer is an executive and what do those guys know about being funny anyway.
Macdonald turned the firing into a classic late night talk show bit when he went on the “Late Show with David Letterman” just days after getting his pink slip.
He recalled this in the fantastic anthology Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller saying: “I thought it would be funny to go on ‘Letterman’ and talk about it, because I knew that Letterman had been fired from NBC and stuff like that. I got fired on a Monday, so I called up the people at ‘Letterman’ and said, ‘Hey, you should have me on, because I got fired. It would be funny if I just said on the show that I got fired, you know?’ And so they booked me and I went on. And I remember Letterman during a break goes, ‘This is like some Andy Kaufman thing with fake wrestling, right?’ And I go, ‘No, no. It’s serious.’ Like he thought it was just a gag. Then the next day there was like some big reaction at ‘SNL.’ All of a sudden people didn’t want me to get fired, because they saw it as some sort of big network president against the little guy. So then they pretended like they liked me the whole time.”
14. Lunchlady Land (1/15/1994) & Chanukah Song (12/3/1994)
Some “Saturday Night Live” cast members are great team players where they are flawless whether they are the star of a sketch or playing the straight man in the sketch. Most of the legendary cast members throughout the show’s history like Will Ferrell, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and so on have been like this. But, there are also those who seem to truly only shine when they are doing their own special thing. Adam Sandler is probably the biggest and brightest example of this.
Sandler always seemed to be at his best on ‘SNL’ when he was alone and doing his own zany and wacky characters, often guests on Weekend Update like Opera Man and Cajun Man. But, he was at his absolute peak when accompanied by his guitar and performing his comical songs that would later become huge hits on his comedy albums.
Sandler’s two funniest performances on ‘SNL’ were “Lunchlady Land” and “The Chanukah Song.” “Lunchlady Land” was co-written by Sandler, Bob Odenkirk (currently the star of AMC’s “Better Call Saul”), Tim Herlihy and Allen Covert and would appear on Sandler’s debut comedy album They’re All Gonna Laugh At You! released in the fall of 1993. Sandler would debut “Lunchlady Land” on ‘SNL’ with his close friend and cast-mate Chris Farley hilariously portraying the role of the lunch lady and other cast members portraying cafeteria food dancing around Sandler while he performed on an episode hosted by Sara Gilbert on Jan. 15, 1994.
Sandler would debut “The Chanukah Song” in his final season on ‘SNL’ on Dec. 3, 1994 during a Weekend Update segment. The song co-written by Sandler with ‘SNL’ writers Lewis Morton and Ian Maxtone-Graham was written about how Jewish children are alienated by the incredible number of Christmas songs, but lack of Chanukah songs. “The Chanukah Song” is essentially a name-dropping list of famous Jewish people to pump up Jewish children during the holiday season and make them proud of their heritage. Sandler would record the song for his second comedy album What the Hell Happened to Me? released in 1995.
Sandler wrote and released “The Chanukah Song, Part II” for his fourth comedy album Stan and Judy’s Kid in 1999. Then in 2002 when Sandler did the animated holiday film “Eight Crazy Nights” he recorded a third version of the song, which he debuted on “Saturday Night Live” on Nov. 16 in an episode hosted by late actress Brittany Murphy. It remains the only appearance Sandler has made on ‘SNL’ since he left the show as a cast member following the show’s 20th season.
#13. Choppin’ Broccoli (Oct. 11, 1986)
Dana Carvey has already appeared on this list five times, which pretty much proves he’s one of the all-time greats when it comes to “Saturday Night Live” cast members. His finest moment ever as a cast member on the show, however, actually came on his very first episode. Is there anybody else in the show’s history that can say that?
Carvey had a bit he did in his stand-up routine that mocked the vapidness of pop music at that time, as if the lyrics to many of the day’s most popular hits were being made up right on the spot at the time of their recording. This became the song “The Lady I Know,” which had come to be known to fans more over the years as “Choppin’ Broccoli.”
