The Best Jokes and Bits from Every ‘Saturday Night Live’ Weekend Update Anchor
Whether it was called Weekend Update, Saturday Night News, SNL News Break or some other weird 1980s variation, Saturday Night Live’s fake newscast has been one of the show’s few constants throughout its 48-season history. Along the way, a variety of comics have taken their turn in the anchor chair — here are each fake newscaster’s very best bits…
You can make a strong argument that Chase’s best Weekend Update joke was a catchphrase he came up with for SNL’s fourth-ever show: “Good evening. I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.” Sure, it’s a cliche now, but it was the joke that launched nearly 50 seasons of Weekend Updates. “And you’re not” was a poke at newscaster cliches, it got a huge laugh, and by branding himself in a cast full of unknowns, it made Chase a star. When the president comes on and says, “I’m Gerald Ford and you’re not,” you know your joke landed.
But the single best Update joke that Chase ever told? How about writer Alan Zweibel’s classic (the first joke in the writing packet that helped him land an SNL job in the first place): “The Post Office announced today that it is going to issue a stamp commemorating prostitution in the United States. It’s a 10-cent stamp, but if you want to lick it, it’s a quarter.”
After Chase left, Curtin took over behind the Weekend Update desk. Because Chase had been so popular, it was a rough transition. Curtin addressed it in this bit about the complaint mail she received from Chase’s fans (yes, they once existed). Had Gilda Ratner or Laraine Newman done this particular joke, it likely wouldn’t have landed as well, but it was such a departure from Curtin’s steely news anchor persona that it killed. You want raw thrills? Then it’s raw thrills you’ll get.
Aykroyd’s tenure on the Weekend Update desk (actually appearing as “station manager”) is probably best remembered for his Point/Counterpoint arguments with Curtin. Because those tussles always gave Aykroyd the last word, punctuated by the catchphrase “Jane, you ignorant slut,” they haven’t aged especially well. Instead, we’ll go with this winner from 1977, a joke that represents Dan Aykroyd at his most DanAykroydiness: “The Treasury has just released the new metric conversion terms for American Federal Reserve currency, which will come into effect in 1981. The dollar will still be called the dollar, but quarters will be called quart-dollars, dimes will be deca-dollars, nickels will be penta-dollars and pennies will be called hi-how-do-ya-do’s. No explanation was given.”
While Murray spent some time co-anchoring the news with Curtin, his best Update bits were his annual Oscar predictions. We’re with Murray when he swipes away all the supporting acting nominees, rightly pointing out that no one gives a damn.
Rocket, the breakout star of Season Six before he lost his SNL job for dropping f-bombs on live television, did just fine reading the news from behind a desk. But his off-the-cuff talents were more obvious with his live Rocket Reports out in the wilds of New York City. A drunken Santa stumbling into traffic was one of the highlights of that lousy season.
Brian Doyle-Murray and Mary Gross
Doyle-Murray and Gross were an awkward fit as the SNL News Break team, as evidenced by this uncomfortable clip from Season Seven. The fact that the official Saturday Night Live YouTube channel chose to feature this unconvincing tryst as the only representation of their work shows you just how wobbly that entire year was.
“My brilliant idea was that I should’ve been a real news guy,” Hall explained in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. “I should’ve gone out and covered real news stories from the SNL perspective. That’s what I wanted to do. But they were much more keen on doing ‘President Reagan had his hand stuck to his head today’ and show a picture.”
One clever bit? After Hall claimed he’d received hate mail because of the depressing news he always delivered, he picked up a guitar, broke into a blues riff and gave it to us through song:
Death, war and taxes
Rape, pollution, murder and pimps
Death, war and taxes
Crime, slum lords and guns
The bit ended with Hall destroying the guitar a la Pete Townsend, much to the delight of the 30 Rock crowd.
Guest was less funny than you’d think as a Saturday Night News anchor, playing it so dry and straight that it felt like he didn’t have much personality at all. A better use of his talents was as straight man to Martin Short’s hyper-defensive lawyer Nathan Thurm, a running bit they brought to the news desk all season long. (SNL trivia: Short would insert a wire into Thurm’s cigarettes so the resulting ash would become impossibly long the more sweaty and defensive he got.)
Miller breathed life back into the Weekend Update segment, not so much with killer jokes (though he had his share) but with a smart-ass, faux-literate, hipper-than-thou attitude that got laughs even when the material was so-so. His news anchor persona was so identifiable that it became a killer bit in and of itself, as evidenced by Dana Carvey occasionally showing up as a second Miller to deliver the goods, cha-cha.
Was Miller insulted by the mocking? Hardly. “I’m just narcissistic enough to love that.”
When Miller left update, Lorne Michaels offered the Update spot to Nealon. He took the gig, but it was a lot more work than he’d imagined since he was still doing the occasional sketch as well. After writing sketches early in the week, “Thursday I started reading like five or six different newspapers every day.” Ironically, Nealon’s funniest Update bits weren’t as an anchor but when he’d show up to offer commentary as Mr. Subliminal.
If Macdonald had a signature bit as Weekend Update anchor, it was the recurring series of jokes that got him fired: An insatiable need to remind America that O.J. Simpson was a murderer. Like many Macdonald gags, it only got funnier the more he ran it into the ground.
Getting the Update anchor job was Quinn’s least favorite part of his SNL experience, he told Howard Stern. Part of it was guilt taking over after his pal Macdonald got fired. “It was like a curse,” he explained to Stern. “I couldn’t own it and enjoy it.” Quinn at his best is the guy at the end of the bar spouting off about the world. But that persona wasn’t a natural fit for a distinguished news anchor. Here’s his first, halting attempt at telling Weekend Update jokes — it wasn’t pretty, but it might have been his best go at it. You can feel the crowd trying to urge him to hilarity.
Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey
It still seems unlikely, but Fey had weird, flirty chemistry with young Jimmy Fallon. “The old Hollywood thing was that she gave him sex, and he gave her class,” explained Lorne Michaels. “The rhythm and timing of that is just a chemistry thing — either it works or it doesn't. We saw the beginnings of that working.”
While we think the idea of Fallon giving Fey class is pretty ridiculous, the coy banter between the two became their signature bit. SNL decided to just make it explicit after Fey moved on to her second Update spouse, Amy Poehler.
Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers
While Meyers had a nice solo run as Update anchor, his most memorable turn was the years that he shared the desk with Amy Poehler. She had fought for Meyers to replace Fey. “I think she saw something in Seth, who at that point was a writer and beginning to emerge more and more,” Michaels has explained. “She just knew they had something, and she was right. She knew that they could take that to another level that wasn’t her-and-Tina.”
Both Poehler and Meyers were adept at delivering news-style punchlines, but their signature bit was their ongoing “Really!?! with Seth and Amy” segments.
Colin Jost and Michael Che
Somehow when we weren’t looking, Jost and Che became the longest-tenured Weekend Update anchors in SNL history. The whitebread-dork-meets-hip-Black-guy thing has always been their shtick, but the two comics perfected it when they developed their holiday tradition of writing horribly offensive jokes for the other anchor to deliver sight unseen. You can almost feel Jost dissolving into a shame puddle.