(Once again, sorry for the spacing issues…maybe I need to do this on Google Chrome instead of Firefox Next time?)
With over 800 episodes of the show to go through, you would think it would be hard to pick out the best of the best. In a way, it was…but then again, considering all the (gratuitous) Song & Dance related monologues we’ve had to slog through over the years, the task soon turned out to be easier than I thought. So now, let’s take a look at what Tom Hanks once referred to as “The Weakest Part of the Show…The Opening Monologue”. I say “Top 7-ish” because (*SPOILER ALERT*), there’s going to be a number of Ties—either because they feature the same person, or because they have a common theme. A REMINDER that this is in My Opinion/Recollections Only, and you are More than welcome to agree/disagree. Further, The only criteria for this list is that the Monologue was entertaining throughout, and not hackneyed, contrived, overly cameo dependent (in an unnecessary way), annoying or Overrated like most of the ones from the past 10 years have been (so, REVENGE OF SPOILER ALERT, this means that 99.99% of the musical ones, as well as BOTH “5 Timers Club” monologues will NOT Be included; besides, it’s just too easy to include them anyway). So let’s begin…
7 – (TIE) HOWARD SPEAKS FROM THE HEART (10/23/1982)…AND THEN FROM HIS ASS (2/19/1983) – In Monologue #1 (after showing up “drunk” for reasons explained in that episode’s opening), Howard makes an impassioned lament on behalf of the recently deceased John Belushi and delivers a refreshingly caustic, Belushi-esque monologue on the statute of limitations when it comes to honoring him (among other topics)…Though it’s not half as caustic as the one he did a few months later in Monologue #2 when he implores the viewing audience to take a selfie (so to speak) of them mooning a picture of President Reagan and send it to the White House. For all the complaints people have made about the Ebersol era of the show being “Too Safe/Corporate”, both monologues just might be the most dangerous thing the show did up to that point. It’s a shame that Hesseman never hosted again beyond 1983, but then again too much fire winds up burning you in the end. One thing that bothers me about his first one, however, he makes specific mention about how he’s “The first person from the Old Show to host the ‘New’ show”…To which I say Mr. Gould, Mr. Murray (Twice) and the Ghost of Karen Black would like to have a word with you, Howard.
6 – PREDICTING THE FUTURE (12/12/1998) – Probably one of the most accidentally Prophetic moments in the show’s history, but not before John Goodman comes on as the Ghost of Christmas Present and severely mess up his lines (or at least that’s Alec Baldwin’s recollection of it according to “LFNY”, I thought it was just a minor stumble). That aside, the meat of this “Christmas Carol/Wonderful Life” hybrid monologue involves traveling into the future with then-new cast member Jimmy Fallon showing Baldwin the ramifications of his not wanting to host in present day. For that, we travel all the way to the (seemingly) distant year of 2011 where Future Jimmy is hosting the Christmas Show. Of course, just about everything about that moment was purely coincidental compared to Jimmy’s Actual Christmas show in 2011 (The set didn’t turn out to be dystopian looking, Jimmy never wears an outfit straight out of “Deep Space Nine”, Goodman was not a cast member, those other “Cast Members” failed to exist, R.E.M Broke up by then, Don Pardo was actually still Alive & not a robot, and most importantly, Alec Baldwin still had a career thanks to “30 Rock”). If you want to say Baldwin hosting his episode wound up as a “Time Paradox”, go right ahead—I know I did—otherwise, this is one of the few times something on the show wound up coming full circle…whether it was intentional or not.
5 – MAKE ‘EM LAUGH (11/21/2009) – This is going to be the ONLY Musical monologue I’m going to include on this list—and why not? I’ve always enjoyed watching “Singin’ in the Rain”, I’ve always marveled at Donald O’Connor’s madcap moves, and the fact that someone as “millennial” as Joseph Gordon-Levitt would go balls to the wall just to create a loving tribute to both O’Connor & old-school musicals are worth the price of admission alone. Moves aside, there is one bit of fallacy as to WHY JGL would do this monologue in the first place. He Says that he did it because he enjoyed doing a production number in “(500) Days of Summer”, which seems like a legit enough reason. But when researching the clips for this list, I came across this quote that contradicts the “Summer” claim…
I guess Christopher Nolan is a bigger mind-fucker than we thought. Oh well, considering the glut of musical monologues we’ve had to suffer through all these years, this one stands out as the exception to the rule. Way to go, Joe!