The first episode of season 12 of ‘SNL’ was a new era for the show as it marked the show debuts for not only Carvey but also Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Victoria Jackson and Kevin Nealon – all who’d become longtime members of the show. The episode was hosted by actress Sigourney Weaver and she and Hartman played a couple of record executives looking to sign the next big music star when an English singer-songwriter by the name of Derek Stevens comes into the studio to go over his demo. There’s just one problem. Stevens has yet to record it. He says that he’d prefer to play his songs for them live and when they insist on him doing so he gets behind the piano and starts coming up with wacky, nonsensical lyrics about a woman going downtown to a grocery store, purchasing some broccoli, taking it home and then chopping it up.
The lunacy of the lyrics coupled with the effort in which Carvey’s Stevens tries to sell them really makes the bit work. “Choppin’ Broccoli” is also incredibly infectious and will literally get stuck in your head for days at a time upon hearing it, which is alright because you’ll laugh the entire time.
Carvey probably had the greatest first episode of ‘SNL’ in the show’s 40-year history as he also debuted his iconic Church Lady character, which ranks at number 31 on this list, on the same episode.
Carvey has been performing “Choppin’ Broccoli” for more than 30 years, as it still remains an important part of his stand-up routine. He recently performed a snippet of it at the ‘SNL’ 40th anniversary special during the show’s musical segment and in 2014 performed a brilliant orchestral version of the song on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.”
12. George W. Bush/Al Gore Presidential Debate (Oct. 7, 2000)
Political humor has always been one of the real highlights of “Saturday Night Live” over the show’s legendary 40-year run. The main focal point of the ‘SNL’ political humor comes every four years when the country is engaged in another presidential election and the two candidates are going mano-a-mano in televised debates. These faux-presidential elections staged by ‘SNL’ are always highlights of the show every four years and you can’t help but think that they at least play somewhat of a minor role in shaping how the audience views each candidate.
There have been many truly strong faux-presidential debates throughout the history of “Saturday Night Live.” The ones in 2012 featuring Jay Pharoah as President Barack Obama and Jason Sudeikis as Republican nominee Mitt Romney were particularly strong, but the greatest ‘SNL’ political debate of all-time is without a doubt the first debate between Republican nominee George W. Bush (played by Will Ferrell) and Democratic nominee Al Gore (played by Darrell Hammond) that aired on Oct. 7, 2000, the season 26 premiere.
Ferrell’s impression of George W. Bush as an utter buffoon would go on to become one of the best and most memorable portrayals of a president in ‘SNL’ history and a lot of the beginnings of this legacy came during this first presidential debate, which marked Ferrell’s sixth appearance as Bush. Ferrell picked up brilliantly on the real Bush’s aloofness and ignorance, especially when it came to mispronouncing certain words. This was the bit that famously introduced the world to the word “strategery,” which many people today probably actually think the real President Bush used in real life because they’ve heard so many people impersonating Ferrell’s impersonation of him using it.
Hammond did a fantastic job at portraying Gore as the boring, fuddy-duddy that many have always viewed him as. He hits this point home very well by constantly bringing up his lockbox plan, which would keep all of America’s finances safe.
Hammond being the excellent impressionist was probably the better of the two at accuracy, whereas Ferrell did a hilarious job at embellishing upon Bush’s stupidities. However, it was Ferrell’s embellishments that actually made his portrayal of Bush the better or funnier of the two and, in a strange way, actually wound up making much of the country realize the embellishments of Bush were closer to home than many of us would be comfortable admitting.
#11. Tom Brokaw’s Gerald Ford Pre-tapes (Oct. 25, 1996)
I said that number 13 on this list (Choppin’ Broccoli) was Dana Carvey’s finest moment as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” However, I believe Carvey’s finest moment altogether on the show came in a hosting stint on Oct. 25, 1996, his second hosting appearance after leaving the show in 1993.
In the episode Carvey impersonated then NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw who was about to go on a multi-week vacation and needed to pre-tape some breaking news bulletins in the off-chance that certain big news stories broke while he was away. The big news story the producer (never seen on camera, but voiced by writer Robert Smigel) of the NBC Nightly News is anticipating as a possibility during the sketch is the death of former President Gerald Ford.
