Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The downside of the SNL upside

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on SNL: The changing world is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, as I pointed out yesterday, the internet has been a boon for SNL.   However, it has not been so kind to cast members post-SNL.  What do I mean by that?

The trajectory was always get on SNL, become a stand-out, leave and become a movie star.  Or, at the very least, become a long-running sitcom or late night star.   Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Billy Crystal, Kristin Wiig, Amy Poehler — just to name a bunch.  

But today there are very few comedy movies being made.  There are no major comedy movie stars — not like Eddie Murphy or Jim Carrey or (back when we wrote for him) Tom Hanks.  Especially now, post COVID, studios are making blockbuster comic book movies to lure people back into movie theaters.  Comedies and Romcoms are being made by streamers.  And they don’t have the same impact.  A studio is not going to make $100 million on the opening weekend of a Kate McKinnon movie.  So Kate McKinnon has not become a "star." Tina and Amy have tried that route.  Didn't happen.  Not since BRIDESMAIDS or THE HANGOVER can I think of a blockbuster break-out comedy.  In decades past there was always a GHOSTBUSTERS or SOMETHING ABOUT MARY that would be a box-office sensation.  

Studio “comedies” have become animated pictures.  Those are the new franchises.  And SNL alum may voice them, but it’s not the same.  

Similarly, good luck launching a mainstream big hit sitcom these days.  Everything is niche.  And even there, animation is king for the moment.  Maya Rudolph provides a voice.  

So leaving SNL for untold riches isn’t the endgame anymore.  Not to mention the increased competition among cast members.  The Not-Ready-For-Primetime-Players were seven or eight, not twenty-four.  Now cast members can’t even get on every week.   It’s harder to become Chevy Chase.  

The internet giveth and the internet taketh away.

57 comments :

Jeff said...

When I watch the opening credits of SNL I always wonder why it's necessary to have such a large cast.

Curt Alliaume said...

Not to be pedantic, but I suspect virtually every SNL cast member for the last 30 years has done their best to avoid becoming Chevy Chase.

James Van Hise said...

It also doesn't help when comedy movies turn out to be something like the Tom Hanks movie A Hologram For The King which was so awful I walked out after 15 minutes. And then there are things like the Amy Schumer film Trainwreck which I actually managed to make it all the way through and wish I hadn't.

Markus said...

You're saying "it's harder to become Chevy Chase" like that's a bad thing.

Malcolm Burns said...

Not to be pedantic, but I suspect virtually every SNL cast member for the last 30 years has done their best to avoid becoming Chevy Chase.

Nobody would turn down Chase's career. You make it sound like nobody would want to be Chancellor of Germany post Hitler or CEO of Apple post Steve Jobs, who was way worse then Chevy in respect to treatment of people.

Friday question: Ken, how do you clean your Emmy award?

Jeff P said...

SNL hasn't been funny since GE Smith left the band.....

Chris Bernard said...

I don't think you can completely blame the changing media landscape for no new SNL stars. They haven't had anyone on the same level as Eddie or even Will Ferrell in years.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

What I see is SNL cast members doing it genuinely for the love of the show and of sharp comedy, not as a stepping stone to a larger movie or television career. I think that's a good thing.

We probably have to view the ones who did breakout--obviously Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, and oh please just stop me now, as anomalies suited to an earlier era, and not as the model that is likely to work anymore.

Take what you can get in life folks, it's crowded out there.

Mike Barer said...

But, I guess the upside is the cast members stay longer.

Necco said...

I love this year's SNL cast - who cares if there are so many members?

cd1515 said...

I feel the same way about SNL as I do about the weeknight late night shows: most of it is crap and if something good actually does happen I will see it on YouTube or Twitter the next day. There’s almost no reason to watch live.

fred said...

Recently thinking about songs that were about radio and DJ's. Lots of songs about radio, but not many I can think of about the DJ's. Betting your memory would be better than anyone. I get WKRP theme song and Harry Chapin's W.O.L.D. But then my list goes down hill very fast. Help!

