Saturday Night Live will celebrate its 40th anniversary this evening with a three-and-a-half-hour-long trip down memory lane. To mark the occasion, we asked Larry Wilmore, Amy Schumer, Joni Mitchell, and others for the SNL sketches that have stuck with them most through the years. The runaway favorite? Eddie Murphy’s impersonation of James Brown in a hot tub.
It’s probably two things. I remember when it first came on, so I remember on Monday mornings talking about SNL. And I remember the first time they said bitch on television! I thought, Oh my God! What did they say?! It was the Emily Litella bit. Gilda Radner to Jane Curtin. 1977. And seeing Eddie Murphy for the first time, that was just magic. I couldn’t believe how funny he was. James Brown’s hot tub, still one of the funniest sketches ever. Arguably the funniest sketch that SNL has ever done.
That’s easy. The Census Bureau with Christopher Walken and Tim Meadows was the funniest. It was Tim Meadows coming to the door and he was just the Census Bureau guy. It was an insane sketch. Christopher Walken says he’s married to a bobcat. Tim Meadows’s acceptance of an insane person, like being patient with them, is what I think is the funniest. Tina Fey wrote it, and it’s my favorite of all time. And the other one is where Chris Farley is a spy and the ninjas would always attack one at a time. And he was like, “You only do one at a time, you guys.” Those were my favorite. [They were] kind of absurdist but played very realistically, and that’s my favorite thing.
Chris Farley and Adam Sandler did one of their parody commercials for beer called Schmitts Gay, which was maybe the funniest parody commercial I’d ever seen. Chris Farley was a camp counselor of mine when I was in sixth grade, believe it or not. Red Arrow Camp in Wisconsin — we spent seven weeks there one time.
Oh my gosh, for me, it’s all about Tina Fey. She is my all-time favorite writer/idol. So her as Sarah Palin, while she was doing 30 Rock, and just the sense of brain power that went into all of that, it’s a work of astonishment to me. She’s my favorite. You know how dead-on she did it, without making it an impersonation, that really got to the core of what the national conversation was. And that’s the great thing about her, how she articulates what we’re all thinking in the back of our brains but aren’t smart enough for it to actually get to our mouths.
Where do you begin? There’s so many. John Belushi was the first guy to be incredibly reckless on live television, and you never knew what he was going to do. So that was always fascinating to me. And then having him do that little black-and-white sketch where he’s dancing on everyone’s grave, and that he was the one who tragically went away the earliest was really too bad. He was just a constant source of inspiration and a radical performer. Everything felt improvisational with everything that he did. And then anything that Will Ferrell ever did. Like, anything. When he would do Robert Goulet, just absolutely ridiculous.
The Californians, because of Kristen Wiig.
Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi. You remember that one? John Belushi as the short-order cook? You have to go back a ways.
What makes that one your favorite in particular?
It’s the first one that came to mind!
I really, really, really, really, really, really miss and love Lisa Loopner. Classic Gilda. Let’s give it to classic Gilda. She’s like a funny little Jewish girl.
Men’s Synchronized Swimming. Marty Short, Chris Guest, and I had fun — a rarity in those precincts.
In the history of SNL, I’m always, like, attracted to the completely random ones. One of my favorite ones of the last decade is Andy Samberg as Kuato — have you seen that one? It’s a guy who’s trying to score girls but he has Kuato living in his stomach — from Total Recall — which is kind of a buzzkill. I’m a huge Stefon fan, but who isn’t? Will Forte’s the Falconer — that whole character I was obsessed with. I just think the guy … the very special relationship a man has with his falcon — I don’t know, there was something so absurdly ridiculous about [it]. Basically, like, anything Walken ever did on that show. There was a Jeremy Irons sketch where he played Sherlock Holmes and Phil Hartman plays Watson and Irons walks into a room and says, “Oh, a surprise party,” and you suddenly realize what an insufferable asshole Sherlock Holmes. And who doesn’t like the Coneheads and the family that makes out all the time?
I like Eddie Murphy in the hot tub. And Belushi and Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger.
Eddie Murphy. Anything Eddie Murphy — hot tub, Gumby. Actually, Al Roker on Friday was doing his best impersonation of Eddie and I think I’m going to wait until Sunday so I can see how to do it. And Wayne’s World, it was epic. I think I tried to grow a mullet at one point. And come on, I’m a newscaster. You can’t live without that.
Nothing in my opinion will ever beat the Debbie Downer episode. That’s the first time I’d ever seen characters really break to the point where they couldn’t take it no more. People come down on Jimmy for breaking character, but I think that’s what makes him endearing. We do it a lot on our own set. I mean, it’s a testament that they don’t break character and they are straight-faced. But that Debbie Downer episode is my favorite. That’s my go-to when I’m bored or whatever and I want to laugh. I’ll never stop laughing at that.
I loved my daughter’s [Abby Elliott] Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep impersonations. She embodies these characters in a way I could never do, so I was always impressed watching her. Also, her Rachel Maddow was incredible!
I really loved the sketch my grandfather did with his partner, Ray. They did a special called Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine, and Gilda and they did a twin sketch — it was really great. They played twins who said things at the same times.
There have been so many greats on the show, but Eddie [Murphy] is special. The hot tub, I think that’s the best skit ever. It’s funny because it seemed like he had that James Brown impression down to a science. I mean, he was amazing. How did he do that? Even now, I still watch it.
Oh, let’s go with Harry Headwound. It just really struck me as funny. A dark, gross, bloody skit, Dana Carvey pulls it off great, and it feels like it’s going to fall apart at any second.
You know, a great thing on Saturday Night Live that always sticks in my mind was a music part of it. Stevie Wonder came on and did a performance once: It was just him singing and playing the piano. There was no group around him, it was just him on the piano, and it was one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever experienced. Really, like I remembered it … I think it was the ’80s.
VIVICA A. FOX
Eddie Murphy in the hot tub! And the Coneheads. Dan Akroyd and Gilda — they were absolutely the best. I can just remember Saturday Night, that’s what you did when you were young and you didn’t go to the club.
Dick in a Box was probably one of the best ones. And then I think all of Will Ferrell’s stuff was funny. Those two stand out for me.
Who did the smelling of your armpits? You’re going to have to look this up! It’s basically the woman who’s in the schoolgirl outfit and smells her armpits.
Yes! That’s the one.
For me, it will always be Dana Carvey singing about broccoli. That was a big hit in our house. All through my childhood, we would sing that song. And I won’t deny that now, into my fourth decade, on occasion, when I’m home for the holidays, I’ll break into the broccoli song. I could sing it now, but I’m not going to. Do I know all the words? Maybe!