Carvey as Brokaw does a straight take of himself breaking the fake news of President Ford’s death and thinks everything’s a wrap and he’s ready to embark on his much-needed vacation. Not just yet. The producer needs Brokaw to record specific takes for possibilities of how President Ford might die. This is where the sketch takes a turn for the utterly brilliant and hilarious, and even at times macabre.
Carvey, one of the greatest impressionists to ever grace ‘SNL,’ is supremely hilarious doing a spot-on Brokaw announcing President Ford being eaten by a pack of wolves, overdosing on crack cocaine, being chopped into tiny bits by an airplane propeller and being strangled to death by the corpse of Richard Nixon.
The absolute funniest bit of the sketch is toward the beginning when Brokaw is pre-taping news of President Ford being assassinated by gunshot and the producer wanting him to insert the word “senseless” into the take.
Brokaw snidely replies with: “Gerald Ford shot dead today, at the senseless age of 83.”
It was one of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments in the incredible 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live.”
Interestingly this sketch didn’t actually have its origins on ‘SNL,’ but Carvey’s very short-lived sketch comedy series “The Dana Carvey Show” for ABC in 1996. That series only aired seven episodes, but featured many of today’s biggest comics on its staff. Louis C.K. was the show’s head writer and Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell were a part of its cast. The Tom Brokaw Pre-tapes sketch was written for the eighth episode of “The Dana Carvey Show,” which never aired. Its loss was a huge gain for ‘SNL.’
10. Elvis Costello Halts ‘SNL’ to Perform “Radio, Radio” (Dec. 17, 1977)
Moment number 10 on this list is the only official musical performance on the list, not counting Paul Simon’s special appearance performance of “The Boxer” on the first episode after 9/11, which appeared at number 21.
Elvis Costello made his American television debut on “Saturday Night Live” on Dec. 17, 1977 and did something that nobody watching that night will ever forget. It’s a moment that will truly live on forever in the annals of both ‘SNL’ and music history.
Interestingly enough, though, Costello wasn’t even supposed to be the musical guest that night. The Sex Pistols were supposed to perform, but the various criminal records of band members made it hard for the group to get visas in time. ‘SNL,’ wanting a punk group, tried to replace them with The Ramones, but according to Joey Ramone’s autobiography “we don’t substitute for anybody.” So, Costello, who had just released his debut album My Aim is True was tasked with filling the bill. It was an interesting show to begin with as an elderly 80-year old German immigrant woman named Miskel Spillman, who had zero acting experience, had been chosen to host the show through an “Anyone Can Host” contest started by producer Lorne Michaels. She would be the oldest host of the show until 2010 when Betty White would host at age 88.
The image of an elderly woman hosting a show with a sneering, young punk singer as musical guest was an interesting one. It would get even more interesting by night’s end.
Everything had gone as planned during Costello’s first performance on the show, with him performing “Watching the Detectives” off of his debut album.
Toward the end of the show was Costello’s second performance and his band, The Attractions, began to play their scheduled second performance “Less Than Zero,” a song critical of English politician Oswald Mosley, leader of the Union of Fascists. Costello didn’t feel like the song made much sense to perform on an American television show – and he was right – and halted the performance on live television just 10 seconds in, stepped to his microphone and said, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentleman, but there’s no reason to do this song here” and began to play “Radio, Radio,” a yet to be released song that was highly critical of the broadcasting industry.
The performance of “Radio, Radio” almost instantaneously became one of the most legendary performances in the history of rock music and signified a new star was born.
The incident would get Costello banned from performing on ‘SNL’ for 12 years. He would return as musical guest in an episode in 1989. The incident would be memorialized at the “Saturday Night Live” 25th anniversary special when hip-hop/rock group the Beastie Boys started performing their hit “Sabotage” before ultimately being sabotaged by Costello, who joined the group for a raucous performance of “Radio, Radio” more than 20 years after he initially rocked the ‘SNL’ stage with it.
Costello’s defiance and legendary performance is the single greatest musical moment in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live.”
