Saturday Night Live: Bob Odenkirk On That 'Insane' Time Steven Segal Hosted
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Steven Seagal may have once been one of the world’s biggest action stars, but he also aikido-kicked his way onto the unofficial list of celebrities banned from Saturday Night Live, an illustrious crew that allegedly includes Sinead O’Connor, Adrien Brody, and Chevy Chase.
He’s practically banned from reruns as well. Peacock still has the episode online (subscribers only, sorry), but Seagal can barely be seen, with his monologue and most of his sketches edited out. Only one sketch with Chris Farley remains -- and Seagal, as the stern father of Farley’s date, sleepwalks through it.
What was the problem? Let’s start with Seagal’s comedy pitches. “He had this idea that he’s a therapist and he wanted Victoria Jackson to be his patient who’s just been raped,” Julia Sweeney remembers in SNL oral history Live From New York.
Surprise -- the sketch wasn’t selected for the show.
“The biggest problem with Steven Seagal was that he would complain about jokes that he didn’t get, so it was like— you can’t explain something to somebody in German if they don’t speak German,” says Tim Meadows. “He just wasn’t funny.”
Bob Odenkirk agrees. As a guest on Howard Stern’s show, Odenkirk remembers working on a Hans and Frans sketch for Seagal. The ponytailed star read it and said: “If I do this sketch, if I do it, I have to beat them up.”
It was a John Wayne thing, says Odenkirk. “The most ludicrous scenario. Don’t worry, no one’s thinking anyone beat anyone up here.”
But Seagal didn’t only want to take down Hans and Frans. In the sketch’s original form, Hans and Frans poked fun at Seagal, suggesting that Arnold Schwarzenegger could wipe the floor with him.
“Then on Thursday we’re just on the soundstage rehearsing it. And we go through it with the cue cards, he reads his lines, very serious, then he just walks off,” Dana Carvey told Howard Stern back in 2019. “So, I went up to him and I said, ‘Steven, are you okay?’ And he didn’t look at me. He was looking straightforward and he goes, quote, ‘I just wish Arnold was here so I could kick his f***ing ass.’”
The sketch was rewritten to make Seagal the toughest tough guy. And somehow, Schwarzenegger probably slept fine that night.
“That was his attitude the whole week,” says Odenkirk. “He kept saying, ‘I’ve never seen your show. I don’t know what you do here.’ Like really? You’ve never seen Saturday Night Live? Where do you live?”
But the Hans and Frans sketch wasn’t even the nuttiest scene of the night. That would be the show’s final sketch, another that Seagal pitched himself, according to Odenkirk.
“It’s like one of his movies but they tried to do it live,” Odenkirk says. “It was insane. There’s like this board of directors, a bunch of stuntmen in suits. As a viewer, you’re like “Who are these actors? They’re not in the cast!” There’s some speech and (Seagal) enters the banquet room. It’s live and he’s beating them up and throwing them around the room. And it goes on for like eight minutes. It’s the longest scene you’ve ever seen.”
All that fighting came with a message, says Odenkirk. “At the very end, he turns to camera and says ‘This is what happens when you pollute the planet.’ And the audience is mystified.”
It’s all enough to make Stern wonder why didn’t Lorne just dump Seagal mid-week. According to David Spade, Lorne actually considered it. “(Seagal) didn’t want to go along with what the plan was that week, and as a result, I think that was the first week that I heard talk about replacing the host and just doing a cast show.”
But Odenkirk says that was probably not practical.
“By the time you get to Wednesday, what are you going to do? But it would be funny if (Lorne) booted him on a Thursday and just did the show without him.”
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Top image: Broadway Video