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My Favorite ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketch

Will Ferrell, Al Franken, Kate McKinnon and more on the most memorable ‘SNL’ skits ever

We asked 25 cast members, hosts and writers about the most memorable SNL sketch they wrote, starred in or just saw on TV. Their answers were full of great stories and surprising picks.

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“Halftime” (Locker-Room Dance)

John Lutz, writer, 2003-2009: Sometimes my writing is inspired by a piece of music. One day I took Herb Alpert’s “Casino Royale” to Will Forte’s office because we’d been talking about writing something together. He had this idea about a coach that was going to motivate his team with some really bad music. When he heard this good-bad song, he said, “This is perfect.”

We told Will, “You have to be dancing to this because you can’t just stand there the whole time.” And Forte is the funniest dancer, especially to that piece of music. He was doing this thing with his hands that almost looked like a Geiger counter. I didn’t even know what it was, but it looked hilarious.

Peyton Manning was coming up as the host in a couple of weeks, and we thought it would be a perfect scene to write for him. I remember being in Forte’s office or dressing room and rehearsing the dance with the music over and over and over again. He got better every time. It was making the guys laugh even in dress rehearsal, but on air they couldn’t hold anything in ’cause he was really going for it. Bill Hader and Kenan Thompson all had to hold their towels in front of their faces.

The thing I love about writing with Forte is that he finds the simplest things funny. Like in this scene, the song was on a cassette. It was funny to him that it was a cassette and not a CD or an MP3. And whenever he shook the cassette, he loved the sound of that. So in the scene he does it much more often than he needs to. He mentions it, shakes it, and then shakes it again. No one’s going to laugh at that at all, but Will Forte thought that was the funniest thing ever.

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“Julia Child”

Al Franken writer-performer, 1975-1980; 1985-1995: I wrote a lot of the political sketches. I’m pretty proud of that body of work. This one was just dumb – but it was hilarious, because it involved spurting blood.

Walter Matthau was hosting the show, and Tom Davis and I wrote it for him. Around Thanksgiving, we were watching The Today Show or The Tomorrow Show or one of these shows. Julia Child did a kitchen segment, and she cut herself – kinda badly. And that was the idea for the sketch. You go, “Hmm. What if she bleeds to death?”

Walter Matthau didn’t want to do it. Danny [Aykroyd] wanted to do it and we did it in dress and it worked really well except that the blood spurting wasn’t working as well as we wanted it to. So we just said, “You know what? Let’s hold this a week and really get that down.” It’s so rare that we did that
because anything that worked, you put it on.

When it finally aired, Tom was underneath the counter and he was working this thing that sprays insecticide so that Danny could release the pressure and this blood-looking substance would spurt. We were stuck for an ending and Tom said, “What if there’s a prop phone on the set? And she goes like, ‘Call 911!’ ” And so I said, “OK, that’s brilliant.” Thank you, Tom, for being brilliant. She picks it up, dials 911, and then she realizes it’s a prop.

One of the things Danny was great at as an impressionist is really being three-dimensional. I’ve seen some people that are very good impressionists. They’ll get someone’s voice and even mannerisms but they won’t become the person. Danny would do that. He did Nixon, he became Nixon. If he did Tom Snyder, he became Tom Snyder. You loved the character. He gave that person emotions and three dimensions and a likability.

There was nothing more thrilling than to be on live TV. [Watching that sketch] was like watching the Olympic gymnasts go through their uneven parallel bars thing. You go, “She’s capable of getting the gold if she does her best. She needs a 9.9, and she’s done that before.” Then it’s like, “Holy crap, she’s hitting everything! Beautiful, beautiful. Great work. Good spurt. Oh, unbelievable timing between the spurt and the thing. Oh, oh – and he lands it! Wow! He got everything out of that you can possibly get out of it. Like, perfect.”

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“Centaur”

Colin Jost, writer, 2005-present; “Weekend Update,” 2014-present: One sketch that always was in my mind was the one where Christopher Walken interviews Chris Parnell, who’s a doctor applying for a job and he’s also a centaur. The centaur is a highly qualified doctor. But all Walken wants to ask him are centaur questions: Who does he find attractive? Does he like full humans and full horses, or only a mix?

It’s really silly and very random, but it’s also very smartly written. It’s the smartest approach to the dumbest premise, and that’s why I always loved it. It’s just two people talking, but there are so many jokes and the performances are so great. You could only do something like that with Christopher Walken. The rhythm is so him. It’s a great use of a classic host. I love a very simple setup full of jokes. That makes me very happy.

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“Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer”

Fred Armisen, cast member, 2002-2013: “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” is a perfect sketch. It is perfect in its premise. Phil Hartman is a caveman who was unfrozen and became a lawyer, and it’s always what he uses for his defense argument. He’s like, “I don’t understand your world. Whenever I see a fax machine I think it’s full of little demons. But my client…” It’s SNL at its best. I saw it in my basement on Long Island. Like everybody else, I watched the show live. You don’t know the premise right away. You see the fake opening credits and you think, “What is this gonna be?” And then, as I heard him talk, I was like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Phil Hartman was just lovable; you immediately trusted and loved him. As a cast member, he wasn’t a person I copied. I definitely copied Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, but I could never be Phil Hartman. I can’t really deliver like he does. I selfishly also feel bad because I never got to work with him. I’ve gotten to meet and work with all of my heroes at SNL – Carvey, Laraine Newman – and I just think, “Aw, damn it, I bet I would’ve been able to meet him.” It’s very sad.

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“Word Association” (Racist Interview) and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Albert Brooks, guest filmmaker: My favorite skit is Richard Pryor’s word-association game with Chevy Chase. Nobody had seen that kind of thing before they did it. There was probably no whiter man working in those days than Chevy Chase, so it was a very good combination of people. It doesn’t happen very often, but when a comedy sketch takes on another dimension where you almost think someone’s gonna get punched – it’s just great. Chevy cracked a smile on some skits, but he held it together in that one.

But you can’t talk about the show without talking about Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. It was the melding of a performer and an event; the timing was so perfect that it probably influenced an election. Look, Saturday Night Live has done impressions forever. But here was a person who was not established enough where just doing an impression [of her] was so meaningful that it formed the perception of who this person was. You forgot you weren’t watching Sarah Palin. That could only happen a few times.

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“Chippendales” and “Motivation” (Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker)

Vanessa Bayer, cast member, 2010-present: Right now, I’m looking at this thing I made in Ms. Reinhardt’s art class in high school. It’s a montage of Chris Farley in different SNL scenes. I loved the “Chippendales” sketch so much. It’s a perfect use of Farley because he’s so light on his feet, despite his size. It’s also a perfect use of the host. On SNL, you realize it’s the best if you can make the host do something they’re great at, and Patrick Swayze is so perfect as a Chippendales dancer. Farley is fighting so hard to get this job, and so is Swayze. They both play it like it’s a real competition.

The other one that comes to mind is the “Van Down by the River” sketch. We had Christina Applegate host a few years ago for the first time since she’d been in that sketch. Hearing her talk about it was so interesting. When someone is being so funny like Farley was and they’re right in your face, it’s really hard not to break. And, of course, everyone breaks in that sketch.

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