Xenu said...

Sorry to be a party pooper but people should be aware that SNL cast member Chloe Fineman is a hardcore scientologist and is the daughter of hardcore scientologists.

Knowing that makes watching her not so funny. So I skip her stuff.

Fred said...

Songs about radio DJs


From the 1940s-1980s there must have several, if one counts local/vanity label releases honoring—or by—local broadcast personalities
Wolfman Jack alone had a few tribute songs, by such major artists as Todd Rundgren and Guess Who

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uX8Nj8ABEI8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUIoeUvadYU

tavm said...

Yeah, instead of trying to do more original comedies, the industry is now doing sequels like Coming 2 America and Ghostbusters: Afterlife!

By Ken Levine said...

DJ song: "Don't Touch that Dial" by Gary US Bonds.

Brandon in Virginia said...

And then you have Kenan Thompson, who's not only the longest-tenured cast member, but he's also got a sitcom and the Clifford movie simultaneously. SNL doesn't necessarily have to be a stepping stone anymore, esp. if you can do a primetime show and/or movie in NYC.

BTW, Billy Crystal joined well after he'd hit stardom. That 1984 cast was a pretty random mix from what I've read.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for the heards up, xenu. I studiously avoid anything with a Scientologist in it. If Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler are considered funny, people don't deserve to be entertained anymore.

maxdebryn said...

The Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Christopher Guest years on SNL were great. Just my opinion, though.The synchronized swimming bit still makes me laugh.This bit is a hoot, too.

https://vimeo.com/165082041

Doug Thompson said...

I thought Freddy Cannon recorded "The Dedication Song" aka "Don't Touch That Dial" and Gary U.S. Bonds recorded "I Dig This Station". There was also Mark Dinning back in the early 1960's with "Top 40, News, Weather & Sports".

Also many local DJ's recorded their own 'hits' which were usually only played and sold in their own area. On the East coast, Clay Cole, Herb Oscar Anderson, Murray the K among others released records. On the West Coast, The Real Don Steele, Casey Kasem are among those who released singles.

sanford said...

Xenu said...
Sorry to be a party pooper but people should be aware that SNL cast member Chloe Fineman is a hardcore scientologist and is the daughter of hardcore scientologists. I guess that means you would not watch other scientologists such as Elizabeth Moss or Tom Cruise. Of course we never really know what they are like aside from maybe seeing the on talk shows. But I doubt they are actually terrible people just because they are in a made up religion. It is pretty sad for a lot of people that don't have the money. I have no idea why people would choose to be a scientologist or join any religion. It is interesting that Fineman's father is Jewish. I can't imagine two many Jews are scientology. Fineman was raised attending Camp Kee Tov, a Jewish day camp at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. No idea if her family belonged to the Congregation. Pretty strange that if her family was into Scientology that she would be sent to a Jewish day camp.

D. McEwan said...

"maxdebryn said...
The Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Christopher Guest years on
SNL were great."

The Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Christopher Guest "years" on SNL WAS great, not "were," because it was only ONE year. That's not an "era." That's one season, out of 47 seasons.

Jeff P said...
SNL hasn't been funny since GE Smith left the band...."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Any SNL-related comment that begins with "SNL hasn't been funny since..." Isn't worth reading. It's not a comment about SNL, but rather is a confession of when the poster's sense of humor calcified, and an expression of the pretentious writer's desire to appear too cool and hip to enjoy SNL. The last time I laughed at SNL was this past Saturday, which had several very funny bits, in particular, the "Parade of Suitors" sketch, the "Three Sad Virgins" video and the Broadway review sketch with the "Everybody's Doing Drugs" song.

I was watching SNL the night it premiered and I have seen every episode of the show to date. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's not.

As for G.E. Smith, yeah, he was a load of laughs, especially when he was beating up Gilda Radnor during their brief, disastrous marriage.

JS said...

