MacGruber Was Originally Created for Lance Armstrong

Just when you thought MacGruber couldn’t get any sleazier
MacGruber Was Originally Created for Lance Armstrong

One of the most beloved characters to ever come out of a Saturday Night Live sketch is MacGruber, played by Will Forte, who went on to appear in his own movie, streaming TV show and several rejected Super Bowl commercials for a soda company we won’t name, but let’s just say it rhymes with “Schmepsi.” 

But as hard as it may be to believe, the MacGyver parody wasn’t written for Forte. In fact, it was first conceived of by SNL writer and Lonely Islander Jorma Taccone for one of SNL’s high-profile celebrity guests: the less-than-hilarious Lance Armstrong. In retrospect, missing out on the chance to play MacGruber probably doesn’t even crack the top 50,000 Lance Amrstrong career missteps. 

According to Taccone, he originally pitched a sketch in which “Lance Armstrong would play MacGyver’s stepbrother MacGruber.” Unlike his famous relative, MacGruber would defuse bombs, not with paper clips and chewing gum, but “pieces of shit and public hair, so any time he asks one of his assistants for something he needs, no one wants to touch anything.” 

Unfortunately, Taccone was “terrible at pitching” and the idea “went over really badly,” receiving only groans from the other writers. And his follow-up pitch about a commercial for “chunky mayonnaise” also bombed.

Without MacGruber, Armstrong was forced to star in sketches predicated on the laughable premise that he wasn’t totally awesome at every sport. In retrospect, it’s aged about as well as chunky mayonnaise.

Despite the rejection, Taccone stuck with the MacGruber idea, eventually enlisting Forte to be his MacGruber. But Forte wasn’t convinced. “I wasn’t really into it because it just didn’t make sense to me as a sketch,” Forte later confessed, pointing out that MacGyver had been off the air for a long time by that point. 

But Taccone was so “persistent” that Forte and others agreed to try it out just “to get him to shut up.” The first MacGruber sketch aired in January 2007, a little more than a year after Armstrong hosted. And it’s not so different from the initial pitch, in that MacGruber asks for pubic hair to disarm the bomb. But instead of being grossed out, his helper (Jeremy Piven) is baffled by the logistics of the request (“where am I supposed to find pubic hair in a dam control room?”) and hesitant to hand over his own pubes.

And while MacGruber wasn’t MacGyver’s stepbrother, like Armstrong would have been, he was revealed to be his long-lost son.

Taccone and others eventually realized that the key to writing MacGruber was to lean into his character flaws, because “anything that you thought of as a problem in someone’s life, he had. So he’s an alcoholic or a drug addict or he’s bad with money or he’s a womanizer or he’s incredibly vain.”

MacGruber never got blown up while trying to inject himself with human growth hormone before a race, though.

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