Celebrating 40 Years of ‘Saturday Night Live’

The following essay is part of something I wrote for my English capstone class last semester. Since we are approaching the 40th anniversary special of SNL this upcoming Sunday I thought I would share it.

 

            In 1975 NBC was desperately looking for a show to air on Saturday nights. They enlisted Canadian comedian and TV producer Lorne Michaels to create a variety show. The result was “NBC’s Saturday Night” (“Saturday Night Live” was already the name of a show on a different network, but as soon as that show tanked Lorne changed the name of his show.).

SNL was supposed to fail. It was not supposed to do well in the 11:30 p.m. spot on a Saturday. It starred unknown comedians like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner. But on October 11, 1975 the show began and somehow became a hit. People liked the sketches and parodies of topical events. It was the right show at the right time. It was a little dangerous and people were willing to stay up to watch it in hopes of a laugh.

After that first season SNL has been called everything from groundbreaking to “not funny at all.” Yet this year it will celebrate it’s 40th anniversary. It’s an institution synonymous with comedy and New York itself. Even 40 years later it’s still a prominent part of American culture. I’m a sucker for the historical. Maybe that’s why I fell in love with it?

The argument that SNL hasn’t been funny since that first season in 1975 really makes me laugh. I remember in high school I saved up money to buy that legendary first season on DVD. I was so excited. I was going to watch and take notes. I was going to learn everything from the start. I’ll admit years later, I still haven’t finished that first season in full. Why? I hate it. It’s not funny. I didn’t laugh once. I don’t understand the characters and the weird puppet sketches terrify me. The only thing I find remotely enjoyable is “Weekend Update” because at least it chronicled famous news stories that I understood. Everything else? It was wasted on me.

Just like time, news, and events comedy changes. The things we found funny in 1975 are no longer relatable to people like me. Of course, people that were avid viewers during that first year would say the same thing about SNL now. Every generation has its comedy voice and SNL is where it gets captured. I love when my parents tell me that Bill Hader’s Stefon character or Amy Poehler’s one-legged bachelorette character isn’t funny. Because I can tell them that Samurai Futaba is definitely not funny.

SNL has proven that change is a part of life, too. After the first season Chase left to pursue movies. Five years into the show Belushi and Aykroyd left. They were replaced by people like Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy proving that even after the stars left, SNL could make stars out of new players. Since Chase exited, the show has had a tradition of finding new talent and giving comedians a chance to showcase their skills on live television. I can’t think of anything cooler than that.

Over those 40 years new players have brought in new characters and celebrity impressions. Some sketches have even become infamous. Critics have counted down their favorites sketches and bits. I like to agree to disagree. But that’s because I grew up on Chris Farley and Jimmy Fallon. Here are my favorite sketches:

  1. Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong’s porn stars turned saleswomen.
  2. When The Lonely Island did anything.
  3. Justin Timberlake’s sketch where he sings to sell things like “Liquorville.”
  4. Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady.
  5. Tina and Amy on “Weekend Update.”
  6. Amy and Seth Meyers doing their “Really?!” segment on “Update.”
  7. The sketch where Tim Tebow meets Jesus (my brother and I watch this one a lot).
  8. Adam Sandler’s “Weekend Update” performance of “The Chanukah Song.”
  9. Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch’s Boston Teens sketch.
  10. Matt Foley: Motivational speaker (only because my dad, Steve, does the best impression of him).

            SNL has proven its worth over the years and I feel a great comfort knowing that it will always be there for me. Even when players leave and I have to learn to like new ones. Even when they continue to let Sarah Silverman host (give me Amy or Tina any day). Even when I have to read the silly Internet comments about the show when I go to watch a clip on YouTube. It will always be there. I like being an SNL fan. It’s like a secret club that only the most exclusive comedy fans can get into.

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