#9. Celebrity Jeopardy (Debuted Dec. 7, 1996)
Celebrity Jeopardy is the greatest/funniest recurring sketch in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” in my opinion. It wasn’t a sketch that ever changed too much, but always had me in stitches with the ridiculous antics of the celebrity contestants, led by Darrell Hammond’s perverse Sean Connery and Norm Macdonald’s wacky, juvenile Burt Reynolds, and the woe-is-me response to those antics by Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek. Connery’s perverted mangling of categories like ‘The Pen is Mightier’ and ‘Therapists’ were always good for gut-busting laughs, as well.
Macdonald created the sketch in the mid-90s and it was a brilliant idea for him to take the game show sketch, which is often the show’s most tired sketch idea, and infuse life into by adding incredible celebrity impressions, but skewed impressions rather than accurate ones. For instance, Hammond’s Connery being a perverted jerk rather than trying to be an actual Connery impression is what truly makes it hilarious. Macdonald said on the 2007 NBC special “Saturday Night Live in the ’90s: Pop Culture Nation” that he created the sketch simply as a way to bring his Burt Reynolds impression to the show.
Macdonald said there was a plan for the real Reynolds to appear on the show and punch him out, but that he was fired from the show before they had that opportunity. Following his departure from the show the sketch would continue to become a stalwart of the late night sketch comedy program with Ferrell and Hammond being joined by two other celebrity impressions (one often being done by great impressionist Jimmy Fallon).
All in all, there have been 15 Celebrity Jeopardy sketches (Hammond has portrayed Connery in 13 of them), with the most recent one appearing in the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary special on Feb. 15, 2015. It was the third time the sketch has returned to ‘SNL’ since Ferrell left the show as a cast member in 2002. During Ferrell’s last episode as a cast member in 2002 the real Alex Trebek memorably made a cameo appearance to congratulate the fake Trebek on a job well-done.
The greatest Celebrity Jeopardy sketch, and the one most people seem to remember, would have to be the one that aired on Oct. 23, 1999. Macdonald had returned to host the show, his first time coming back since his firing two years previously, and reprised his role as Reynolds. This is the sketch in which Reynolds memorably asks Trebek to refer to him by his new name “Turd Ferguson,” an even larger-than-life version of Reynolds who wears a comically large cowboy hat.
8. Schweddy Balls (Dec. 12, 1998)
Raunchy humor always seems to walk a fine line between being over-the-top and disgusting and actually funny. “Saturday Night Live” has seemingly done a good job over the years at walking that line and coming out on the funny side more often than not – like with Colonel Angus at number 33 on this list and the “Dick in a Box” digital short from Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake.
Perhaps the funniest example of raunchy humor ever on ‘SNL’ in the show’s legendary 40 years on television was the Delicious Dish sketch that aired on Dec. 12, 1998 in an episode hosted by Alec Baldwin. Baldwin has hosted ‘SNL’ more times than any other celebrity at 16 times, but it was his appearance as baker Peter Schweddy on NPR’s Delicious Dish that night that stands out as his greatest moment on the show.
Delicious Dish was a faux-NPR radio show dedicated to talking about food co-hosted by Molly Shannon’s Teri Rialto and Ana Gasteyer’s Margaret Jo McCullen. The recurring sketch, which appeared a whopping 15 times on the show, was always hit-or-miss for me, but always seemed to lead toward raunchiness with the guests discussing some kind of food product that was always either phallic or easily led to double-entendres.
The talk radio show with Pete Schweddy started off rather tame, but the raunchiness and humor picked up when Schweddy started talking about how people loved eating his Christmas balls during the holidays. Terrific double-entendre after double-entendre is let loose for the remainder of the sketch with it hilariously culminating with Baldwin’s Schweddy exclaiming, “No one can resist my Schweddy balls.”
Baldwin would hilariously reprise his Pete Schweddy character on another Delicious Dish sketch in a 2001 episode, with Rachel Dratch’s Lynn Vershad replacing Shannon’s Teri Rialto as co-host, this time Schweddy was pitching his hot dogs or Schweddy wieners. It was basically the exact same premise, but just as funny as the first time around.
