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.

Must Read - Deep Thoughts: Inspiration for the Uninspired by Jack Handey

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Jack Handey was a writer for SNL in the mid 80’s. I absolutely loved watching his sketches which were always a little off and odd, that always at 12:45 when the show was about to be over. I later learned that the last quadrant of the show close to the end is where “smart” sketches like his that are deemed “Too Smart” for 12am - 12:40am run. Some of his greatest sketches were “Toonces The Driving Cat”, “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer”, “Fuzzy Memories”, and my favorite “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handey (his actual real name). I bought his first book many decades ago which feature an assortment of his random soliloquies. It’s a simple and funny read that I come back to for a laugh. Buy it.

NYT Magazine published a great feature on him years ago that you can read here - Excerpt below.

The archetypal Jack Handey sketch is about Frankenstein, or flying saucers, or a cat who, for some reason, can drive a car. “Little-boy stuff,” Handey explained. He often worked alone on his sketches rather than team up with other writers, and he liked to work from his and Marta’s Chelsea apartment, so he would show up each week to Wednesday read-throughs with these fully formed, immaculate sketches that would freak everyone out. Franken recalled a sketch called “Giant Businessman,” about an actual giant (played by Phil Hartman) who calls the cops on the loud party next door, then is terrified when the neighbor threatens him. At the read-through, Franken laughed so long and hard at the sketch’s final beat — in which the giant asked the F.B.I., sincerely, if he might join the witness protection program — that he had to excuse himself from the crowded room because his laughter was interrupting the next sketch.