A lot of the original SNL players wrote their own material (Aykroyd, Chase to name a few). I can't see Pete Davidson writing a decent skit - but who knows? Aykroyd could write his ass off. The original Ghostbusters script was the size of a phone-book before they cut it down. He wrote it for Belushi because he was going through a career slump. He died before it was filmed and was replaced with Bill Murray. If a performer can write, they have a lot more control over their future.

Xenu said...

You're right, sanford, I don't watch Cruise or Moss. Despite the nice guy persona Cruise portrays on talk shows, he's anything but. Google what happened to his 14 year old niece and to actress Nazanin Boniadi. The guy is a fucking asshole.

Tyler said...

I remember seeing Kenan Thompson star in the Fat Albert movie while he was also a cast member on SNL.

And that movie came out in 2004.

maxdebryn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil said...

Hard to believe, but those years were a single year. I worked on the show then, the next year Lorne Michaels returned and Ebersol (EP) fired!

sanford said...

Xenu Here is the story I found about Cruise and the actress. https://www.yahoo.com/news/leah-remini-tom-cruises-ex-nazanin-boniadi-forced-225335449-us-weekly.html Seems like she was set up with him by Scientology. It only lasted 3 months. Obviously Cruise went along with this. I have no idea what Cruises behavior was like in this relationship. The actress was certainly not treated great by Scientology. https://www.yahoo.com/news/leah-remini-tom-cruises-ex-nazanin-boniadi-forced-225335449-us-weekly.html Here is a story about Cruise and his niece. I didn't do a big search to see if this was true or not. https://www.shemazing.net/tom-cruise-accused-of-banishing-his-14-year-old-niece-from-the-family/ Evidently the niece hasn't spoken out as far as I can tell.

Anonymous said...

Given that Kenan Thompson is closing in on his 20th year on the show (about 40% of its run), that'd seem to also be a career path.

euphoria0504 said...

Ken, this is an odd comment to make at a moment when SNL alum Jason Sudeikis is the star of one of the most celebrated shows on television, “Ted Lasso.”

estiv said...

Another DJ song was by David Bowie, just called “DJ.” Not one of his great songs, but the line “I am a DJ, I am what I play,” captures something hard to describe. It’s about how listeners in the golden era of radio imagined the way the disembodied voices hosting the music truly were. Only a fantasy, but a very common one.

estiv said...

Another DJ song was by David Bowie, just called “DJ.” Not one of his great songs, but the line “I am a DJ, I am what I play,” captures something hard to describe. It’s about how listeners in the golden era of radio imagined the way the disembodied voices hosting the music truly were. Only a fantasy, but a very common one.

cb said...

Kate McKinnon has yet to appear this season.

Fred said...

Uh-oh, Other Songs on Radio and Club DJs !!!
One by Van Morrison


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Songs_about_disc_jockeys

Xenu said...

Sanford, she hasn't spoken out because Top Gun had her sent to a scientology camp and she's most likely now fully indoctrinated and brainwashed or is too terrified to say anything.

I'm not trying to persuade not to watch his crap. It's up to you. Just remember when you watch Mission Impossible 26 that he's not a good person.

Want another example? The prick actually tried to recruit Steven Spielberg, a proud Jew, into his cult. There's a reason Spielberg hasn't made another movie with him.

Fred said...

1. David Bowie single “DJ”

From Wikipedia

“A cynical comment on the cult of the DJ, the track includes an Adrian Belew's guitar solo, which was recorded in multiple takes, and then mixed back together for the album track. In a biography of Talking Heads, it is said this song was an attempt by Bowie to sing like David Byrne, who was befriending Brian Eno at the time. The single, an edited version, peaked at No. 29 in the UK and No. 106 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart in the US “


The official video, with Bowie as a DJ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRRmU_pOXnk


2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Island_Discs

A still-running weekly BBC radio series, begun in 1942, in which notables from all fields talk about their lives/careers, and then, about what items and music they’d take with them if they were castaways on a desert island. Very many of the surviving episodes are available on Apple podcasts and elsewhere, but alas—for rights reasons—only snips of the chosen music have been left in.