#7. Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker
Chris Farley is easily one of the most iconic cast members in the 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” who many fans of the show to this day will still recall as their all-time favorite on the show. His most famous recurring character during his five seasons on the show was the supremely hilarious Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker – a down on his luck, clumsily abrasive character who was trying his hand at being a motivational speaker to make what little living that he could scratch out.
Matt Foley made eight memorable appearances on ‘SNL,’ seven during Farley’s tenure on the show and once more in 1997 when Farley made his lone hosting appearance on the show less than two months before he would die at the young age of 33 from a tragic cocaine and morphine overdose (the same exact thing that killed fellow ‘SNL’ legend John Belushi, whom Farley was often compared too, at the very same age).
The greatest thing about the recurring Matt Foley sketches were Foley’s catchphrases and Farley’s incredible readings of them. The two catchphrases that appeared in nearly every Matt Foley sketch were “I live in a van down by the river!” and “Well, la-dee-frickin-da!” Both lines have since become a part of the pop culture lexicon.
The most memorable Matt Foley sketch was likely the debut of the character in which Foley was tasked with giving a motivational speech to a couple of teenagers (David Spade and the week’s host Christina Applegate) who have been misbehaving. The sketch is memorable for Applegate and particularly Spade, a good friend of Farley’s off the screen, being unable to control their laughter during the live show at how hilarious Farley’s character was. The character breaks by those two just made the whole thing even funnier.
There were plans in the works for Farley to bring his beloved Matt Foley to the big screen for a major film adaptation that would have featured Spade in a supporting role, but these plans were obviously canceled upon the comedian’s untimely death.
The character was recently paid tribute to by actress Melissa McCarthy during the Weekend Update segment of the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary special in February.
#6. “Dick in a Box” (Dec. 16, 2006)
Andy Samberg’s Digital Shorts, with his Lonely Island buddies Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, which appeared almost weekly on “Saturday Night Live” during his seven seasons on the show really helped to bring a new group of fans to the show when the videos started becoming widely popular on the Internet thanks to new streaming sites like YouTube. In an era where ‘SNL’ wasn’t quite always at the top of its game humor-wise these Digital Shorts were often the highlights of each episode.
The Digital Shorts really took off after the second one Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer did, a rap called “Lazy Sunday” in which Samberg and Chris Parnell rapped about their daily routines on a lazy Sunday aired in December of 2005 and became huge on the Internet.
The most famous, and without a doubt the funniest, Digital Short ever made has to be “Dick in a Box” from the Dec. 16, 2006 episode hosted by fan-favorite host Justin Timberlake in which Samberg and Timberlake portray two singers performing a ballad about not having anything to give their significant others on Christmas, until they come up with the genius idea to give their girlfriends their junk in a box.
The lyrics of the song, especially the ones in which the duo explain the steps in which they go about putting their privates in the box and having their girlfriends open it, are among the funniest ever written and, believe it or not, would actually end up earning Samberg, Taccone, Schaffer and Timberlake an Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics on a television show.
“Dick in a Box,” like “Lazy Sunday” before it, would go on to superstardom in the days after its live airing on ‘SNL’ when it hit the Internet, and probably became even bigger because online it was uncensored. In the Digital Short’s initial airing on ‘SNL’ the word “dick” was bleeped all 16 times it appeared in the song. Since then network censors have grown more lax and the uncensored version has aired in specials.
Samberg and Timberlake’s characters from the “Dick in a Box” Digital Short became so popular among fans that the two would reunite for two sequels: 2009’s almost as funny “Motherlover” and 2011’s fairly disappointing “3-Way (The Golden Rule),” which featured an appearance from Lady Gaga.
#5. Chippendales Audition (Oct. 27, 1990)
Chris Farley was one of the most legendary cast members of “Saturday Night Live” in the show’s illustrious 40-year history, but his shining moment on the show came in his first year on the program. He, along with Chris Rock, was introduced to ‘SNL’ in early 1990 to introduce some young flavor to a show that had become full of great veterans like Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon.
