A Quick History Lesson:
It was no accident that Lorne Michaels named his sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” It was a calculated move during the critical opening days of the show, because logically speaking, rooting the show in one place, at one time, promising the audience that they weren’t going anywhere, ratings be damned, unless NBC could come up with an insanely good reason to move it away from that time slot.
(This logic didn’t work as well for “Friday Night Lights,” as NBC recently concluded that it could just air the show on no night at all and make more money with it.)
As a result, the show became an institution. It also slowly but steadily, became what all institutions eventually become: punishingly unfunny. That’s primarily due to the other inherent promise in the title. The “live” part. A short list of why:
- Studio audiences are, by and large, kinda fucking stupid – mouthbreathing yokels, if you will – and yet their reactions choose which sketches make it to air (one of the greatest sketches I’ve seen in the last ten years, a “late night talk show” hosted by Michael York and Michael Caine at a Ken-Taco-Hut, only aired because whazzerface ran off stage in a panic and left them with five minutes of potential dead air).
- The best parts of the show are, more often than not, pre-taped ad parodies, the Robert Smiegel cartoons, or a digital short like “Dick in a Box.” Y’know. Non-live stuff.
- When you put men like Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, or Tracy Morgan, “performers” in front of cameras and live audiences, they can’t NOT stare into the cameras and crack up along with the audience.
- The format makes it directly responsible for “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” I’m mildly surprised that NBC did not, after canceling “Studio 60,” also cancel SNL out of spite.
So while in spirit, I do applaud the fact that “Saturday Night Live” is triumphantly returning with new episodes starting this weekend, mostly I’m dreading its return. Because Tina Fey is hosting, god bless her heart, I might actually have to watch (this is the logic that got me to sit through Hugh Laurie’s monologue). And I know that even with my beloved Tina and a well-rested writing staff, the show will still suck late night balls.
How can we foil this tyrant of lazy sketch comedy? Well, now that the writer’s strike is over, you can watch episodes of “30 Rock” online guilt-free.
Or, you can pop over to IFC, which is currently running a second season of “The Whitest Kids U Know,” a half-hour laugh-track-free series of varying levels of comedy strangeness. It's what made me realize why sketches without audience reaction noises always hit me better - there's a more palpable feeling that the troupe is performing just for the sake of it, not just to score some laughs from the peanut gallery.
So, "The Whitest Kids U Know." First off: these dudes really are quite pasty. Second, here's a little bit of what to expect. You may see a guy running up to his friend’s window with a baseball bat, excitedly yelling, “Hey Steve, c’mon! Race War!” You might finally learn whether or not sailors in a submarine think the phrase "submarine sandwich" is funny. Or you might learn an important lesson on how to perform the “who-gives-a-shit” air-jerkin’ motion:
If that worked for you, pretty much every sketch can be found on their website.
(Thanks to Will for showing the sketch that caused me to seek out this show in the first place.)