Entertainment

Best characters and sketches from 'SNL'

By Jim Slotek, Special to Postmedia Network

Chris Farley as one of his most famous and beloved SNL characters: Matt Foley the motivational speaker.

Chris Farley as one of his most famous and beloved SNL characters: Matt Foley the motivational speaker.

Decades before the word “meme,” before PVR and even VCRs, my high school friends and I exchanged bits every Monday from a new show called Saturday Night Live.

Recording wasn’t an option. We’d have it on at parties. And the show had gone viral in the most analog way possible – literally by word of mouth. The Claudine Longet Ski Invitational, Generalissimo Francisco Franco (still seriously dead), land-shark, “Wow, that’s great bass!”

It was a rougher-because-it’s-live form of the Monty Python absurdity my circle of friends had already embraced. The media was a church of seriousness post-Woodward and Bernstein, and I barely remembered when the Smothers Brothers dared mock it years earlier. To make fun of a celebrity murder, or have the war in Angola reduced to a botched video feed from a pizzeria called “Angelo’s” was a revelation.

Obviously the show has weathered wild swings in quality over the years. And it stopped being appointment-TV for me not long after the 21st Century arrived (though I still record it, just in case).

But its three-hour 40th anniversary special Sunday marks a singular accomplishment in the short-attention-span culture.

Herewith, a subjective look back at favourite characters and sketches. Your faves may differ.

SAMURAI DELICATESSEN:

The perfect sketch series for an uncontrolled id like Belushi, one that called for him to simply wreak destruction with perfect comedic timing.

EMILY LITELLA:

“What’s all this I hear about saving Soviet jewelry?”

LISA LOOPNER AND TODD:

Two noogie-giving high school nerds (Gilda Radner and Bill Murray) whose ultimate sweetness gave a focus to the broad humour, and presaged stuff like Square Pegs and Freaks and Geeks.

NICK THE LOUNGE SINGER:

There’ve been a thousand lounge-lizard variations over the years, but none of them could squeeze lyrics out of the Star Wars theme like Bill Murray.

THE FESTRUNK BROTHERS:

If Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd hadn’t created Yortuk and Georg, I suspect there would never have been a Borat.

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STREET POET TYRONE GREEN:

The angriest Eddie Murphy character, and worth remembering alongside Gumby and Mr Robinson. “Dark and lonely on the summer night./Kill my landlord, kill my landlord./Watchdog barking – Do he bite?/Kill my landlord, kill my landlord.”

MATT FOLEY:

Like his role-model Belushi, Chris Farley had ballistics to spare, and threw all of them into the character of the world’s worst motivational speaker (who lives in “A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER”).

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LINDA RICHMAN:

Mike Myers, and the best back-handed compliment anybody ever gave his mother-in-law. “I’m a little verklempt. I need a moment. Talk amongst yourselves. A peanut is neither a pea nor a nut. Discuss.”

THE CONTINENTAL:

This repeated shakycam p.o.v. sketch of Christopher Walken as a desperate Eurotrash lothario trying to keep a woman from leaving his apartment was surreal.

TOMMY FLANAGAN (A.K.A. THE LIAR):

Jon Lovitz’s crowning bit. “See, I was working for the CIA with my wife, Morgan Fairchild… who I've slept with.”

THE ROXBURY GUYS:

Everybody who has ever been in a club either knew or has seen guys like these (Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan) in action. I hope What Is Love singer Haddaway made a million dollars out of the bit.

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THE CALIFORNIANS:

An in-joke, but a funny one – a soap opera sketch that plays off the fact that Angelenos talk in driving directions like Canadians talk about the weather. "I tried to go through to Westwood, but my GPS put me on Beverly Glen and I didn't want to end up in Encino."

TOONCES, THE CAT WHO COULD DRIVE A CAR:

Arguably, the first-ever cat video, albeit with a fake cat.

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THE AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO:

All of Robert Smigel’s Saturday TV Funhouse bits were hilarious, but this one managed to almost surgically skewer the subtext of the entiresuper-hero genre. Fun fact: the characters were voiced by Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.

THE HANNUKAH SONG:

Was never a fan of Adam Sandler as Opera Man, Cajun Man or Canteen Boy. But damn, that is a funny song.

BEIN’ QUIRKY WITH ZOOEY DESCHANEL:

A Zooey talk show with Abby Elliott apparently being born to play the queen of quirk. But it’s Taran Killan who steals the bit with a vicious impersonation of Michael Cera as her sidekick.

BILL SWERSKI’S SUPERFANS:

“Okay, so. DIT-ka versus a hurricane. Who wins?” And we bid you adieu with a hearty “DA Bears!”

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca

 

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