"It was like the X-Men school for comedians y'know? All these guys with superpowers, together!" —Chris Rock on SNL
Saturday Night Live is a ground-breaking NBC sketch comedy/Variety Show, broadcast live from New York City in what had been, up until its premiere in 1975, TVs "graveyard shift" slot.Often shortened to SNL for ease of reference, the show was specifically designed by its creator, Lorne Michaels (who was once a writer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In), to showcase young and edgy talent as a direct reaction to the older comedians who dominated primetime but were fundamentally clueless about the tastes, styles and preoccupations of young Americans circa 1975. Rotating celebrity guests added to the "fingers on the pulse of pop culture" vibe the show reveled in. Steve Martin has hosted and been in more episodes than some cast members have (and is likely the host that most viewers believe was actually a cast member). Other frequent and popular hosts are John Goodmannote who would have been a cast member on the show had NBC hired a competent showrunner during its sixth season, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin (who broke Steve Martin's record of most SNL episodes ever hosted in 2011), Christopher Walken, Justin Timberlake, and Ben Affleck. Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel and Dave Grohl (who has performed with not just his main bands Nirvana and Foo Fighters, but also with Tom Petty, Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age) are the show's most frequent musical guests.Reveled during its early years in a feeling of being just shy of completely out of control, and pushed the boundaries of television far beyond what anyone had ever seen before. The cast is continually shifting, with veterans departing for solo careers and young performers being recruited regularly.The number of stars that emerged from this show is mindboggling by itself. Just among the first year cast, SNL launched the careers of Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Jane Curtin, as well as frequent guest performer (though never host) Andy Kaufman. Other famous cast members include Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr.., Will Ferrell, Al Franken (making it the only late-night entertainment show to produce a United States Senator), Gilbert Gottfried, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Billy Crystal, Phil Hartman, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Dennis Miller, Mike Myers and many more. Tina Fey has a very dedicated fandom in no small part because of her success with being head writer and cast member on SNL, the film Mean Girls, and the sitcom 30 Rock.Every episode features the guest host delivering an opening monologue and participating in most of the evening's sketches. Actors, musicians, and comedians are the most common selections. They have always had a standing band for various musical numbers, but often with a guest musician to perform a piece or two in the middle of the program. If the host is a well-known musician, they will often fill both roles, and sometimes guest musicians participate in skits too, though not as often as the host.Widely viewed as always having been better when one was younger, whenever that happened to be (normally the first five years [from 1975-1980] are cited as the best years of the show's life, but there have been viewers who claim that the 80s and/or the 90s were when the show grew its beard). In fact, the show seems to operate in cycles — it starts out outrageous and fresh and stays that way for a few years, then when its outrageousness becomes the norm the show gets panned for "not being funny". The claims are solidified when a favorite cast member leaves, and the show goes through a down period as it tries to find new cast members and get rid of the ones who have run their course. Then when the right cast members are found, the show becomes funny again (usually through the eyes of new fans, though there have been cases of old fans who have abandoned the show in the past and now have rediscovered it).In 2004, the show featured KenanThompson as a new cast member, making him the first cast member born after the show first started in 1975 and the first cast member to do work on children's TV before making the move to TV for general audiences.SNL has always been an NBC show, but confusingly and rather bizarrely in its first year (as NBC's Saturday Night and Saturday Night) it competed with a completely different show on ABC, also named Saturday Night Live and hosted by Howard Cosell. When the ABC version of Saturday Night Live became a flop, the NBC version took the show's name (and Bill Murray) for their own.SNL has essentially become a New York City treasure, despite the years of turmoil (both on the show and in the world) that threatened to end the show and tarnish its legacy, and has proved time and again that it can survive anything thrown at it, from fickle fans to national crises.Thank you, and...LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT!
This show and the sketches within provide examples of:
Then there are the many sketches where Fred Armisen plays a character who ends up getting beaten by a woman (the Annuale commercial from season 33 had him getting kicked in the groin and punched in the face by Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig punched Fred during the mosh pit riot on the "Death Metal The Golden Girls Theme" SNL Digital Short, and the "Flags of the World" Digital Short had Nasim Pedrad hit Fred in the head with a "Girlfriend on the Rag Flag.")
