This Was The Worst ‘SNL’ Sketch, and It’s Not Even Close

Even NBC execs were pulling out their hair: ‘This is a disaster’
This Was The Worst ‘SNL’ Sketch, and It’s Not Even Close

The worst-ever Saturday Night Live sketch played during the worst-ever episode in the show’s history — or at least the worst of the first decade. In Saturday Night, A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, authors Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad say that many of the show’s veterans consider the Malcolm McDowell show during Season Six to be “the single worst show in Saturday Night’s history.” And a sketch called “Commie Hunting Season” was one of the main reasons why. (Warning: Describing the sketch necessitates some ugly language — turn back now if you don’t want to watch or read it.)

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You can’t blame the show’s failure on the host, Hill and Weingrad argue. “It wasn’t McDowell’s fault,” they say. “The writing was so overwhelmingly bad it would be hard to pick a most awful moment.” Agree to disagree. The show was terrible, including a sketch featuring Denny Dillon as a leather-clad dominatrix delivering a lame BDSM forecast known as the Leather Weather Report. It’s one of those sketches where shock is supposed to deliver laughs, but the sweaty effort comes off as feeble. 

Hill and Weingrad say that others with SNL point to “Jack the Stripper” as the worst sketch, an overlong mess about Prince Charles being a royal flasher. It’s terrible for sure, running about twice as long as an average SNL sketch, with interminable stretches of exposition between meager laughs. But simply being long and unfunny doesn’t qualify this debacle to compete for the most awful sketch of all-time — that honor still goes to “Commie Hunting Season.”

“Commie Hunting Season” manages to be both spectacularly laugh-free and jaw-droppingly offensive. For reasons I don’t understand, especially since so many classic sketches aren’t available on YouTube or Peacock, this atrocity is still featured on the official SNL YouTube channel.

The sketch starts off bad enough, with Joe Piscopo and Charles Rocket as the world’s most stereotypical rednecks. It’s Commie Hunting Season for Uncle Lester and Jim-Bob, as the two rifle-toting morons discuss how they’re going to track and kill communists. How will they do that? If the commies are demonstrating, then it’s easy: “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Two idiots planning a mass shooting is bad enough. But it gets worse when Uncle Lester explains what to do in the absence of a demonstration: “Alls you got to do is shoot yourself a Jew or a (n-slur) — chances are better than even you’ll be shooting a commie anywho.”

Absolute dead silence from the audience follows, and you can practically smell Charles Rocket’s flop sweat. McDowell either didn’t hear his cue or was too ashamed to enter the sketch — there’s a long uncomfortable beat after the gruesome line where everyone just soaks in the stunned stillness. While the studio audience was silent, home viewers weren’t; UPI reported that NBC received more than 150 complaints about the sketch, according to Saturday Night Live FAQ: Everything Left to Know About Television's Longest Running Comedy.

Another vocal critic was NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff. He was “appalled” and even “crazed” by the show, calling producer Jean Doumanian on Sunday morning to rant, “This is a disaster.” In many ways, it was the beginning of the end for Doumanian, who didn’t last one full season as Lorne Michaels’ replacement. “The show is terrible,” NBC head honcho Fred Silverman told Tartikoff. “Get rid of her.”

Understandably, McDowell was mortified by the whole experience. It was so bad that, 10 years later, he talked Gary Oldman into pulling out of an SNL hosting commitment to save him from similar embarrassment. McDowell apparently didn’t realize that Charles Rocket and Jean Doumanian were long gone.  


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