Saturday Night Live Email Roundtable

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I LOVE Saturday Night Live. I’ve been watching the show since I was a kid and have stayed with it throughout my adult life. I read the amazing oral history of SNL “Live From New York” that I’d recommend to anyone who’s a fan of the show or show business. I’ve shared the work of one of my favorite SNL writers, Jack Handey. Watching it as long as I have (and being me) I think about it a little too much when watching or discussing it. In my mind, my experience and knowledge of SNL makes me a well reasoned and expert critic of the show (lol). After many years of conducting Monday morning quarterback exercises discussing episodes I saw the night before with myself or my wife, I’ve decided to assemble fellow fans to embrace our collective fandom and to discuss/critique the show.

For this email roundtable discussion I asked my buddy, Mike Baker The Bike Maker, a rapper out of the Bay Area who’s based in NYC, and my co-worker Holly Sauer both SNL fans to join me in a email chain to discuss SNL. I’ll continue this series throughout the year with Mike, Holly, and others where we’ll review episodes of the show and share our favorite moments from past shows.

First email conversation below….

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When was the first time that you saw SNL or your first memory of the show?
Holly: My parents had a box set of VHS from most seasons from the 80s and I started watching them with my little sister in the 90’s. I remember replaying Steve Martin’s King Tut sketch over and over again with her, acting out his dance : )
Mike: I seem to recall my first memory of the show being Mr. Bill. As a kid, it looked like a kids show, but the humor definitely wasn't at a toddler my age. Early memories also remember Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy being an early entryway to the show. And I always though Steve Martin was a castmate cuz he was always on. 
Kim:
It had to be Eddie Murphy and the recurring sketches  “MR. Robinson’s neighborhood” and “Gumby”  - Eddie was on his way to becoming the superstar that he became in the late 80’s and 90’s. I also remember Dana Carvey’s “read my lips no new taxes” George Bush which cracked me up as a kid. 

Through you’re life have you consistently watched it or have you had runs during certain seasons or casts that made you want to tune in regularly (even before on-demand)? What were some of your runs where you paid attention consistently?

Holly: I always watched consistently when I was young with my parents, but in the years before on-demand TV, it would depend whether I was home on Saturday nights!
Mike: My later single digit years when Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman were leading the cast were when I start really watching it. My parents would let me stay up on Saturday nights to watch SNL with them, and it was something we enjoyed as a family. I would ebb and flow being into the show from there. I would watch Spader, Sandler, Farley and Rock's seasons, but at the time it didn't seem as tight of a ship as the season with the previous murderer's row of castmates, but in hindsight, I know now that it just evolves. Towards the end of Will Ferrell's tenure, I started watching again religiously, going into to the seasons with Tina Fey as head writer and Kristen Wiig killing every week.  
Kim: I would stay up late night in the mid/late 80’s on Saturday nights to watch WWF wrestling which was on NBC. I can’t remember but snl would either come on before or after. My wrestling fandom introduced me to SNL because sometimes wrestling wouldn’t appear that night and I’d still want to stay up to watch something. So I watched a lot of SNL even though I didn’t understand it like I do now. Later in life I would watch SNL on Comedy Central when they’d air reruns. Because I missed so much of the show by my teenage years I was able to be reintroduced to the show. Today thanks to streaming I’ve been watching the show for the last 10 years straight. 

What’s your favorite SNL cast and why? 
Mike: I'm partial to the cast I came up up on initially: Dana Carvey Nora Dunn Phil Hartman Jan Hooks Victoria Jackson Jon Lovitz Dennis Miller A. Whitney Brown and Kevin Nealon. Church Lady, hans and Frams, Caveman Lawyer, etc. All that shit still makes me laugh like it's new.
Kim: I’m a big fan of Phil Hartman (the ultimate SNL utility player) so any of the casts in the 90’s that he was a part of has a special place in my heart. 