On Oct. 27, 1990 Patrick Swayze, who was arguably the biggest movie star on the planet at that time hot off the heels of “Dirty Dancing,” “Road House” and “Ghost,” came to New York to host ‘SNL.’ The idea for the sketch to pair the incredibly fit Swayze with Farley, who had to have weighed at least 300 pounds, as dancers hoping to score a job with Chippendales was simply genius.
Watching a topless Chris Farley do his thing on the dance floor, with his fat jiggling all over the place and his butt crack gloriously visible to all, is sheer comedy gold. It might seem like a comic going for cheap laughs, but I don’t think many comedians would have gone to the lengths that Farley did in this sketch to make the audience laugh. Farley’s dance moves for a man his size, were rather spectacular. He really does keep up with the professionally trained Swayze fairly well throughout the bit. Farley was always known for his “awe-shucks” demeanor, especially in sketches like the iconic recurring “The Chris Farley Show,” but he showed here that he was quite the physical comic, as well.
The Chippendales Audition sketch is one that frequently appears on lists of the 10 greatest “Saturday Night Live” sketches of all-time and with good reason, but many might not realize that the dance sequence most of us have seen is actually edited in from the dress rehearsal version because the dance moves by Swayze and Farley were accomplished better than they were during the live episode.
As great as the Chippendales sketch was, though, there might be an unfortunate dark side to it. Chris Rock claims the sketch played a large role in the eventual untimely death of Farley. Rock said in Farley’s biography “The Chris Farley Show”: “‘Chippendales’ was a weird sketch. I always hated it ... The joke of it is, basically, ‘We can't hire you because you’re fat.’ There’s no comic twist to it. It’s just fucking mean. Chris wanted so much to be liked. As funny as that sketch was ... it’s one of the things that killed him.” This, of course, is merely Rock’s opinion.
Every generation of “Saturday Night Live” seems to have its all-time greatest character. That one that stands out above the rest. The only issue is it might not always be the same character for everybody. For instance, was the standout character of the early ’90s Chris Farley’s Matt Foley or Mike Myers’ Wayne Campbell?
When it comes to the ‘SNL’ era from 2005 until today I think a good many of fans of the show would try to pass off one of Kristen Wiig’s redundant and highly-overrated characters as the best of that era, but they’re wrong – the best character of that era is, without a doubt, Bill Hader’s Stefon.
Hader is likely one of three greatest impressionists in the great 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” along with Dana Carvey and Darrell Hammond and so it might come as some surprise that a guy known mostly for his impressions ended up with not just the greatest ‘SNL’ character of his era, but one of the greatest of all-time.
Stefon, as created by Hader and ‘SNL’ writer John Mulaney, is a New York City club aficionado who is tasked by Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers to tell the audience and viewers at home about New York’s best vacation spots, but always ends up discussing the hottest new clubs. The crazy clubs, which have been described on the show as: “nightmares of a crystal meth addict” and “a coked-up gay Candyland” always have extremely weird inhabitants or attractions and Hader’s reading of these as Stefon are what truly made these bits because he’d always struggle to keep from cracking up while reading his cue cards. This was intentionally manufactured for laughs by Mulaney who would insert jokes into the cue cards last second so Hader would read them on-air live without ever having previously seen them.
Stefon has appeared on “Saturday Night Live” 20 times, counting his brief recent appearance on the ‘SNL’ 40th anniversary special in February, which makes him one of the most recurring characters ever on the show. However, most people probably don’t realize how close the Stefon character came to never making a second appearance on the show. The first Stefon appearance was actually in a sketch in a 2008 episode hosted by Ben Affleck and not during a Weekend Update segment. Stefon didn’t really work in sketch form and he didn’t appear on the show again until Hader and Mulaney brought him back as an Update character in 2010. He instantaneously became one of the best characters on the show and fans tuned in every single week just hoping Stefon would make an appearance.
On Hader’s last episode as a cast member (May 18, 2013) Stefon memorably gets married to Meyers, whom he’d flirted with during all of his appearances for many years. It was definitely one of the greatest Stefon appearances on the show and was a great moment for his fans as the wedding scene features many of the crazy creatures from the many clubs described by Stefon over the years.