Accidental Athlete: "Waikiki Hockey" from the Wayne Gretzky/Fine Young Cannibals episode of season 14.
Actor Allusion: The writers enjoy pulling whatever material they can from the pasts of their guest hosts, such as having a The Partridge Family sketch for Susan Dey (back when she was much more well known for L.A. Law), putting Janet Jackson back in her old role in Good Times, making a backhanded reference to Bruno Mars' Hawaiian heritage, and revealing that Drake was on Degrassi: The Next Generation under his real name Aubrey Graham (which, ironically, was an Old Shame Drake was trying to keep under wraps for the longest time).
Adam Westing: It's not uncommon for the host to do a sketch in which he or she exaggerates how the public views him or her (cf. Lindsay Lohan playing herself as a convict on a season 37 episode, Tom Hanks playing a moronic version of himself on Celebrity Jeopardy, Justin Timberlake playing a fictional ancestor of himself who predicts that his future child will be a boy band singer, break out into a solo career, team up with Andy Samberg to make music videos, and, most importantly, have sex with Britney Spears and deny it up and down, Kelly Ripa attributing her perky personality to a cocaine-laced hair dye in a fake commercial from season 29, etc).
All Just a Dream: To make people forget about the disjointed lousiness of Season 11 (1985-86) and to start fresh with a new and better cast — and to spoof what Dallas had just done over at CBS to negate its badly-received 1985-86 season — SNL used this trope by having Madonna (who hosted the Season 11 premiere) announce during the cold opening of Season 12 premiere that Season 11 was all "a dream...a horrible, horrible dream." While this would be met with contempt over the writers pulling something so cliched, the fact that the first episode had a newer, funnier cast made up for it.
The end of the Season 20 (1994-95 season) episode hosted by Bob Newhart was revealed to be this, mimicking the All Just a Dream ending to Newhart, complete with Suzanne Pleshette.
Also the Lara Flynn Boyle sketch that sent up The Scarlet Letter, where, just as the men are reprimanding Hester Prynne for her scarlet "A", Boyle's character wanders in with a scarlet "BJ" sewn into her clothing. The men become delighted.
All-Star Cast: The 1984-85 season that departed from tradition by casting several people who were already well-established comedy stars, such as Martin Short, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Billy Crystal. Both before and since, the show has hired unknowns. The 1985-1986 season (the season that marked the return of Lorne Michaels after his ABC sketch show The New Show failed) also did this (with celebrities who were semi-famous at the time, like Joan Cusack, Robert Downey, Jr.note before his descent into drug addiction in the 1990s and his career revival in the mid-2000s, Anthony Michael Hallnote the first and so far only SNL cast member who was under the age of 18 and 21 when he was hired. Hall was only 17 when he joined the '85-'86 cast, and Randy Quaid), but audiences and critics thought it was a cheap ploy for ratings.
Amusing Injuries: Dana Carvey's "Massive Headwound Harry" (which went straight into Nausea Fuel when a dog was shown chewing off the head wound prosthetic on Carvey's head) and the recurring sketch, "Appalachian Emergency Room" (where rednecks come into a backwoods doctor's office and tell the receptionist how they got injured).
The Announcer: Don Pardo, who announced the first season back in 1975 and is still holding the job well into his nineties. Nowadays, his announcements are prerecorded from his home.
For Season 7, Pardo was replaced by Mel Brandt, reportedly at the insistence of Michael O'Donoghue, who'd been re-hired as a writer/producer for the show by incoming producer Dick Ebersol. By the end of the season, O'Donoghue had been fired, and Pardo was brought back. For the December 1981 episodes hosted by Tim Curry and Bill Murray, however, Brandt was replaced with Bill Hanrahan.
The Artifact: "Live from New York, It's Saturday Night!" comes from the fact that the show was actually called NBC's Saturday Night and not Saturday Night Live during its first season, because of that aforementioned short lived Howard Cosell show on ABC.
Ascended Meme: The whole point of the 100th Digital Short is basically cramming in every Memetic Mutation permeated by previous Lonely Island digital shorts (and cramming the ascended memes of Will Ferrell's most popular sketches and plugging his three "Best Of" DVDs).
Attack of the Political Ad: Most of their political sketches are exaggerated versions of common attack ads that appear during elections.
