4 Throwaway ‘SNL’ Sketches That Became Massive Hits
You can tell which sketches Saturday Night Live believes will be killers based on their placement in the show. The sketch directly after the host monologue is the ringer, the one that cracked everyone up at the table read and absolutely destroyed in dress rehearsal. But sometimes funny things happen between rehearsals and the live shows. Here are four sketches with low expectations that went on to become iconic…
When young Mike Myers arrived on the scene, he pitched a sketch to writers Conan O’Brien, Greg Daniels, Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk. “He described to us this idea, this character he had named Wayne who had a cable show in his basement, and the show was called Wayne’s World,” remembers O’Brien in the SNL oral history Live From New York. “We politely told him that we didn’t think it was his best idea. But I remember very clearly sitting at read-through in my little folding chair, and I turned the page of the script and there’s the ‘Wayne’s World’ we had dissuaded him from submitting. And I felt sorry for him. I thought, ‘This poor kid is going to have to learn the hard way.’”
O’Brien wasn’t alone in dismissing the sketch since Lorne Michaels scheduled “Wayne’ World” for the ten-to-one spot (the last sketch of the night, often reserved for weirdo bits that would scare off audiences earlier in the show).
“It went really great,” remembers Myers. “On that next Monday, as I was coming into work, I heard somebody working in the building singing the theme song from ‘Wayne’s World.’ I was like completely blown away, because it had been on at ten to one.”
The throwaway sketch was reprised 19 times and became the basis for the biggest SNL movie ever.
The Blue Jean Committee
Another of Fred Armisen’s musical stabs at satirical anti-comedy, the Blue Jean Committee is a yacht-rock ensemble crooning gentle homages to Massachusetts afternoons. Jokes? You’d be hard-pressed to find one in this affectionate sketch outside of the hyperlocal references in the song lyrics.
A fun one-off? It would have been if Armisen hadn’t resurrected the Blue Jean Committee for a full-blown, two-part biopic on his Documentary Now! series. The group and their Steely Dan grooves now have 42,000 monthly listeners on Spotify thanks to soft-rock bangers like “Catalina Breeze.”
The sketch whose ubiquity ruined the lives of Christopher Walken and Blue Öyster Cult almost never made it to air. According to Society of Rock, Michaels wasn’t a fan, and the sketch was cut seven times before making it onto an actual show. Like the original Wayne’s World sketch, More Cowbell was slotted near the end of the show where it could do little harm.
Even hours before the show aired live on national TV, there were doubters. The dress rehearsal version went “fine at best,” according to Jimmy Fallon. The tweak that may have pushed it over the top? Between dress and air, Will Ferrell went back to wardrobe and insisted on a smaller shirt, one that would ride up his exposed belly the more he banged the cowbell.
“Will turns his head and looks at me. I saw the eyes of a lunatic,” remembers Fallon. “His sweaty stomach was hanging out the bottom of his shirt, his eyes are just staring at me, and man, oh, man, I just broke up. I couldn’t stop.”
The Lonely Island guys were venturing into uncharted territory with their quickly produced digital shorts. According to Akiva Schaffer, the group wanted to “stay under the radar in case we failed.” To avoid the attention that would come with asking for an actual budget, the group made its first video, “Lettuce,” for $20.
Their second video was even cheaper, made for the price of cab fare. But “Lazy Sunday” proved to be a little more valuable than that. “By the end of the weekend, my brother e-mailed me and told me, ‘Look at this place where you can watch it online,’” remembers Schaffer. “And that was YouTube.”
“I was checking it every day — oh, another 10,000 people saw it, no, 100,000 people saw it,” says Schaffer. “And it was by far the number one thing on YouTube.” The current version on the site has more than 4 million views.