I first saw Saturday Night Live in the late 1980’s. I was at one of those parties where parents bring their kids because the hosts have kids. We must have stayed late for some reason (odd activity for my parents) because I caught Weekend Update. I feel like I should not remember seeing one segment from a show I saw almost 25 years ago, but I do.
The anchor at the time was Dennis Miller, considered by many as the best anchor of Weekend Update in SNL history. I always thought Norm MacDonald was better, but that is beside the point. Miller is the longest running anchor in the show’s history, and the lone joke I seem to remember involved Muammar Gaddafi.
A few years later my parents starting letting me stay up late on the weekends. This meant I saw cop shows like Miami Vice, Hammer, and Wiseguy because my dad liked them, and on Saturday nights I started watching SNL religiously. I can honestly say from 1989 to 1995 (11 to 17) I did not miss a week, and watched the reruns during the summer.
In SNL historical terms I was really lucky. When I started watching sometime during the 14th season the cast was top notch. If not the best than certainly one of the top three casts of all-time. Along with Miller was Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Nora Dunn, and Victoria Jackson with Mike Myers joining midway through the season. This was also the season where Ben Stiller showed up for a few episodes, but I have no recollection of that occuring. For me this cast with a few exceptions was the best put together in SNL history.
When I stopped watching six years later the cast had ballooned to 13 cast members, and was nearing the end of its streak of great casts. Season 20 would be the final season for Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, and Kevin Nealon. It was also the ill-fated Janeane Garafalo season, things were changing at SNL, and I left with the change.
I also left because I was getting older. I turned 17 in 1995, had a job, a car, and staying in on Saturday nights watching late night comedy did not seem all that appealing anymore. I caught the occasional episode, but mostly stayed away until 2006. With the expansion of the internet, Netflix, and reruns on Comedy Central and VH1 I have caught a lot of the episodes I missed, but that 11 year period seems like one long season.
One might think that my religious viewing of SNL during my impressionable teen years might have had led me to a path as a comedy writer, or comedian. Sadly, I was far too shy to ever even think of becoming a performer. SNL definitely molded my sense of humor, and opened the door for any sketch comedy show to be viewed by me. Without SNL I would have never watched The Kids in the Hall, The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show, or even The Vacant Lot.
What SNL did help me out with might be something far better than traveling the country in a car, and telling jokes in darkened clubs. SNL, and the sense of humor it created for me, helped me find my future wife. She likes to tell this story about me pretending to be a reporter in a hurricane, and how me portraying Anderson Cooper being blown away by the wind is one of the defining moments of our relationship. Some people have songs, we have hurricane humor.
As we quickly went from friends to dating to marriage the one constant was our mutual, and sometimes strange senses of humor. It should be noted that we actually disagree on two things: I like The Simpsons, she likes Futurama, and she does not like The Venture Bros. The other thing my relationship with my wife did was kind of re-introduce me to SNL. I was never all that great as using Saturday night bar time for anything other than drinking, so sitting at home with my then girlfriend was pretty awesome. Add the fact that she wanted to watch SNL, and she was definitely a keeper.
We watched SNL pretty much every week until our son was born, and then we started watching it through on demand, or online. I think someone on the outside looking in would be amazed at how much we breakdown episodes, and how often we quote a sketch for our own amusement. It is strange how closely it resembles my guy friends and I breaking down sports. We have our favorite cast members, sketches, and hosts. We are in mutual agreement that Bobby Moynihan is severely underused, and Kristen Wiig overused. We think Stefon might be the best character in years, and that the cast is too big. I think we would defend this 37 year-old late night comedy show against anyone who slams it, but we are pretty weird.
People are always asking for SNL to be canceled, that it has run its course, but the truth is that SNL is as important today as it was when I first saw Dennis Miller reading fake news all those years ago. The ratings are not as good, but in today’s media overload does any show match up to 20 years ago? Sure they occasionally broadcast a complete dud, but so did that cast I started with in 1989. In retrospect that cast is legendary, but they were told they were not as good as the original cast, and 20 years from now when SNL is nearing its 60th season someone will tell that cast they are terrible as well. The truth is that every cast is terrible, and great. That’s just how SNL has always been, and its the way it always will be.