"Recording Session (More Cowbell)"
Will Ferrell, cast member, 1995-2002: I could probably pick 50 sketches from the history of the show, but I'll just use the cowbell. Not as a pat on the back, but as an example of a sketch with a complicated journey. Every time I heard "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," by Blue Öyster Cult, I would hear the faint cowbell in the background and wonder, "What is that guy's life like?" When I first presented the sketch at the table read, Norm Macdonald was the host. It played pretty well, but then Lorne was asking questions like, "Oh, is that a famous part of that song? The cowbell?" [Laughs] We were all saying, "No – that's why it's funny." It kinda died in committee. In Lorne's defense, I don't know if it was its best version then.
So I held on to it for, I think, three months, until Christopher Walken was the host, and rewrote it for him. His odd rhythms fit so perfectly. He gave it that special sauce. At dress [rehearsal] the sketch was kind of put at the back of the show. I thought it probably wouldn't make it. And then, lo and behold, the audience just keyed into how bizarre it was.
It's symbolic of the ideas I would come up with. I was terrible in our pitch meetings on Monday, because how do you articulate what's behind that sketch in a condensed pitch? I would literally say things like, "I have a sketch that takes place in a recording studio." And everyone would laugh at how vague it was. I'm like, "No, I'm not trying to be funny. I really have something that I can't explain. I just have to write it and then hopefully you'll get it." Sometimes you just have to write the sketch and get it up on its feet, and then people have the lightbulb moment. It's a gift that Lorne was always willing to try out-of-the-box ideas.
To the less-observant eye, the sketch was an excuse to let my belly hang out and wear tight Seventies clothing. But it really was about the exuberance of a guy who was given the green light to really express his art. Even though it's funny, it was rooted in something real. There was someone working in the art department at SNL who was, I think, the daughter of someone who'd worked on that Blue Öyster Cult album. Apparently, her dad was talking to the band, and they had seen the sketch. One of them said, "How did Will know?" Because the guy who played the cowbell was a little bit like that. This guy really wanted to be heard.
It's referenced all the time now. I hope that Christopher Walken doesn't hate me too much, because, despite his amazing body of work, he is now routinely accosted with "more cowbell!"