Thursday, September 29, 2011

Live From New York it's PTU!

It's an often repeated statement that Saturday Night Live (which entered it's 36th season this past weekend) is a New York institution. It's usually repeated by fans and those associated with the show as a reminder to people that it doesn't/hasn't/won't always suck. Because, despite it's status as the longest running comedy show on television and the one show that has represented New York for over 30 years, the cold hard truth is SNL kinda sucks fairly often. This isn't to say it's not also often very funny and influential, but any show that has been on for over 3 decades, is always done live, and which relies on topical humor is going to hit a few bumps in the road. The rotating hosts every week keep things somewhat fresh, though. Most of the time, the host and musical guest combination are just representative of the flavors of the week and a glance at any random episode list from the last 20 years will prove that. This theory at it's very worst can be seen in whatever NBC sitcom star paired up with TRL artist (anyone want to check out the classic Helen Hunt and Hanson or Matthew Perry and Oasis episodes of 1995?) that dominated the mid 90s seasons. Once in a blue moon, though, the host and musical guest combination are pure, crazy gold (finding SNL videos online is next to impossible so I apologize for the lack of great video on some of these).

OJ Simpson and Ashford and Simpson (February 25th, 1978)

I've mentioned this one before and it is indeed a favorite at the Slob Den. It's not really funny, but seeing OJ in anything since 95 is a hoot. He doesn't reach Nordberg heights of hilarity, but there's something about watching OJ pre murder gadding about in sketches with Lorraine Newman that is mind blowing. Add the recently deceased Simpson of Ashford and Simpson and you have one wild Saturday night.

Michael Jordan and Public Enemy (September 28th,1991)

A fun thing about looking at some of these old shows is you get a nice snapshot of the culture at that time or what Chuck Klosterman would explain in much douchier way as the "zeitgeist". SNL always tried to stay cutting edge (despite their tendency towards showcasing the Z100 top 10) and this week's host and musical guest combo was a good example of seizing the moment. Michael was at this point coming off his first title run, his sneakers were popular with everyone from the trendy elite to kids in the projects (he wore the underappreciated 6's against the Lakers that year)and he was well on his way to being the global icon that he is today.Meanwhile, Public Enemy were the most revolutionary rap group of all time. This was also at the height of trendy black nationalism brought on by Spike Lee's Malcolm X movie so there was no better time to have an all black SNL season premiere. Highlights include Jordan visiting Stuart Smalley (I'm good enough...) and Chris Farley's Bulls dance (daaaaa bulls, da bulls, da bulls, da bulls)

Steve Forbes and Rage Against The Machine (April 13th,1996)

Jordan and PE were a perfect match, but sometimes Lorne Michaels and company make a host and musical guest combination decision that just leaves you saying "you're fucking with us, right?". This was never better exemplified than in this spring of 96 late season episode. A show hosted by a billionaire republican presidential candidate sounds pretty awkward to begin with, but adding the extremely far left leaning Rage just sounds like a recipe for disaster. Predictably, Tom Morello and the guys weren't pleased to be sharing a bill with one of the symbols of American big business and excess and decided to voice their displeasure in an upside down hanging American flag. NBC (naturally) thought this was a bad idea, and also told Zack De La Rocha to leave out the F word in his performances. This was quite a snag for Zack though since "Screw you I won't do what you tell me" doesn't quite have the same oomph. In the end, Rage performed Bulls on Parade sans upside down flag and Forbes did some nondescript sketches mostly poking fun at his immense wealth and disconnect from the common man. That's a kick ass performance of Bulls on Parade though.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Run DMC (October 18th, 1986)

Another all black edition of SNL, this time featuring the young star of TV's most popular black family of all time and the first rap group to really bust through to the mainstream at the peak of their respective powers. These days, SNL has whatever rapper or rap group is currently hot at the moment, but in 86 it was pretty rare to see young black men rapping about their sneakers on national television. They weren't the first rap group to perform on SNL (Funky Four Plus One hold that distinction from a few years prior) but this is still a fairly momentous occasion nonetheless.

Joe Montana and Walter Payton and Debbie Harry (January 24th, 1987)

Another athlete hosting job except this time with twice the awkwardness. Athletes usually make pretty lame SNL hosts (see Michael Phelps or Derek Jeter) but occasionally you come across some gems. Like Peyton Manning (something about quarterbacks I guess), Montana seems pretty willing to make fun of himself and his dim personality. Not sure why they stuck Payton in this too, but the double host is kind of fun. Also features a past her prime Harry, but the show's worth it for Joe's sincere guy Stu skit ("I'll be upstairs masturbating").

There's a lot more nutty hosts and musical guests throughout the years (Steven Seagal is as bad as you would expect) but we'll leave it at this for now.

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