#3. Word Association (Dec. 13, 1975)
Richard Pryor, considered by many the greatest stand-up comedian of all-time, hosted just the seventh episode ever of “Saturday Night Live” during the show’s first season on Dec. 13, 1975. To this day it’s still one of the most talked about episodes and considered to be one of the ultimate classics of this legendary sketch comedy series. Pryor being a controversial comedian at the time had censors quaking in their shoes and led to the first ever seven-second delay in the history of ‘SNL’ – something that would only be used two more times for Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay.
The most notable sketch from Pryor’s lone hosting appearance was the Word Association sketch he did with Chevy Chase – one of the greatest and most controversial sketches the show has ever done to this day. It’s incredibly hilarious in its ballsiness, as it takes on the subject of race – but there was much animosity between Pryor and Chase and it really comes across in this bit, and only makes it funnier.
The plot of the sketch is that Chase is interviewing Pryor for a janitorial position and part of the interview process is a word association test. This word association test starts out rather innocent with Chase saying stuff like “Rain” and Pryor responding with “Snow,” but then things start to take an ugly turn when Chase starts throwing out racial slurs for African-Americans, to which an increasingly angry Pryor retorts with slurs for white people.
‘SNL’ has always been considered an edgy comedy show, but never more so than in its infancy and this Word Association sketch was a perfect example of that. In the mid-70s racial tensions in this country were still incredibly high (although one could argue not much has changed in the 40 years since) and this sketch did a good job at skewering those tensions. Unfortunately though while doing so there was tension behind the scenes between Pryor and Chase.
As recalled in the Pryor biography, “Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him,” Pryor despised Chase according to longtime Pryor comedy writer/comedian Paul Mooney. Mooney had been brought it by Pryor to help guest write for ‘SNL’ that week and Chase kept begging Mooney to write something for the two of them to do on air. Mooney finally relented and wrote this classic sketch as a mean’s of showing his displeasure for how he was treated by NBC and Lorne Michaels during an interview to guest write for Pryor that week. He claims it’s the easiest bit he ever wrote. It’s very likely the funniest.
Richard Pryor and Word Association truly helped to put this new show on the map in late 1975 and it’s been a television legend ever since.
2. Weekend Update (1975 – present)
There has likely never been a more important decision in the history of “Saturday Night Live” than the one to add a fake news segment to the show just to poke fun at actual events going on in the world. Weekend Update has been a stalwart of ‘SNL’ ever since its very first episode on Oct. 11, 1975 and will no doubt continue to be the midpoint of the show until it finally one day goes off the air (hopefully that will be a while away).
Some may think that it was ‘SNL’ creator and producer Lorne Michaels’ decision to include a fake news segment in the middle of each episode, but the idea for the longest recurring sketch in the history of ‘SNL’ was that of original cast member Chevy Chase along with ‘SNL’ writer Herb Sargent.
Weekend Update immediately made Chase the face of ‘SNL’ and he immediately made Weekend Update the most important aspect of the show.
Weekend Update is so fantastic because it’s always the most relevant thing on the show to what’s going on in the real world and is literally the last thing to be completely finished prior to the show and sometimes even during the show.
Former ‘SNL’ writer Alan Zweibel said in Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s great anthology “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live”: “We worked on ‘Update’ to the very last minute. Between dress and air on Saturday nights, I would go up to my office and I would watch the 11 o’clock news and if something hit me, I’d write it and it would be on television a half-hour later. You know, there were two shows where I was literally under the ‘Update’ desk writing stuff and handing it up to Chevy while he was actually on the air.”
Chase was only a full-time cast member on ‘SNL’ for the show’s first season (1975-76) but created a lasting classic that will always live on. He also created a few catchphrases that live on in ‘SNL’ history like beginning the ‘Update’ broadcast with the memorable: “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not,” which was a perfect representation of his snide and superior (at least in his head) sense of humor. He also would end the ‘Update’ broadcasts with “Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow” which would start a legacy of anchors ending the show with their own special catchphrases. The best one, in my opinion, being Kevin Nealon’s “I’m Kevin Nealon, and that’s news to me.” Many anchors would go back to Chase’s “Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow” like Tina Fey during her tenure as co-anchor.