Here’s a segment of a radio episode posted on YouTube where Alfred Hitchcock was the
Desert Island guest “disc jockey.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qb9sRmsWbk

Rex Malum In Se said...

Friday Question.

A fella going by the name of Bob Parker has a compiled on Youtube the openings to dozens of shows from the late 70s to early 90s.

I love the time capsule appeal. But the appeal of some of these shows is overlooked or obliterated by bad music, bad graphics, or bad style (exception being the nursing drama Nightingales. Grrrwwoowww)

Ken, what are some shows that were sadly sabotaged by bad first impressions, or fortuitously vivified by an exceptional opening?

Rex Malum In Se said...

I remember Ken once writing that a danger of sketch comedy is not knowing how to get out. A great premise, a great joke, and, before you know it, you're Ben Franklin's proverbial fish.

My impression is that many SNL actors do poorly afterwards because many of their movies are that one sketch played way too long. Funny in small doses, but in larger doses it seems....amateurish. Worse, sometimes it feels like an obligation. The network is obligated to try to create a bigger star, the star feels obligated to advance his career, and the fans feel obligated to support someone they like. But comedy isn't founded on obligation. "Welp, I did my part; now that THAT's over with, what's next?" And that's the sentiment I get from many SNL-inspired projects. We did it because we had too; now stick around 'til we find the next guy.

I've long gone.

Necco said...

AGAIN. McKinnon is filming "Joe Exotic" for Peacock+. SNL allowed that. Google it.

Dave H said...

I don't think the SNL cast has the goods to become huge stars even if there were opportunities. The name they are trying to push as a star is Pete Davidson and he is not funny. Lorne Michaels to me has lost his touch at picking cast members.

Mibbitmaker said...

DJ/radio songs:

FM - Steely Dan. Theme for the movie about rock radio. 1978

On the Radio - Donna Summer 1980

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life - Indeep (R&B/hip-hop chart song) 1982

Also, some of the break-in records of the '50s and '60s played with the DJ/radio format more than most.

Storm said...

Ah! A chance to mention one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands: "Around the Dial", by The Kinks!


I can't believe that you've been taken off the air
Think I'll sell my radio now that you're not there
You never gave in to fashion
You never followed any trends
All the record bums tried to hack you up
But you were honest to the end

Gonna keep my radio on
Till I know just what went wrong
The answer's out there somewhere on the dial
On the dial...

Wow, I just flashed that this song is 40 years old now! It came out just as KSFX in S.F. changed format to talk radio, so it was even more of a jam, because KSFX was AWESOME and everyone was pissed off it was just gone one day, along with their excellent DJs.

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Ralph C. said...

“The Nightfly” is the title track of Steely Dan-man Donald Fagen’s first solo album, which came out in 1982, is about an overnight DJ from station WJAZ at the foot of Mt. Belzoni.

Storm said...

Oh, I just remembered another "radio song" that I haven't thought of in years; "Pilot of the Airwaves" by Charlie Dore! Man, I loved this song!

youtube.com/watch?v=SGKrgJZhpzk&ab_channel=koujii334

(Never tried to post a link here-- hope it works!)

And how did I forget "Radio Radio" by Elvis Costello? I first heard that song in London in '78, late at night with a wee transistor radio to my ear, volume down to almost 0, trying not to wake my nearby mother. But those opening keyboards exploded into my brain! I started bopping along, causing the bed to squeak and my mother to yell at me, but DAMN! How could I not?

Your Pal,

Storm

Brian Phillips said...

Rex Malum: I remember a "Kids in the Hall" sketch that ran its course and the two actors sat in silence. One of them said, "You forgot to write an ending, didn't you?"

I cannot say that Saturday Night Live is better or worse than it ever was, but I can safely say it is no longer novel. It gets harder and harder to stand out when a show has been on this long, pushing at an ever-widening envelope. It was most shocking when Michael O'Donoghue and John Belushi first appeared as an ESL teacher and an immigrant said lines such as, "I want to feed your fingertips to the wolverines". That was NOT what one heard on TV back then.

