Losing Friends

During Saturday Night Live’s round-number anniversaries, you’ll see lists of the greatest sketches and the greatest cast members. (Get ready, because Season 50 will be here soon.)

My own favorite sketches and performers vary depending on what day you ask me, but I do have an absolute, 100%, no-doubt-about-it favorite single frame of SNL. It’s this one, from the musical sketch for the song Lunch Lady Land, which aired on January 15, 1994:


That’s Chris Farley on the left, and Adam Sandler on the right, by the way. And just look how happy they are.

At this point in the sketch, Sandler has launched into a power chord and Farley, after gyrating for a bit like a lingerie model in a late-80s heavy metal video trapped in the body of, well, Chris Farley, has joined in singing the next line of the song: “Sloppy joes, sloppy sloppy joes, yeah!” Farley is singing along so enthusiastically, Sandler’s mic picks him up. He’s dancing in character but singing in his own voice, as if he’s rocking out to the song in his own car with the windows up. 

In this frame, two friends at one of the first jobs in their young career are obviously having so much fun that it’s hard to call it “work.” There’s a mutual appreciation for each other’s talent.

They aren’t quite hitting their stride yet: This was more than a year before the releases of Tommy Boy and Billy Madison, the movies that would make them movie stars, and more than two years before Happy Gilmore would cement Sandler as a legit box office draw. There’s something raw, amateurish, and almost innocent here.

Anyone who has known the mixed blessing of a fun, early-career job that doubles as a social circle can appreciate this relationship. When you get older, the people you work with are people you work with. When you’re 23 and working with people of a similar age, the people you work with can wind up as your good friends, too.

Thankfully, I can relate a little bit to the bond Sandler, Farley, and others from that era of SNL must have shared; just as thankfully, I can’t relate to the loss Sandler must feel. But others can.

These two united again, in a manner of speaking for another musical sketch last weekend on Saturday Night Live. It came at the end of a show that “skipped” politics, in a traditional sense. But America also has an opioid problem, and a suicide problem — issues that don’t get dealt with while Alec Baldwin is grunting his way through his latest Donald Trump impersonation. As I wrote at Medium, I wonder how many people watched Sandler’s tribute thinking about the Chris Farleys in their own lives — or perhaps more accurately, the Chris Farleys who weren’t in their own lives anymore.


3 (more) ways for SNL to be more fan friendly

Betty White hosts SNL this week, thanks in large part to a Facebook movement.  It was a savvy move for the television institution – which, at 35, might as well be as old as White in TV years.

SNL’s target audience has always tended to be younger, and as such the show must constantly adapt to changing times.  Tapping White to host in response to popular demand is a good start, as is the Backstage blog which includes sketches cut at the last minute.  But SNL  can do even more:

1.  More online video content

I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to make a post using an obscure SNL sketch to make a point.  And honestly, there’s no reason (other than to promote DVD sales) for SNL not to have a library of all their sketches available.  Currently, only select sketches are available.

Aside from my selfish reasons, having every sketch ever made available could be a good business decision for SNL.  Old, obscure sketches could become viral sensations when exposed to a new audience.  And then there’s the social factor: For many folks, watching SNL is a social activity, and so any sketch can become an inside joke among friends – whether or not it’s a “classic.”  An otherwise unfunny 1999 sketch where Horatio Sanz repeatedly screams, “a bear ate my parents!” was pretty lame, but it would get plenty of laughs from soem of my UMass chums if I sent them a link to it.  You and your friends probably have sketches like that too.  SNL is missing out by not tapping into that emotion – it keeps viewers loyal.

2.  Viewer-generated content

Andy Samberg’s Digital Shorts have helped SNL advance in the online video space.  So why is Samberg to only one making digital shorts?  There are some talented comics out there who can make funny videos.

By inviting submissions and letting viewers vote on which one should be on TV, SNL can not only build a great interactive relationship with their audience, but also find cheap talent.

3.  Viewers pick the host

SNL understood the dynamics of audience engagement early on, running an “Anyone Can Host” contest back in 1977.

Offering a season-long, election-style contest between two good comedic actors for a spot hosting the season finale would not only be comedy gold, but would reach into those actors’ networks – their Facebook fans and Twitter followers would suddenly have a reason to visit SNL’s website, and to recruit friends to do the same.

If Tim Pawlenty figured it out, you’d think Lorne Michaels could, right?

Sunday Funnies: The next big debate

With the government health care overhaul being made official tonight, the next big thing will be the financial reform bill, as Democrats try to get back on the American peoples’ good side.  How will they do it?  Maybe by creating a giant (and, in many ways, redundant) oversight agency to police the financial markets.  Sure, it speaks to a problem that happened two years ago, but Wall Street is an easy straw man.

Funny or Die does a good job acting as the White House’s comedy video department – they stick to the message and, frankly, produce hilarious videos.  Here, they use the ghosts of Saturday Night Live presidential impersonators past (with Jim Carrey filling in for the late Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan) to plug the next overreaching government program.

Roll over, Liberty.

Coming soon: SNL joins the 21st Century

This weekend, my brother and I were remembering of our favorite SNL sketches. I wanted to watch it, so I dialed up Hulu, the free video site that includes content from NBC. Nothing. I had to go to Google Video to find “Sabra Price is Right.”

Funny enough, Mashable today reports that a new SNL website is in the works. The site would feature (legally uploaded) clips to watch.

Lorne Michaels and company are apparently still working out a revenue model for the site – which means they view this as a separate business venture from their TV show. But beyond their recent election-related ratings boost, SNL has spent the past few seasons struggling to find the relevance it once had as a source of cutting-edge comedy.

What better way to create a buzz and excitement about the show than to release their sketches online for the viral email-forwarding crowd? And what better way to track which three minute sketches (buried in a 90-minute show) generate audience reaction? To be on the cutting edge of comedy, SNL must join the cutting edge of technology (beyond Andy Samberg’s Digital Shorts).