Did Saturday Night Live Steal This Famous Improv Theater’s Sketch?

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Photo: John Irwin/Facebook

On this weekend's Saturday Night Live, the show did a sketch about three Tina Turner impersonators who sing on a Nebraska riverboat and break from singing "Proud Mary" to talk about how much they hate singing on a Nebraska riverboat. (Likely because of music rights, the sketch was not put online.) It seemed like a fine enough sketch, inoffensive to anyone but riverboat captains, maybe. That was until accusations of theft started coming from members of the famous improv and sketch-theater troupe the Groundlings, the school at which SNL cast members like Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, and Phil Hartman got their start.

It began with performer Kimberly Condict posting a video on Facebook performing a sketch at the theater with Vanessa Ragland, in which they both play Tina Turner impersonators who talk between moments of singing "Proud Mary." Then Groundlings teacher Ian Gary took it further by posting a more pointed attack on SNL. His Facebook post says that SNL has been stealing sketches from the Groundlings for years without anyone speaking up, but "enough of that. This is fucked up. This is stupid. And we have the means to make people aware of blatant rip offs of other peoples material." People accuse SNL of stealing their ideas occasionally (i.e., the "tiny hat" dust-up of 2010), but this is noteworthy considering the long-standing relationship between the show and the theater. (Though it should be noted that these accusations are not coming from the theater as a whole, but from people involved with it.) Here is the Groundlings sketch, which Condict and Ragland performed many times this summer:

A source close to SNL refutes the accusations, calling the similarities "parallel thinking." Adding, "It's a common idea since Tina Turner is such an iconic figure."

What the source is likely referring to is that though the sketches have similar setups — Tina Turner impersonators, who talk between moments of singing, like Turner herself might do — the punch lines of the scenes are different. The Groundlings sketch is much more focused on these ridiculous characters, and the SNL one is more focused specifically on how terrible the riverboat is and how much they all hate it there.

Tina Turner has not commented.