Laughter + Love: Remembering 40 Years of ‘Saturday Night Live’
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
For 40 years, those six words signified the beginning of Saturday Night Live, a weekly comedy sketch show aired live from NBC’s studios in Rockefeller Center in New York City.
The network paid tribute to the long-running program by airing a live three-and-a-half hour tribute on Feb. 15 and gathered some of the show’s most memorable cast members, guest hosts and musical acts over the course of its history.
Like watching a high school reunion unfold, I, as a long-time SNL fan, was admittedly nervous about sitting through the 40th Anniversary Special. Would it be like revisiting old friends again, sipping beers and remembering our favorite moments from our youth? Or would it be a sad reminder that our best days are behind us, and that the present will never fully live up to the past?
I am under 40 years old, so I cannot say that I’ve been a fan for as long as the show has aired. No, my own memories of Saturday Night Live began when I was 11 years old. In 1992, the first Wayne’s World movie was released in theaters. Much like any rambunctious and immature kid, I defied my parents’ wishes and went to see the movie with my much older cousin.
I loved it. I loved every moment and even to this day, I can’t remember many times that I laughed as hard as I did during a movie. Sure, a lot of the adult-themed jokes and pop culture references went over my head. But there was something special about Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and how they worked as a team. I recognized it then, and I wanted to see more of it.
As we left the movie theater, my cousin was the one who told me about Saturday Night Live and how Wayne’s World was born from the show.
“What?” I remember saying. “I can watch more Wayne’s World? Sweet!”
And it was starting then that after my parents went to bed on Saturday night, I snuck downstairs in my house at 11:35pm, careful not to get caught, and turned on Saturday Night Live, hoping to see mini-Wayne’s World sequels, week after week.
Initially, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a Wayne’s World sketch every week. But as I forced myself to watch week after week, holding out with some hope that I’d see Wayne and Garth that night, I soon found myself falling in love with other characters on the show. Matt Foley (Chris Farley), Opera Man (Adam Sandler), Caveman Lawyer (Phil Hartman) and more soon joined my SNL circle of friends.
My love for SNL was born, and staying up late on Saturday night in front of the television became routine, even as I grew older over the years. I snuck a portable TV into my dorm room during my boarding school years to catch Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri as the Spartan Cheerleaders. In college, while everyone was out partying and surely engaging in crazy antics, I was at home, laughing hysterically at Tracy Morgan playing zookeeper Brian Fellows.
I’m sure that if SNL fans were to write down their favorite jokes and sketches from the show, you’d see a wide variety of differing opinions. Comedy is most successful when it becomes relatable to person on some level, and that was the brilliance of SNL: it had something for everybody.
So naturally, having a 40th Anniversary Special live up to everybody’s expectations is a tall order. SNL fans each have their own special memories and takeaways, which makes it difficult to put on a production that is everything to everyone.
Luckily, last night’s broadcast stayed away from trying to squeeze 40 years of nostalgia into one show and instead, focused on doing what it does best: putting on quality live entertainment. Gracefully balancing revived sketches with old clips and heartfelt tributes, the SNL 40th Anniversary Special avoided being a trite "best of" special and instead, celebrated all the show had accomplished up until now.
The tribute took on the show’s traditional format, beginning with a cold open with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. We then saw a star-studded opening monologue led by Steve Martin, and joined by the likes of Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Miley Cyrus and Peyton Manning, followed by several sketch revivals, including The Californians featuring Jason Sudeikis and Kristin Wiig, and Wayne's World reuniting Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. The Weekend Update tribute -- led by Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin – took the opportunity to poke fun at the show itself. Paul McCartney, Kanye West and Miley Cyrus performed live in a testament to the many great musicians that have graced the stage of SNL.
But amongst the laughter, there were heartfelt tributes as well. Many recognized those who passed on during the show’s history, including John Belushi, Phil Hartman, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Jan Hooks. SNL also took the opportunity to pay tribute to New York City, the home of the show and every bit as important to the show as each cast and crew member. Chris Rock gave praise to Eddie Murphy and encouraged a standing ovation, who made his first appearance on the show last night for the first time since leaving in 1984. And Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin also took some time to acknowledge Tracy Morgan, who has been out of the public spotlight since becoming seriously injured in a limo accident in June of 2014.
Thus, it was encouraging that the special served as a tribute to itself and the people who made it special. The show’s best memories will continue to live on in reruns and Internet clips, and that is wholeheartedly worth celebrating.
As the show came near its conclusion with its Wayne’s World tribute, I couldn't help but think back to that first time turning on NBC on a late Saturday night, and how thankful I was that I got to know these timeless characters that made me laugh and smile through the best and worst of times. Like my old high school buddies, we may not see each other as often anymore, and we might not have the energy and enthusiasm like we once had.
But we had a damn good time. And that, as Wayne and Garth would put it, is “most excellent.”
See the Best Dressed at the 'SNL' 40th Anniversary Celebration