All in all, 22 cast members (Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Charles Rocket, Gail Matthius, Brian Doyle-Murray, Mary Gross, Christine Ebersole, Brad Hall, Christopher Guest, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, Norm Macdonald, Colin Quinn, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Cecily Strong, Colin Jost and Michael Che) have anchored or co-anchored Weekend Update on a full-time basis. Some have been more memorable than others and every fan of ‘SNL’ seems to have their list of personal favorites – my all-time favorite was Norm Macdonald.
Weekend Update is an essential part of “Saturday Night Live” and every fan of the show owes a bit of gratitude to Chase and Sargent for their fantastic creation 40 years ago.
1. Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult (More Cowbell) (April 8, 2000)
Choosing the all-time most memorable moment in the great 40-year history of “Saturday Night Live” is not an easy task as there are literally dozens of deserving moments and sketches that deserve the honor. However, I think the spot should go to the funniest and greatest sketch in the show’s history and I believe that sketch to be the Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult, better known as the “More Cowbell,” sketch from the April 8, 2000 episode hosted by Christopher Walken. It’s a sketch that would likely top many a list of the greatest ‘SNL’ sketches of all-time.
The great thing about the More Cowbell sketch is that it could have been a bust had it not been for the improvisational antics of Will Ferrell – who, in my opinion, is the greatest cast member in the show’s history.
The idea behind the sketch is rather simple. Christopher Walken plays record producer Bruce Dickinson who while in the studio listening to the popular ’70s hard rock group Blue Oyster Cult lay down the track for their future hit “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” he realizes the song is missing a little something … more cowbell.
Dickinson demands that the group add more cowbell to the track, which is where Will Ferrell comes in as cowbell extraordinaire Gene Frenkle. Frenkle’s cowbell playing starts out rather simple and low-key at first, but Dickinson demands more from him. Walken’s exclamation that “I gotta have more cowbell” has become one of the most memorable lines in ‘SNL’ history and a part of the pop culture lexicon.
Ferrell begins to explore more space with his cowbell playing on future takes that becomes wilder by the take to the chagrin of his bandmates, particularly lead singer Eric Bloom (played by Chris Parnell).
Ferrell’s raucous cowbell playing though soon takes this sketch from a funny one to the greatest in ‘SNL’ history when his antics begin to make everybody else in the sketch break character and crack up on live television. Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan and Parnell as the other band members all lose it completely at points during the sketch, which causes the audience to laugh even harder than they had been at Ferrell’s wild gyrations while pounding the cowbell.
Fallon attributed the sketch being hugely popular and hilarious to a last second wardrobe change on Ferrell’s part saying, “The cowbell sketch in dress [rehearsal] wasn’t as funny. And then Will changed his shirt, he wore a smaller shirt.” This smaller shirt allowed Ferrell’s large belly to protrude from under it when he really got to gyrating during his cowbell playing and truly does ratchet up the funny in the sketch tenfold.
After Bloom finally freaks out on Frenkle about his cowbell playing Frenkle goes on an absolutely terrific impromptu speech which leaves everybody, both those in the sketch and those watching from home in hysterics: “Can I just say one thing? I'm standing here, staring at rock legend Bruce Dickinson! And if Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell, we should probably give him more cowbell! And, Bobby, you are right - I am being selfish. But the last time I checked, we don't have a whole lot of songs that feature the cowbell. And I'd be doing myself a disservice and every member of this band, if I didn’t perform the HELL out of this!”
During this speech Ferrell even cracks himself up, which was something fans didn’t see too much of on the show. Ferrell’s break of character forces Fallon to lose it so much that he literally turns away from the camera and bites down on one of the drumsticks he’s holding.
It’s quite unbelievable now, but this funniest sketch in ‘SNL’ history actually had trouble making it to air. Ferrell, who had written the sketch with ‘SNL’ writer Donnell Campbell, said on the TV special “Saturday Night Live in the 90s: Pop Culture Nation”: “The cowbell sketch, I'd written it early in the first half of the year ... it just didn't get picked for whatever reason.”
When it finally got picked Ferrell made damn sure that it’d never be forgotten.