“Saturday Night Live” (SNL) is the longest running show of its kind and it just celebrated 40 years on the air. As many of us tend to do with successful entities, I’ve often wondered what the secret is to the show’s success. After watching the “SNL 40” anniversary special Sunday night, I learned a few thing as to why the show is the institution it is today.
It’s Live From New York
There is no other show on television today where you truly don’t know what to expect from week to week. Even reality television is scripted to an extent. “SNL” is, as Will Farrell so eloquently put it on the “SNL 40” red carpet, a “group of misfits [who] basically write their own show every week.”
Sometimes the sketches are instant classics, like “More Cowbell,” and other times they completely bomb, but that’s what makes the show so great. Win or lose, you are seeing real, authentic, comedy and that beats a phony reality show or cookie-cutter series any day of the week.
The Cast Is Always Changing
Lorne Michaels must have some crazy casting super power. During the “SNL 40” anniversary special, we were treated to the “SNL” auditions of some of the show’s superstars like Dana Carvey, Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, Seth Myers, and Gilda Radner, in their comedic infancy. I have no idea how Michaels saw through those awkward auditions, but I’m glad he did.
I used to get annoyed when a cast member would leave “SNL” at a time I believed was their prime. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Fallon, and Wiig all seemed to exit right when their sketches seemed to be landing consistently.
But, if they didn’t leave SNL we wouldn’t have “Parks and Recreation,” “Bridesmaids,” “30 Rock” or Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show.” So, I guess I get it now.
“SNL” is like a training camp for America’s best comedians. Right when you think the next cast could never be as good as the last, you get a new batch of favorites like Taran Killam, Billy Moynihan, and Aidy Bryant.
Alec Baldwin, who has guest starred on “SNL” 16 times, told reporters before the anniversary show began that the actors have¬ “more fun doing this show than just about anything else you could possibly do.” That sense of “fun” and passion for the craft shines through with each new group that enters studio 8H, making the cast’s joy contagious to the audience.
It Unifies Celebrities and Families Alike
On the red carpet, “SNL” veteran Seth Myers looked at everyone who was there to celebrate the show’s milestone.
“You have athletes, musicians, politicians, actors, comedians,” Myers said. “[There’s] no other event that would pull all those people together.”
Over the past 40 years, “SNL” managed to take Presidents away from the White House and into a sketch, bring athletes off the field and onto the hosting stage, and offer musicians the most coveted gig on television. Even if you think you aren’t “that into comedy,” you can find your interest played out in an episode of “SNL.”
“SNL” is something that brings people together on stage and at home watching from the couch. As they aired various clips throughout the anniversary special, my dad and I both roared over John Belushi’s “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger” sketch from the ‘70s just as hard as we laughed at the Sefon sketch from recent years. While some of the buzzwords, clothing, and other trends may change, the comedic timing and authenticities of the sketches are timeless.
It Remains Relevant
While the sketches are timeless, the show manages to remain relevant. For example, in honor of its 40th anniversary, the show launched a new app, “SNL 40.” According to its description on iTunes, “The SNL App is a must-have for any “Saturday Night Live” fan” and we can see why. It’s filled with sketches from the past 40 years, as well as a fun “SNL” emoji keyboard.
As if classic SNL catchphrases like, “Schwing!,” “Buh-Bye.,” “More Cowbell, Baby!” and “Superstar!” aren’t ingrained into our vocabulary already, we can now text emojis of popular SNL characters and phrases including Stefon, Mary Katherine Gallagher and even the Target Lady.
SNL also remains very active on social media, which was not something on Michaels’ mind in the ‘70s, but is critical in today’s landscape. Throughout the 40th Anniversary Special, SNL capitalized on the show’s popular bumper photos and had photographer Mary Ellen Matthews take live bumper photos from the red carpet and post them to the show’s Instagram account.
Before the special aired, the show cleverly teased the big show by announcing the performers, guests, and attendees via social media in addition to television, print, and radio, reaching everyone from Millennials and GenXers to Baby Boomers and beyond. And they all tuned in for “SNL 40,” laughing at the same jokes, sketches, and stars America’s loved for four decades.
Comedian Dave Chapelle told reporters on the red carpet before the show that he’s, “never lived in a world without ‘SNL.’” Neither have I and I hope we never will.
Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC