Saturday Night Live is an institution. I can hardly imagine anyone today being completely oblivious to the existence of this long-running show, nor its contribution to the comedy of today. So many people we turn to for laughter in the modern age had their start on those stages, or at least used them to hone their skills.
It’s amazing to think of how many people really did get their start on that show, to be honest. Looking at the Rolling Stones article on their ranking of everyone who has even been a cast member, you’ll quickly realize how many people really were trying to use that show to make their place in this world.
I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. I didn’t get to watch it much as a kid, but once I got to high school, I was watching every week. Folks like Farley, Carvey, Spade, Sandler (the list could easily go on) really caused me to change my thoughts on what it meant to write comedy…not that I was writing comedy at that point, but I definitely tried my hand at the whole being funny thing.
Recently, I’ve kind of given up on the show. Although I’m a huge fan of Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, folks like Andy Samberg and Amy Poehler actually tainted the show for me…I can’t say why, especially because there’s a lot of stuff they were doing on the show that I really liked. But there was a sort of tone shift that caused me to pull away. In fact, over the last decade or so, I’ve really only watched the show when someone particularly interesting was hosting, or when I heard after the fact that it was an especially amazing show.
When I watched the 40th anniversary episode a few weeks back, there were so many new faces that I didn’t recognize…it was somehow off-putting.
Luckily, there were even more old faces that really made things feel like home again.
I recently placed SNL on my list of shows to try and watch every single episode ever of (which is difficult to do, seeing as they haven’t released most episodes of the show), and started watching through the first season already. I know folks like to talk about the brilliance of the original Not Ready for Primetime Players, and I’ll admit, folks like Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Dan Akroyd are the only reason that show could even possibly exist still today (I’d love to point out Garrett Morrison, but he was unfortunately underutilized).
But they weren’t perfect.
It’s always been a joke that SNL sketches run too long and if they were about a third of the length would make the show a helluva lot funnier. That was true back then. But there was a striking difference in the original season in that there were those moments of shortened sketches where near-perfection was reached…something I don’t believe I’ve ever seen in the modern age.
Sketches where it wasn’t a catchphrase that caused the sketch to succeed, but just true brilliance. Thinks like a courtroom sketch where the whole joke takes only about 40 seconds, but sticks with you. Or John Belushi as a militant exterminator…there’s just a subtle little joke at the end that makes the whole thing worthwhile (while still probably needing to be about a third as long).
There’s the difference between first season and following seasons…They were okay with being subtle. The jokes didn’t always need to be over the top (although the constant pratfalls of Chevy definitely speak opposite to that). They didn’t even have to be vocalized.
Which is probably why Andy Kaufman fit in so well during the first season, and so poorly anywhere afterwards.
Of course, one thing that I can say for the record that definitely failed in that first season…Jim Henson.
I love the man, but his segments on SNL are some of the worst stuff in comedy history…
There’s my pseudo-informed pseudo-rant…
Have fun out there!