47 years later, with a different entertainment landscape, it ai not as easy.

Curt Alliaume said...

Necco said:

>>AGAIN. McKinnon is filming "Joe Exotic" for Peacock+. SNL allowed that. Google it.

And this is the sort of thing that has led to a much larger cast. Years ago, Lorne Michaels wouldn't allow cast members to take shows off to make movies (as a result, John Belushi commuted back and forth from New York to Los Angeles to make 1941; he and Dan Aykroyd left the show around the time The Blues Brothers was in production). I believe after Jon Lovitz left in 1990 to make a movie, Michaels started to loosen up that rule.

The result is newer cast members get more screen time, since the veterans may be juggling other things. It's not the worst idea.

Alyson said...

I mean... Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Seth Myers, to name just a few from the semi-recent past have very successful careers, either via television shows (Ted Lasso, Barry, Brooklyn 99...) or movies (name any one of Wiig's films in the last 10 years). Disagree with this assessment, Ken.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Monty Python is still the gold standard for sketch comedy, and they would frequently end one by having someone just stop the proceedings by complaining it was silly. Once they played the National Anthem. Or John Cleese would say, "And now for something completely different," which became the title of their first film. To paraphrase Edmund Keane, or Edmund Gwenn, or Edmund Muskie, "Starting comedy is easy. Endings are hard."

Roger Owen Green said...

Songs about radio"
On The Air - Peter Gabriel
A Slow Song - Joe Jackson
And I get tired of DJs
Why is it always what he plays
I'm gonna push right through
I'm gonna tell him to
Play us a slow song

Kosmo13 said...

Songs about disc jockeys:

Country D.J. by Bill Anderson
B.J. the D.J. by Stonewall Jackson

Spike de Beauvoir said...

John Corbett as Chris Stevens in Northern Exposure was a great DJ character. I loved the writing on that show.

TJB said...

Around the Dial by The Kinks is a good one

Jason Gracey said...

Clap for the Wolf Man?
All or Roger Waters' Radio KAOS, to some extent.
Rock and Roll Radio by the Ramones touches on it but not very much.

Jason Gracey said...

Almost forgot John Peel by Paul Burch

DyHrdMET said...

I just had an idea for a movie. A dark comedy about life on Saturday Night Live as a writer/sketch player. Have at it, Ken Levine. Or not.

MikeN said...

> A studio is not going to make $100 million on the opening weekend of a Kate McKinnon movie. So Kate McKinnon has not become a "star." Tina and Amy have tried that route.

This would have been true if they were able to make good movies. Ghostbusters Afterlife is going to do well, while Kate's version was a flop.

Tina and Amy did have a hit with Mean Girls, though they were not the stars. Baby Mama did OK.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

My vote for the "gold standard" of sketch comedy is the Carol Burnett Show.

When I was recently recuperating from an illness I immersed myself in the show (which streams free on several apps, it's live 24/7 on PlutoTV). It was my first time watching most of the shows and I fell in love with it. I think it helped heal my noggin and maybe other stuff too. The film parodies are so clever especially if you're a classic movie junkie. Looks like some of the show's writers are also familiar names from MAD magazine parodies like Arnie Kogen. CB is so brilliant and dazzles both in broad comedy and sweet details. Her Rita Hayworth turn in Golda is perfection (and actually drew the real Rita to appear several times on the show).

CB never appeared on SNL, details are hazy to me but it seems Lorne Michaels set a bar for never doing CB-type sketches on SNL. Maybe he was demoting the show's style as corny or outdated, but I think the show is still fresh and feels like it could have been minted yesterday. It never tried to be overtly topical and avoided the hippie cliches but still featured some edgy comedians for the time, gender twists, and drag artists. I get a sense of fearlessness from the show even though it was a network heavyweight.