there are two “golden eras” of saturday night live that are generally recognized as the highest points of the show’s history. the first was early on after the show started, when the cast consisted of john belushi, dan aakroyd, jane curtain, chevy chase, bill murray, among others, along with consistent guest spots by steve martin and andy kaufman (even though he’s very often connected with the early years of the show, martin was never actually a cast member). popular sketches from this time were the blues brothers, most of what steve martin was a part of, and weekend update. weekend update really took hold around this time along with a new form of presidential parody not before seen on primetime tv.
the second golden era of the show came at the tail end of the 80s and on into the 90s. the cast consisted of, for my generation, the greats. adam sandler, chris farley, david spade, dana carvey, mike myers, and had writers such as conan o’brien and robert smigel (the man behind the tv funhouse shorts, such as ambiguously gay duo, and the voice of triumph the insult comic dog). this was absolutely one of the highest of the show’s highs. the sketches the writers were coming up with were so funny and they had the strongest cast to really hit them out of the park. conan left snl to write on the simpsons while smigel went and wrote for dana carvey’s next project, the dana carvey show, both of which were critically acclaimed. the seasons of the simpsons with conan as a writer are generally regarded as some of the shows best seasons, and the dana carvey show was also critically acclaimed, and even though it lasted for one season, it featured the early tv work of stephen colbert and steve carrell, along with the writing talents of smigel and stand-up louis c.k. it just goes to show how important writers are for snl, and really for any comedy show. the cast of the 80s/90s decade turn was a phenomenal cast, but without a solid set of writers they wouldn’t have had anything good to work with.
and that’s why snl is suffering now. if you look at the cast, it’s really consistent. bill hader, jason sudeikis, seth myers, fred armisen, will forte are all extremely funny men. every interview that hader, sudeikis, myers, or forte had on late night with conan o’brien was very funny, and they are all really funny in most of the movies they show up in. and kristin wiig is possibly the funniest woman on television, at least until amy poehler premieres her new nbc comedy “parks and recreation”. wiig has some of the funniest characters on snl right now, including the target lady, penelope, judy grimes, and part of the duo the a-holes. she also does hilarious impressions, which in the last few months have included bjork, barbie, and my absolute favorite, kathie lee gifford on the today show. plus she’s super pretty. so the cast is strong.
here’s where the show runs off the rails for me. andy samberg and his comedy group the lonely island, which is him, akiva schaffer, and jorma taccone. samberg is a regular cast member on snl, and all three of them are writers for the show, and in the last season or two the show has taken a very clear turn towards the type of humor that these three are famous for. they started by making crappy low-budget tv episodes and directing music videos for themselves and now they’re doing that on snl. they do almost all of the digital shorts as far as i know, and the whole show is infested with their brand of “zany”, off the wall humor. i quote zany because it’s the type of humor that crappy people would call “random.” my friend owen and i were talking about this the other day, that for awhile, in the last few years, the words “random” and “awkward” have become SO overused because they are now associated with humor. jr. highers started saying things like “the office is such a funny show because it’s just so awkward!” no. the american version is not awkward. it’s funny because of the relationships on the show and socially inappropriate behavior. the british version was absolutely awkward, and so few people in america would like it nearly as much as the american version. we can’t stand subtle, and the american version is nowhere near as subtle as the british. another word that caught on fire was “random”. “oh gosh how random is that that demetri martin labels all of his props!” that’s the kind of “zany”, or “random” humor that can be attributed to the lonely island. one perfect example of this from their pre-snl days is the “we like sportz” video. it’s just schaffer and taccone in a song about how they like sports. and man is it stupid. in no way do i find it at all funny. they are good at making crappy music on like 16-track recorders and writing stupid words that rhyme. the zaniness i was talking about is the stuff like spelling words “sports” and “nuts” with z’s, or “sux” instead of sucks. they play these stupid characters who look uncomfortable on camera, yeah that’s how they’re supposed to look but it’s just not funny. i don’t get why all of america thinks these guys are great.