Rank your top 5 favorite castmates from SNL?
Holly: Not in any particular order.. and this was so tough, but I’d have to say.. Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Kristin Wig, Bill Hader, Fred Armison
Mike: Can we have 25 favorites lol? In no particular order, I'm a have to go with: Bill Murray, Phil Hartman, Kristen Wiig, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell. 
Kim: In no particular order - Hartman, Farley, Ferrell, Wig, and Norm McDonald 

At any point of your fandom did you ever buy the "SNL is dead" narrative and think that it was on it’s lest leg or not relevant?  
Holly: Never! People are always saying “SNL just isn’t what it used to be”. But I believe that in 5 years they’ll look back at today’s cast and say “SNL was sooo much better even 5 years ago.” Nostalgia and featured players gaining stardom makes past seasons always seem better.
Mike: Naw, and there's only one real period where that kinda slander sticks with the show, and that's when Lorne wasn't around. But even during those years, you had the emergence of Eddie Murphy within the hallowed walls of Studio 8H, so I mean... It's really just something people like to say to sounds hip, but it just makes old folks sound like basic bitches imo.
Kim: There were some extremely bad years in the late 90’s / early 2000’s when a new cast that was super green started. I remember the early will Ferrell, Cheri oteri, Chris Kattan years being rough and wondering if the show would recover. It always does and it did as the cast got more experience under its belt 

Share your unpopular SNL take
Holly: Here’s an unpopular opinion… Musical guests are the worst part of SNL. I wish they’d replace all the music with sketches!
Mike: I don't know if this is unpopular or not, but my favorite sketches tend to be the last one right before they wrap and say goodbye. They just tend to be comedic hail marys that have no business being on air, but a lotta times they're less polished and hilarious. Also "What's Up With That?" and "The Californians" are two of the best recurring skits in the history of the show, FIGHT ME.
Kim: I think they should have let Norm MacDonald stay on the show forever and host weekend update. His “update” is the best imo. The others try to be too cute and cool. His was bizarre, weird and different. Also his jokes stand the test of time because they were evergreen and not topical (politics, cultural moment, etc). Even his work in normal sketches were very funny to me. Team Norm all the way.

How and when do you watch SNL?
Holly: I watch it hungover every Sunday on Hulu after it’s released there. Perfect cure for a hangover : )  A host makes or breaks a great episode. I’ll be waaay more excited if I’m a fan of the host. If they are an actor or comedian rather than a musical guest, it’s always better!
Mike: If it's a cultural moment I'm excited about like Chappelle hosting w/ Tribe as the musical guest, I'll tune in live. I like the highwire act nature of a live show being broadcast to millions. But a lot of times if I'm indifferent to something like the upcoming Halsey episode (she's hosting and musical guest for,) I'll catch it when I catch it.
Kim: I watch it on Hulu a day or two after it airs on Saturday night.

Madlib Recommendation - Vivian Host Recommends "The New Dance Show"

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Vivian Host aka Star Eyes is a DJ and the host of Red Bull Radio’s excellent daily show “Peak Time”. I’ve long been a fan of Vivian’s writing, interviews, and her work with the legendary crew “Trouble & Bass”. With all of that in mind I had to get Vivian to fill out a Madlib Recommendation, which she did (with amazing handwriting to boot). Vivian recommends the Detroit local broadcast show “The New Dance Show” which you can see clips of below.

A Conversation with SHAN Wallace: Photography, Baltimore, and Healing

Photography: SHAN

I met Shan in Baltimore a few years ago and was taken by her spirit, toughness, and commitment to telling Baltimore’s story through her images. Her work confronts and examines an america that not enough people talk or care about. The struggle and joy she captures in her photos is her story, my story, and many others from around the world, no matter the circumstances their born into. In this conversation we talked about Shan’s craft, her personal story, and what she’s trying to do for the people that she shoots in Baltimore and around the world.

Photography: SHAN

Jones Robinson Mix series: 3.5.19 Mix

Photo by Kim Robinson

Photo by Kim Robinson

New (all vinyl) mix that I recorded the other day in my apartment. Enjoy!

Tracklist
Spice of Life - Manhattan Transfer 
Can’t Keep Checking My Phone - Unknown Mortal Orchestra 
Easy To Fall - Bob Welch 
Situation (Dub) - Yaz 
Last Train To Trancentral (Iron Horse Mix) - The KLF 
Akshon (Yeah!) featuring Outkast - Killa Mike
Alone - Black Orange Juice
Aja - Steely Dan 
Judgement Day - Method Man 
Peter Digital Orchestra (Moodymann edit) - Jeux De Langues
See & Blind, Hear & Deaf - Dego & Kaidi 
Sweet Drums - Cerrone 
Swim - Nico Jaar 
Remind Me (Earnest Saint Laurent Moonfish Mix) - Royksopp
Temporary Secretary - Paul McCartney 
Romeo (Remix) - Basement Jaxx 
Sideways - Frank Ocean

An Afghan Life - Photography by Farshad Usyan

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Farshad Usyan is a Afghan photographer who’s personal practice focuses on the simple pleasures and normal life of Afghanistan citizens. His work displays a beauty and complexity that differs from what we typically see or hear in media reports about Afghanistan.