The Backstage Sketch: These happen occasionally, and tend to show the host preparing in his/her dressing room, cast members interacting with each other or Lorne Michaels, etc. Usually these are used as cold openings.
Bad Boss: One sketch involved guest star Pierce Brosnan as a prospective employee who has second thoughts when his potential boss, Mr. Tarkanian (played by Will Ferrell), is a complete monster to his underlings. Mr. Tarkanian even murders an employee right in front of him.
Black Comedy Burst: For a show like SNL that prides itself in being funny without being mean, sometimes they will delve into dark humor to make their point (or to get a rise out of the audience). On a documentary special about SNL in the 2000s, Horatio Sanz has said that if a joke in a sketch made the audience groan in disgust, then the writers did a good job.
Camera Abuse: Occurs in a several sketches (not always intentionally). During Jim Breuer's tenure The Joe Pesci Show segments would always conclude with Joe or one of his guests confronting the cameraman and "breaking" the camera lens.
Casanova Wannabe: A good amount of recurring characters are sleazy men trying to get laid and failing. Some examples include: Chris Parnell's "Merv the Perv" (and his brother, Irv, played by episode host Johnny Knoxville), Christopher Walken's "The Continental" (mixed in with Handsome Lech), The Roxbury Guys (Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan), and The Wild and Crazy Guys (Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin).
The Cast Showoff: There have been past cast members who have proved that they can do more than just funny characters and spot-on celebrity impressions:
Garrett Morris was a talented singer who would occasionally get to sing classical music on the show. One segment featured Morris singing a Schubert aria whle captions rolled on the screen explaining that the show only let him sing because everyone was scared of him.
Charles Rocket from the Jean Doumanian era was an accordion player (on the Season Six premiere, there was a sketch where he played a deranged man who killed his dates with accordion music, only to get killed by bagpipe players) and an actual news anchor (making Rocket the first and, so far, only Weekend Update anchor who actually had experience as an actual news anchor).
Maya Rudolph has shown off her singing ability (she was in a band prior to being on SNL and had parents who were involved in the music industry).
Fred Armisen is another cast member who has shown he has music ability (plays drums and guitar, though whenever he played Liberace, he faked playing the piano).
A. Whitney Brown (a writer-cum-feature player from 1985 to 1991 who often appeared on Weekend Update's "The Big Picture" segment) can juggle, as seen in this video, a talent he picked up while doing time in a Texas prison.
Jason Sudeikis was a basketball player for the University of Kansas, so that scene on the LeBron James episode from Season 33 where he plays a boom mike operator who challenges James to a game of basketball was just an excuse for Jason to show off his moves.
Cat-apult: The laser cats from... "Laser Cats" are a variant. While the cats aren't being launched, they are themselves guns.
Catch Phrase: The most enduring one is, of course, "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!", but it was the biggest single meme generator in the pre-Internet days of entertainment. Even today in the age of the Internet, it still generates memes and catchphrases and has adapted well to the era where most people find their humor online rather than on TV.
Celebrity Paradox: A lot of sketches have the celebrity host, musical guest, or special guest star meeting a cast member's take on that celebrity (i.e., Jimmy Fallon playing Mick Jagger's reflection on the Hugh Jackman episode from Season 27, or the real Governor David Paterson confronting Fred Armisen's take on him to speak out against the cheap shots about his blindness).
Steve Forbes participated in "Forbes on Forbes" (with Mark McKinney as Steve Forbes) whose lampshade was so thin it falls just short of Better than a Bare Bulb.
The short-lived but still funny "Joe Pesci Show" ended with Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro beating the snot out of Jim Breuer and Colin Quinn, respectively.
Another "Pesci" skit had Jim Carrey playing Jimmy Stewart, while Mark Mc Kinney played. . .Jim Carrey. Sure enough, Jimmy Stewart was nothing but disgusted and irritated with Jim Carrey's antics.
The Miley Cyrus Show sketches where Miley Cyrus herself (the week's host) played Justin Bieber to Vanessa Bayer's Miley, then the episode with Bieber as host playing a Miley Cyrus fan club runner who takes potshots at Justin as he's being "interviewed" by Bayer as Miley.
