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Saturday Night Laughs
By Evan Billingsley, Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
"Saturday Night Live," the long-running NBC late night comedy show, began its 31st season almost a month ago, and the three new episodes so far have featured material that hits all points on the hilarity spectrum. Some skits are so funny that they will cause laughter-induced physical pain, while some are so not funny that they will cause figurative, soul-deadening pain.
An example of one of the funnier skits this season is the commercial parody "Taco Town," in which an announcer describes the creation of a Taco Town taco to three customers (Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader, all new cast members this season). The process is a horrifying yet strangely appetizing application of a half a dozen layers to a traditional taco, including a hard and soft tortilla shell, guacamole, chalupa shell, a French pastry (filled with sausage, scrambled eggs and portabella mushrooms), a blueberry pancake and a large Chicago-style pepperoni pizza. As Samberg says, "Pizza? Now that's what I call a taco!"
Samberg joins SNL along with fellow comedians Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, both of whom serve as writers on the show. The three were previously involved in a comedy troupe called The Lonely Island, and their short films (available online at http://www. thelonelyisland.com) suggest hilarious tidings for upcoming episodes of SNL.
Unfortunately, for every drop-dead funny skit on SNL, there is a middling or just plain idiotic one. The previous week's episode, hosted by Catherine Zeta-Jones, had its fair share of lame skits, including one where she plays a hot French teacher whom all the other female foreign language teachers despise. Another lacking is one where Zeta-Jones takes a boyfriend (Seth Meyers) to a party where everyone acts like a dance extra from "Chicago." Meyers' response to the scene is one probably shared by more than a few of the audience watching from home in considering watching the rest of the episode: "If I stay, I'm getting drunk. Really drunk."
The situation of a funny/not funny humor equilibrium has been the case with SNL since the beginning. There has seldom been a regular episode in over three decades that has been "all killer, no filler." But, over the years, SNL has cataloged an impressive collection of definitive comedy moments ("More cowbell!"), while also creating a "Best of" DVD series. Each entry in the series does what the show often fails to accomplish by filling ninety minutes, beginning to end, with truly funny sketches.
But, if you're going to watch SNL as it is initially televised and separate the wheat from the chaff yourself, there are two recommended ways to do it. The first is to treat SNL as a television spectacle, and watch it with a group. Each new episode is, after all, a live event, and one of the greatest strengths of SNL is its commitment to the zeitgeist of American politics and culture.
A cursory evaluation of any skit on SNL is enough to get the joke, and everyone in America gets every joke on SNL because most skits just express what everybody was already thinking. And if you are going to be laughing at a joke that everybody is already in on, you should laugh at it with a bunch of other people. Plus, there is no good reason to be going out before midnight on a Saturday.
As Will Ferrell has said, "Play it cool, hotshot."
The second recommended way to view SNL is with the convenience of a DVR. This is more of a humor inoculation approach, a dip in the waters of comedy as opposed to a full submersion. With proper training in the ability to discern within two minutes the potential of any given skit, a standard episode can be viewed in under forty minutes with no appreciable loss in laughter created during viewing.
When using this technique to watch SNL while in a group, however, a designated remote control operator should be appointed, and his or her power to skip ahead to the next skit respected. A democratic voting system is also appropriate.
The new season of Saturday Night Live continues this Saturday, Oct. 29, with host Lance Armstrong and musical guest Sheryl Crow.
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