Home to some of the most overrated (yet still celebratory) rituals we as a nation endure/enjoy; and for the next few weeks, S.O.S.N.L. is going to take a closer look at the times where it was looking for a piece of the action. For most of this month, we are going to be listing some of the great moments SNL had in spoofing movies, music, and today’s subject—Sports. Yes, I know, it seems a little too convenient to talk about Sports considering tomorrow is the Super Bowl; but then again, you can’t ask for a bigger event to tie-in with. Once upon a time, SNL would put on an annual clip show of some of their greatest Sports sketches the night before the Super Bowl; in a program that they called “SNL Sports Extra”. Unfortunately, due to the ever increasing world of Corporate Synergy, NBC now only seems to air up-to-date versions of the clip show on years when the network has the rights to air the game—FOX is airing this year, so that’s why I’m here; to give you a condensed version of a “Sports Extra” in my opinion. So before “Pretty Boy Brady” and (*INSERT FALCONS QUARTERBACK HERE*) square off, let’s take a look at some of our favorite SNL Sports sketches.
CRITERIA: Aside from our “No Recurring Characters” policy (Sorry, “Superfans” fans and Fans of the “ESPN Classic” guys), the Main rule is that Sports HAS TO be the central or roundabout theme of the sketch. It can’t just be “Athlete appears in a sketch”, Sports or Sport-like qualities have to be part of the plot. So this means sketches like Smigel’s “Sexual Harassment & You”, or Joe Montana telling Phil Hartman he’ll be masturbating (among other sketches) are Out of Bounds. On that note, let’s kick off.
- ROCKO VS. WEINDULAH (2/21/1981) – I briefly mentioned comedian/puppeteer Marc Weiner as an Honorable Mention on my Season 6 Silver Lining list; and for good reason. You couldn’t’ve had a reasonably good childhood if you weren’t exposed (even a tiny sliver) to Nickelodeon growing up…And I lived in a home that geographically couldn’t get Cable OR Satellite at the time, so whenever I visited a friend’s house to watch, it felt like a great luxury to watch any of it…I mention that specifically because of a little show called “Weinerville”, which the aptly named Weiner hosted. It was a bizarre program, but I enjoyed it for just how bizarre it was (Especially when games are played using “The Weinerizer”). Anyway, I found out years later that Weiner & his puppets got their big break on SNL and for this occasion, the time is right to give him his due. This was by no means a “Rolling in the Aisles” classic (though by Season 6 standards, there’s an outside chance of that), but you can’t fault me for putting in a sentimental favorite.
- TEAM SATURDAY NIGHT (1/29/1977) – One of the things I miss seeing the show do is have either a number of sketches or even entire episodes that have a running theme…or at least a running theme done in a way that isn’t cringeworthy, Tom Green! This is one of the few times SNL went into this direction, and for the most part, it was successful–if not slightly distracting from the show’s usual format. Host Fran Tarkenton (who, let’s be honest, looks very much out of his element here, but would thankfully improve as a broadcaster in later years) is the “Quarterback” of “Team Saturday Night”; a team led by coach Belushi as he emulates (*INSERT COACHING LEGEND HERE*). Throughout the show, we see various interjections between Coach Belushi and parodies of people who were then NBC Sports reporters (Including Garrett as the cleverly named “Brian Gumbo”) as we track the progress of the show. The interruptions don’t happen too frequently throughout the episode (maybe 40% of the show at most), but they are noticeable. So why is this so low on the list? Because even though it was a bold experiment in SNL’s infancy (not unlike the courtship between Gilda & Gould in Season 1), it might’ve been a little TOO ambitious at this point in the series for the audience to fully digest—after all, we tune in to see quick sketches; not big, long, almost episodic pieces that drain our attention spans. The show would revisit the trope of “reporting on the show” a few times in later years; only in Small Doses—most recently in Ronda Rousey’s monologue from just last year. Perhaps the reason for the small doses is because when something this big an effort happens for a good chunk of the show, there’s always the risk it could go badly later on (Francis Ford Coppola might be the exception to the rule). Nevertheless, the first few years of the show are often credited for being “Experimental” in terms of its content; and if it means amping up the continuity a little bit, so be it. As a BONUS, here’s a Brief look at Tarkenton’s experience on the show in his own words.
- CARNIVAL (4/12/2005) – As a New Yorker, It almost feels hereditary to hate anything/everything related to Boston/New England Sports…to make matters a little more complicated, I actually spent 3 years living in Massachusetts, so you can imagine what it was like trying to hide my fandom of the Yankees, Rangers & Jets among the public. However, thanks to those years (as well as a few punches to the Hubris thanks to the Red Sox), I realized that you should Respect your foes instead of outright hating them; especially when something happens that makes you want to root for a “Rival” city more than necessary (#BostonStrong). I still keep in touch with my Boston friends, and I still give them a kind-hearted ribbing whenever our teams square off knowing full-well that it’s all mutual. Having said that, I REALLY enjoyed Tom Brady making a fool of himself in this sketch. The premise—Brady can’t throw a football at a Carnival game while other, weaker people succeed—was about as one-note as it got, but schadenfreude overrules here. Brady’s character failed, and I got a giggle out of it. Special tip of the hat to Will Forte, who tries to mix up all the times he say “Not a Touchdown” in an otherwise mundane way.