4 – (TIE) LOUIS CK……..Just……..Louis CK. Whether it be romancing an elderly woman, nitpicking about Religion, or playing verbal tightrope when talking about child molesters, Louis CK is almost invincible when it comes to speaking his mind. So much so, that I’m just gonna shut up and let his 3 monologues do the talking.
3 – (TIE) ANY TIME THE THEME SONG GETS EXTENDED PLAY – One of the unsung testaments as to how great the show can be sometimes lies within the “Saturday Night Live Band” (tragically uncredited in the montage since 2003, BTW). Aside from commercial bumpers, some of my favorite moments where the band gets to shine a little extra happens right in the monologue at the whims of the host—and I’m not talking about Song-and-dance-o-logues, I mean when the theme music goes on longer than usual. Some of the best examples of this happening include Sam Kinison shreddin’ it in 1986, Danny DeVito getting the band to play twice in 1988, Kevin Kline on Piano just a few weeks later, and my favorite of this bunch (only because it encompasses the ENTIRE Monologue), Rick Moranis in 1989 jumping all over the studio doing anything/everything in sight as the band plays on…quite honestly, it’s about as close as the show will ever get to being truly “Spontaneous”…not counting unscripted moments, of course. Speaking of DeVito…
(Special thanks to Ben Douwsma for the pic)
2 – TAXI’S FINAL BOW (5/8/1982) – Yes, I know I said Cameo dependency was a non-starter for this list, but As big a fan as I am of SNL, I’m an even BIGGER fan of well-crafted comedies in general; I.e. anything from the Golden age of Television (Lucy, Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, etc.), a couple of Modern shows with clever satire and meta humor (I.e. “Community”, Stewart/Colbert/Wilmore/Oliver and such), and of course, anything with James L. Brooks’ fingerprints on them…ESPECIALLY “Taxi”. If you’re of a certain age, and you have yet to see a single episode of the show, you are missing out on one of the sharpest written programs ever to grace a TV set (and believe me, that’s a rambling for another day). Unfortunately, for all the sharpness the show had to offer, ABC Canceled Taxi in 1982 Despite winning Emmys for “Best Comedy Series” year after year. So when Danny DeVito hosted for the first time in 1982, he responded to ABC’s “F-U” by staging a “F-U” of his own and giving the Cast of “Taxi” one more chance to run a victory lap…a gambit that must’ve paid off because later that fall, NBC picked up the show for what would turn out to be its final year. Despite the fact that there was barely a joke in this one (except for DeVito’s mom writing him a condolence letter), this always stuck out for me as a Great, Genuine feel-good moment that you Rarely see on the show these days. So, yeah, despite the fact that this was—in essence—a group cameo, I would rather prefer to see this as “Honoring” a great ensemble cast that certainly deserved better.
1 – BILLY CRYSTAL VS. PUBERTY (Original Airdate – 3/17/1984) –As I mentioned at the start of the “S.O.S.N.L.” feature, one of the things that kick started my SNL fandom 20 years ago was an episode of the show that I got on VHS in Christmas of 1994. That episode was hosted by Billy Crystal, and because I had viewed it so many times, it also featured (to this day) the ONLY Monologue from the show that I can actually quote verbatim—as well as my ALL TIME Favorite. In fact, so much have I watched it, I actually tried to teach myself how to do that “NOW! NOW! NOW!” voice trick Crystal does–Simply breathe in while talking, and hope not to pass out while you do it. As I got older, I could appreciate the subject matter a little more intently—Crystal talks about growing up, High School experiences, first dates and Puberty all in the course of 6 minutes. Not much else to say about it, other than it was probably my first real venture into appreciating grown-up humor–and BOY did it help me out of some jams in High School. The quality of it not only still holds up after 30 years, but it also makes me wish SNL had more comedians on more often in this day and age (The few that actually HAVE appeared in the past few years notwithstanding). Either way, this was one Christmas gift that kept on giving…and then some (Thanks again, Sis!).
Sidebar: It was also the episode that made me wonder out loud at the enlightening age of 10 years old; “Elaine From Seinfeld was on The Show?!?!”…but that’s another story for another day.
Sidebar 2: Billy + Leather Pants = Something that can’t be unseen.
As always, feel free to let me have it if I put one in a place where it shouldn’t have been, or if I left one out…again, with over 800 to choose from, I almost certainly did…especially from the 70s.