Usyan’s photography celebrates a mundane and standard life experience while showing that someone’s life in afghanistan could easily resemble someone’s experience in other parts of the developed world. Check him out on Instagram

Aristotle Torres Top 5 Favorite Film Soundtracks

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Writer, director, filmmaker, DJ, athlete, and all around good guy, Aristotle Torres (aka VXA) is a renaissance man from the Bronx. We met many years ago when I produced a video that VXA was featured in. We’ve kept up through social media as I’m always liking or digging things he shares online. VXA appreciates both visuals and music and how they compliment each other. With that I asked him to share some of his favorite film scores/soundtracks. Learn about his 2018 short film “Story Ave” and check out his list below.


One of my favorite quotes on filmmaking is from Martin Scorsese - "Half of cinema is sound" 

I love that quote. In five words you understand the scope of movies and how important the combination of visuals paired with audio is. Watch a film with poor sound design and/or score - it's an unpleasant experience. So, when Jones Robinson asked me to write something up on my favorite soundtracks, I jumped at the opportunity to share my appreciation for two of my biggest loves: film and music. 

First up, I'm going with a soundtrack that has not only impacted me on a sonic level but has actually been instrumental in helping me write my first feature film. I can honestly credit this body of music in helping craft my story, matching the lyric of dialogue or structure with the pacing of the score. 

"IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK" 
Dir. Barry Jenkins. 2017
Original Score by Nicholas Britell
Listen

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As I learn more and more about filmmaking, I realize how important musical themes are to establishing your characters internal conflict. This score does that to perfection. Even now, when I hear certain chord progressions from the soundtrack, I'm immediately drawn back to the visual of Fonny fighting for his place in the world and Tish doing her best to support him. Pure Magic. 

Speaking of magic, this next soundtrack overflows with it. Eclectic sounds, global appeal, romantic themes, mixed with strong musical elements. It's also the middle child of one of my favorite franchises. 

"OCEANS TWELVE"  
Dir. Steven Soderbergh. 2004
Composed by David Holmes
Listen

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I remember the day I saw this film in theatres and immediately fell in love with the score. Even the way the film starts. (Spoilers Ahead) It's Brad Pitt, a convicted con-man doing a major heist in Amsterdam. His girlfriend, Catherine Zeta Jones, a top-level detective at Interpol is investigating Brad's very crime. During a passive couple'ish conversation one night when Brad returns to their apartment, he realizes she's almost on-to-him so he immediately jumps out of the bathroom window. Freeze Frame - Queue: Ornella Vanoni's "L'Appuntamento". 

Next up is just a classic soundtrack. If you have any appreciation for black music, cinema or culture, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

"NUTTY PROFESSOR 2: THE KLUMPS" 
Dir. Peter Segal 
Composed by David Newman 
Listen

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One word: JAMS. "Hey Papi" "Thong Song" "Missing You" "Just Friends" "Off The Wall". All joints that can still go hard today at your summer BBQ. This is quite possibly one of the best compilations of music ever assembled for a comedic picture. 

Next selection is a bit of a sleeper and a random pick, but still worth a serious listen.  

"SNATCH" 
Dir. Guy Ritchie. 2000
Composed by John Murphy
Listen

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Snatch is one of my favorite films. It's Ritchie's follow up to his debut film "Lock Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels". Close to a perfect film for me. Direction, performance, dialogue, composition, it all hits home. And the score, it's something else. One of the best moments of the film is compounded by this song by Massive Attack "Angel". Fun Fact: one of my favorite songs ever is on this too - Maceo and The Macks "Cross The Tracks". 

I saved my last selection for two reasons; Its another Barry Jenkins film and it might be the most fun you'll have listening to a soundtrack. 

PURPLE MOONLIGHT inspired by "MOONLIGHT" 
Dir. Barry Jenkins (2016)
Created by The Chopstars
Listen

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Moonlight itself is in my Top 5. EVER. And this interpretation of the official soundtrack does not disappoint. The film itself features some chopped n' screwed elements but The Chopstars take it to a whole 'nother level. Also, from a blending/mix/DJ standpoint, these guys are the real deal. 

Hope you enjoy and if you have soundtracks in your life that inspire you, please shoot em my way! 

Instagram: @AristotleBAM 

BHM Inspiration - Snaps, Cracks, Tha Dozens, Scoring....

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Growing up in the east coast my father and grandmother’s generation called them “Tha Dozens”. My generation called it “Cracking” or “Scoring” and later when I moved west as a child we called it “Snaps". The most common name for this artform is called “Ya Mama” jokes. Whatever the term that you used it is still with us 80+ years later. Growing up you HAD to crack on people because you got cracked on and if you didn’t defend yourself you would be up for ridicule throughout your school experience. I wouldn’t say I was the best but I was good. I knew how to work a crowd , I employed physical comedy tactics, and I kept up with new jokes to keep my material fresh. Some people were born with the gift of gab to play Tha Dozens. I learned over time developing my skills in the projects of Cherry Hill in Baltimore, MD. When I moved west it was a cakewalk cracking on kids because their culture of ridicule wasn’t as savage as the primary schools of Baltimore. I became a legend in my intermediate school where I made fun of anyone who wanted to step to me. I later won a few competitions at local kiddie clubs AND won a competition on a local radio show when I was a teenager. My cracking career was a good one. When I think back to the things we said (a lot of them were truly offensive and would not fly today) it was a part of the larger culture of cracking jokes at our own expense to laugh finding subconscious ways of creating for ourselves because we didn’t have much. There’s a deeper level conversation on this topic exploring it’s creation and why it was such a pertinent norm for black culture that I’ll come back to it in the future for a deep dive. For now…just enjoy the ridicule

Yo mama’s so old…Her social security number is one.
Yo' mama so fat, she wore corduroys and smoothed out the ridges!
Yo mama’s so fat…If she buys a fur coat, a whole species will become extinct.
Yo mama is so old that she knew Cap'n Crunch while he was still a private.
Yo mama’s teeth are so yellow…When she smiles at traffic, it slows down.
Yo' daddy's so ugly, when he looked out the window he was arrested for mooning!
Yo' Mama is so old, she pees rust and farts dust.
Yo mama is so old that she knew Cap'n Crunch while he was still a private.
Yo' Mama's cooking is so bad, your family prays after they eat.
Yo' Mama is so stupid, she took the Pepsi Challenge and she chose Jif.
Yo' Mama is so fat, she needs license plates for her shoes.
Yo' Mama is so dumb, she locked her keys inside her motorcycle.
Yo' mama so fat, she has a real horse on her polo shirt.
Yo mama’s so old…She walked out of a museum and the alarm went off.
Yo mama’s so stupid…She put lipstick on her forehead to make up her mind.
Yo' Mama is like a telephone book: available to the public, no charge.
Yo mama’s so dumb…she thought Timberland was a park in Canada

Link to more jokes

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BHM Inspiration - Luther Vandross “A House Is Not a Home”

Burt Bacharach + Luther = The Best

Bonus: A lot of people don’t know that Luther was a key collaborator of Bowie’s during the “Young Americans” era.

BHM Inspiration - The Chris Rock Show (1997-2000)

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Growing up in the late 90’s early 2000’s one of my favorite shows was the Chris Rock show on HBO. After his breakthrough standup special “Bring The Pain” in 1996, Rock’s star rocketed with him landing prime movie and TV opportunities. He was offered a deal with HBO for his own talk show show which he accepted producing five seasons of a show that was representative of my generation who grew up following the established music order (Rap & R&B) while charting our own taste in alternative music within black and white music. Rock’s show was revolutionary in comparison to previous late night shows for me because it was short, the guests were random non standard celebrity fare, it could go in any direction he wanted because it was HBO, and most important the shows live music talent was unparalleled due to its diversity. I would argue that Rock did for late 90’s emerging black music what Letterman did for college rock/underground music with his show in the 80’s. They were both able to take chances because of their location (Letterman being after Carson and Rock on HBO) that competitors didn’t see as enticing or interesting.

In the late 90’s the internet was not what it is today and with that discovering culture through magazines and late night TV was the norm. Rock’s show exposed me to a new world of creatives and thought in black music. Each week I turned in to see who would be the guests, enjoying the performance, and then looking for that artist’s physical album later to complete the circle. Here are a few of my favorite performances from The Chris Rock Show during its iconic run.