- LITTLE CHOCOLATE DONUTS (11/19/1977) – I couldn’t believe just how much Trivia was attached to this one. This one, innocuous, brief, straight to the point commercial parody of most “Wheaties” ads apparently had a lot of turmoil behind the scenes—or at least that’s what the Tanner Colby book “Belushi” tells us. For starters, Belushi (who according to most other bios was a star athlete growing up) experienced a lot of cramping as he was filming his action scenes, not to mention the lousy weather making them worse. Then you get to the interior parts where John eats the donuts; supposedly this one take took several hours to do for a number of reasons—mostly that John couldn’t hold a cigarette and eat a donut at the same time without accidentally burning his clothes (If you look carefully, he’s actually wearing his sweater backwards in the final shot thanks to some unseen burn holes on the front). That’s a lot of effort & toil for what is essentially less than a minute of content…thank God I work in Radio, where it’s less demanding.
- SPORTSCENTER (3/13/1999) – Three Words: “Sweet Sassy Molassy”. Ray Romano is sort of an acquired taste; His early stand up still holds up, I thought his sitcom was just “OK” at times, and his voice sounds like Kermit the Frog took a couple of anti-depressants, but at least he’s doing good things as a Dramatic actor these days…but that’s beside the point. Romano comes on as Chet Harper, a sportscaster who joins the flagship ESPN program alongside Tim Meadows’ interpretation of the late, great Stuart “BOOYAH!” Scott. What follows are a series of homespun and mashed up colloquialisms that would make Dan Rather leave the room in disgust. My personal favorites include “He gets Happy-Go-Jackie on the Big White guy like a Donkey Eating a Waffle” (no relation to this, BTW), his comments towards Anna Kournikova, and less we forget about shooting a Puck up a guy’s Pooper. Unfortunately, like many Good ideas that should’ve been left well enough alone, a sequel to this was done when Romano hosted again in 2003; only this time as a co-host for “Access Hollywood”; clearly, they were trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice…and failed. Nevertheless, this remains one of SNL’s most Quotable sketches thanks to Romano’s innocent idiocy.
- THE REFEREE PITMAN SHOW (12/1/1989) – I’ll be honest, when I first saw this as a kid, I didn’t exactly understand why this was so funny. Then a few years later, I realized the secret; it wasn’t so much the jokes, but it was The Way they were telling them that made this sketch a lot smarter than it seemed. John Goodman makes his SNL debut as the title referee hosting the kind of show you would watch on Saturday Afternoons; we watch a number of plays being made, and then we cut to questions from the audience—it’s here where we see the comedy; pretty much cleaned-up, safe for TV versions of harsh insults. Why say the Ref has Shit for Brains when you can be eloquent and say “Is your head filled with Human Excrement, or Dog Excrement?” all without changing the tone of your voice. My favorite “insult” comes at the end when Phil Hartman calmly and casually asks Goodman to “Have Sex with Himself”. This sketch proves that you can actually get your point across when you have a civilized tongue…it also proves (as Kevin Nealon points out at the very end) that Referee Pitman Sucks.
- (TIE) UNITED WAY & LOCKER ROOM PEP TALK (3/25/2007) – No Sports related host before or since has surprised us the way Peyton Manning did in 2007 (not even little brother Eli 5 years later); and for good reason—he pretty much ran away with the show thanks to these two sketches. If it were up to me (which…isn’t it?), I would’ve filled half of the list with sketches from his show—until I realize just how unfair it would be to everybody else. For these two in particular, It’s almost impossible to choose which of the sketches is the better one; but it’s my list, so to hell with being conventional. Between Manning tackling the crap out of kids and Will Forte at his absurdist peak (with Manning eventually joining in), they were both funny on completely opposite ends of the spectrum—these two sketches really speak for themselves, so I’ll just let you take a look at them and decide which of the two is the better one (NOTE: Sorry for the Bad Quality on “Pep Talk”, NBC didn’t have it due to Music rights…a subject I’ll talk more about in a few weeks).
- SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING (10/6/1984) – When the so-called “Steinbrenner Season” kicked off, not only was there an immediate change in talent, but there was also a drastic change in how the show presented itself. There was far less emphasis on “Live” sketches, and far more on filmed pieces which—thanks to the benefit of them being filmed–displayed far more effort than one would ever expect from the show. Sure, Tom Schiller & Gary Weis pioneered them in the 70s, but the crew who put films together during the 1984-85 season deserves more recognition (not counting the one-off “SNL Film Festival” special that aired that year…but I digress). This film is Exhibit A as to how much of that effort is utilized in all the right places. Harry Shearer and Martin Short (as one of his non-Grimley SCTV characters) tell the tale of how they pretty much gave up their careers to pursue something that (as of today) STILL hasn’t made it into the Olympics unless you have a pair of X-Chromosomes. What REALLY sells this piece is not just the arduous training Shearer & Short go through with every ounce of seriousness, and not just Christopher Guest giving us a prototype version of the character he would eventually play in “Waiting for Guffman”, but the fact that this might be one of the rare times when an SNL sketch can be measured as both Broad and Niche at the same time—Broad because the ’84 Olympics was seen by millions and was still relatively fresh in everybody’s minds; Niche not just for the sport they were spoofing, but also for lampooning the otherwise mundane detail of an athlete’s back story during the games. This was a sketch that covered everything & nothing in one convenient package. (VERY SPECIAL THANKS to fellow wordpresser “Triumph of the Spirit” for having what appears to be the ONLY High Quality video of the sketch WITH the Original Music intact; Karma will shine well for you.)
PAUL SIMON VS. CONNIE HAWKINS (1975) – There’s really only one joke here; Paul Simon (a short Guy) kicks the ass of NBA/Harlem Globetrotters legend Connie Hawkins (a much Larger Guy) in a game of pick-up basketball. But the fact that “Me & Julio” is the sketch’s soundtrack AND they get Marv Albert to do the play-by-play makes one of the very first SNL sketches worth writing home about.
THE VICKER (1980) – In this Update piece, Harry Shearer plays “Big Vic Ricker”; your typical Sportscaster of the Late 70s/Early 80s era; complete with Plaid coat and Over the top Booming voice. But what starts out as a report on the Super Bowl & the Boycotted Olympics of that year slowly, but surely, turns into a lengthy dissertation on the Geo-Political landscape at the time. I’m not saying it was necessarily “funny”, but at least it was smart—also, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a replacement for Garrett’s “Chico Escuella”; which, if it was, it was futile considering this was only done once.
PROFILES IN SPORTS (1984) – Yes, Chess is a Sport, and I will fight anybody who says otherwise. I already reviewed this sketch this past summer (See: 7/7/2016); but as a reminder, this was probably Jim Belushi’s Best performance on the show—Live, filmed or otherwise. And all he had to do was channel his inner Bobby Knight.
WE ARE THE KICKERS (1987) – The late, great Walter Payton introduces a new Music video in the style of the much parodied “Super Bowl Shuffle” the Chicago Bears did the year earlier. The video in question involves a bunch of people with indeterminate accents who just so happen to be place and/or field goal kickers for various NFL teams. Every so often TO THIS DAY, I find myself saying “We Are Kickers, We Kick Ball, We Play With Ball, We Kick the Ball” or “Brr, Green Bay, Brr, Green Bay!” It’s certainly doing its job as an earworm.
CARL’S QUICK STOP (1990) – I was debating to myself whether to include this one or not; after all, it makes fun of George Steinbrenner’s consistent habit of firing people left & right, but it was probably a little TOO roundabout in terms of actual “Sports” theming. At the end of the day, however, the ability to laugh at one’s self is always a plus…isn’t that right, Mr. President?
BATTLE OF THE SEXES II (2003) – Say what you will about either Fred Armisen’s brand of “humor” or the notion that men dressing in drag is actually “funny”, but in this case, I’ll make an exception—especially since this took place during the “Good” years of Fred’s SNL career, and Andy Roddick beats him Badly in this sketch.
NFL PLAYER INTROS (2014) – Despite this just being one joke of every football player being a felon of some sort, I do applaud them for being able to rotate between cast members & changing their wigs/makeup/costumes rather quickly. My favorite felonies include Bobby’s “Haven’t been convicted…Yet”, Che’s felony with Emphasis on Ohio State, all of Pete Davidson’s felonies, and of course Ms. Jones’ punchline at the end. This was a pretty quick piece that served just one purpose, and it did it just fine.
TIME BOXER (1994)…………Pfffffffft, HA HA HA HA HA HA….Just Kidding! Couldn’t say that with a Straight Face!
SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION:
JOE PISCOPO: SATURDAY NIGHT SPORTS – Despite my “Non-Recurring” rule, This list would not be complete if I didn’t mention the sports commentary from the Future Governor of New Jersey (just wait…). I wanted to save a little time at the end to put together sort of a “Sub-List” of some of Joe’s highlights at the Upd…I mean “Newsbreak” desk. So when you have a minute, take a look at Joe covering the big Sports news of the day, like…
*And yes, even an occasion where NOTHING was going on in Sports…just like it will be once the Super Bowl ends, and we wait for Spring Training to begin (Yeah, I know, Basketball & Hockey, but there’s only so much of That I could take in a given period of time).
NEXT WEEK: Just in time for the Grammys, music is going to be the subject…but NOT the kind of music you’re thinking of.
Enjoy the game, hope something weird happens to Brady, and we’ll see you next time.