this has only gone from bad to worse. samberg got on the map with “lazy sunday”, probably the only video i’ve ever seen of his or the lonely island that i thought was funny at all. you can still see some of their “random” humor getting in here though, like “double true” being spelled in all different colors. how is that funny? since lazy sunday it’s only gone from bad to worse. some of the worst i’ve seen are the digital shorts like “people getting punched”, “andy popping into frame.” please people. none of this is funny or original. it’s brainless. it’s insulting to watch because they have no respect for their audience. people getting punched is a long video of samberg running around and punching people before they bite into food with some crappy lonely island-produced song playing over it. then samberg does a stupid dance after he punches somebody. how is that humorous? andy popping into frame is almost worse, again a long video of NOTHING but empty shots of scenery around new york with samberg popping his face into the frame and smiling. not funny. pointless. comedy comes from jokes, from wit or irony or sarcasm. this is none of those things. this is an asanine waste of film.
one of the things that i dislike about samberg especially is the obvious fact that he and his comedy buddy writers seem to think that he has a funny looking face. he doesn’t. the faces that he makes are NEVER funny. he just looks like one of those douchebag juniors in college who think they should be in standup because they can make their bar buddies laugh. his faces are not funny, which adds to my hatred for the andy popping into frame sketch.
ok so how about the recent, hugely popular sketches lonely island have done like “jizz in my pants” or “i’m on a boat”. for some reason these are insanely popular on youtube and the like. now i will concede, i somewhat see the humor in lampooning these ridiculous genres of music. but at the same time, the lonely island guys seem to be doing it less with a sense of “this is actually ridiculous” and more with a wink/nudge “how funny are we that we are doing this, right?” it feels arrogant to me. my biggest beef with the jizz in my pants video is that so much of the comedy in this sketch is supposed to come from the faces the samberg and taccone make but again, samberg does NOT have a funny face and taccone’s is nothing to write home about. also, justin timberlake WHY are you in this video? no point other than for face time. obnoxious. and the i’m on a boat video is funny, “because they actually got t-pain to do it right?!!” no. that simultaneously makes your video kind of smart but more stupid because first of all, to lampoon something as ridiculous as that kind of rap music only works if you can have someone like t-pain help you out, so it’s kind of smart, but it defeats the purpose because it shows they are actually fans of t-pain and his music. so it’s moot. no point to it. and t-pain sucks. and the song sucks. and just the idea isn’t funny to me. i feel like so many people think it’s great because “nobody has thought to do something like this yet and make fun of these self-indulgent rappers like this yet!!” but if you spend any amount of time actually analyzing the current state of rap music and realize that THIS is the kind of music that is popular with our culture, the genre is unintentionally self-parodying in its nature. to watch any music video by the yin yang twins or lil wayne (if kanye’s not careful he’s gonna find himself on this list too) or any of these ridiculous rappers or listen/read an interview by them or just listen to their music, it is SO ridiculous that it doesn’t NEED to be parodied. it blows me away that somebody can’t listen to their music and not see how incredibly absurd it is. the satire of the lonely island towards this genre is completely unnecessary and that’s why it’s not funny to me.
so that’s why watching snl isn’t fun to me right now. maybe in a few years the show will cycle through their writers but i just wish all the great talent in the cast wasn’t wasted on guys like samberg, taccone, and schaffer. they are the worst.
p.s. i thought about putting up some of the lonely island videos i mentioned, but i didn’t want them polluting my blog. i didn’t even post any links. if you want to see them, youtube has most of the pre-snl lonely island stuff and hulu has most of the current snl lonely island stuff.
NOTE: edited to say that the movie hot rod sucks too. i turned it off at the scene where samberg is about to street luge down the hill and he starts saying all that “wwwwHy am i talking wwwwHich wwway?” cool samberg. watched family guy in the last three years?