The Tom Hanks/David Spade 'SNL' Sketch That Never Saw the Light of Day
According to David Spade, it was all Tom Hanks’ idea. As a fledgling writer on Saturday Night Live, Spade was all ears when hosts pitched their own sketch concepts. “The idea that Hanks tossed out that I jumped on was called Subway Surfing,” Spade remembers in his memoir Almost Interesting. “Everyone else sort of checked out during his pitch, but I sat there soaking it all in.”
Here’s the would-be classic simmering in Hanks’s brain: The Forrest Gump star and most of the SNL cast would ride the subway around New York, “surfing” inside and singing a Beach Boys-inspired tune about their badass lifestyle. “Once he told me that there was a song involved, I knew I was in over my head,” confesses Spade. “I could barely manage to write a sketch from beginning to middle to end, and I had absolutely no business trying to write a song.”
But Hanks was into the idea — and having a superstar host enthusiastic about a sketch was one of the surest ways of getting onto the live show. So Spade, still an SNL rookie, gave it a go, figuring that the surfing concept was somehow related to his Arizona skateboarding roots. But like surfing on a New York subway, trying to get the sketch to air was a bumpy ride. “I’d sit with Tom for a little bit, and we’d hash it out and then he’d be pulled in 50 different directions and I’d be left to hammer out the details and try to make it all make sense,” Spade remembers. Again, the only problem was that Spade was new to sketch writing and had no idea what he was doing (a fact that he definitely wasn’t sharing with Hanks).
The sketch — and song — were good enough to get through the table read, helped by Hanks giving the sketch 101 percent. But at dress rehearsal, young Spade’s dream of costarring in a Tom Hanks sketch died in front of a live audience. “In the middle of dress (rehearsal), we were giving it everything and we were looking at each other going, ‘It's not happening,’” Spade remembered when Hanks was a guest on the Fly on the Wall podcast. “It’s the worst feeling. You’re like fuck. God damn.”
Amazingly, more than 20 years after the sketch failed, Hanks still remembered the words to the Subway Surfing theme song:
Don't be afraid of a youth gang turf war
Just stand up and balance and make it a surf war
Oh, you don't need a wet suit or a bordering ocean
The transit authority provides you the motion
“Holy shit!” Spade marveled at the memory. But Hanks wasn’t done yet, remembering the song’s bridge as well:
I-N-T-O the empty
I-R-T subway shuttles!
“Here’s the thing,” Hanks told Spade and his co-host Dana Carvey. “Lorne (Michaels) hated it. He said, ‘I don’t get it. Do you live in the subway?’”
Both comics lamented the nature of dress rehearsals. One more shot at it, Spade believes, and Subway Surfing might have been a classic sketch. But get off on the wrong foot in front of a live audience and it’s dead forever. Spade was bummed, but in his memoir, he remembers Hanks being a class act the whole way.
“He grabbed me later at the after-party and said, ‘Hey, we tried. I thought it was funny.’” If only Michaels thought the same thing.