Cliffhanger: Season 11 ended with a sketch in which Yankees manager Billy Martin set fire to the studio while onscreen titles wondered which cast members would return. Originally, the cliffhanger was never going to be resolved, as NBC pushed Lorne Michaels to cancel SNL due to low ratings. When Lorne convinced the higher-ups that he can do better with a better cast (including some cast members from Season 11 who proved to be stand-outs in a mediocre season), the cliffhanger — and everything about Season 11 — was written off as a bad dream during the Season 12 premiere, parodying what Dallas did to undo an unpopular season just weeks before.
Cold Open: Nearly every episode (including anniversary specials and clip shows) have these. Most are political (usually a special message from the U.S. President or a government official/leader from another country, or a special press conference as aired on a cable news network), some focus on recurring characters, few are one-shots that have to do with a current event, and a handful of them take place backstage before the show starts.
The Comically Serious: Lorne Michaels' on-air personality is not only famous for how dry he acts, but also for the fact he has almost never lost his composure (he only did once, on the first time Hugh Laurie hosted on season 32, and that was because of a botched cue that happened off-screen).
Comically Small Bribe: In one early episode, Lorne Michaels came on to offer The Beatles a check for $3,000 to reunite on the show (a few episodes later, he offers to "sweeten the pot" to $3200). Lennon and McCartney, who both happened to be in New York that night and saw the bit on TV, nearly went down to the studio for a surprise visit. Turned into a Running Gag — whenever an ex-Beatles member later appeared on the show as a musical guest, they would usually be shown trying to extract the promised cash from Lorne.
Michaels: If you want to give Ringo less, it's up to you.
Continuity Nod: Bill Hader's Stefon character first appeared in 2008 in skit where he and his brother (played by Ben Affleck) try to pitch a movie. Fast forward to a 2013 Weekend Update sketch where Seth Meyers breaks up Stefon's marriage to Anderson Cooper and convinces Stefon to run away with him. Affleck returns as Stefon's brother encouraging him to follow his heart.
Corpsing: Justified as it's a live TV show, so mistakes of all kinds (including actors losing it due to hammy acting or an unscripted mistake) are bound to happen. It was prevalent when Jimmy Fallon became a Weekend Update anchor (which most fans declared was distracting).
It also happened every time Bill Hader appears as Stefon on Weekend Update (That Other Wiki and most late-night talk show interviews even claim that Bill Hader has never got through a Stefon segment — both in dress rehearsal and on the live show — without cracking up note Though this is an exaggeration, as there are actually four segments in which Bill Hader has played Stefon and not cracked up once — the first sketch that introduced Stefon as the estranged brother of a Disney screenwriter, a Weekend Update segment that had Stefon, Bobby Moynihan as Snooki from Jersey Shore, and Fred Armisen as Governor David Paterson singing "O, Christmas Tree," another Weekend Update segment with Seth Meyers announcing to the audience that he's going on summer vacation with Stefon, and in the monologue of the Maya Rudolph episode, where Stefon appears as a background singer for Maya Rudolph. Still, the four times Hader hasn't cracked up compared to the 13 times he did, as of his final appearance on May 18, 2013, is not a good track record), though, unlike Jimmy Fallon's cracking up note which is usually blamed on Fallon's lack of professionalism, according to his detractors, there's a reason why it happens to Bill Hader. According to That Other Wiki and an interview on The Late Show with David Letterman, John Mulaney (one of the show writers) changes some of the lines without Bill Hader's knowledge and Hader is actually reacting to what he's reading.
An example from the fourth season: During one "Weekend Update" segment, Bill Murray reported the death of the horse who played Mister Ed. He followed that up with a live interview with Ed's "widow": a live, rather uncooperative horse (voiced by Gilda Radner). Right after this hilarious moment, the camera cut to Jane Curtin, who immediately burst out laughing and was barely able to say the segment's closing line.
The first "Debbie Downer" sketch, in early 2004 with Lindsay Lohan, was arguably made memorable by the corpsing. A flubbed line by Downer (Rachel Dratch) and the sketch's constant use of the "wah-wah" was enough to crack every member of the sketch (except for Fred Armisen, though he still struggled), with the worst culprit being Horatio Sanz, who was eventually doing nothing but laughing hysterically by the end of the sketch.
One of the few times Phil Hartman lost it was as Frankenstein, disagreeing with Tarzan and Tonto on whether "fire - bad!"
It still happened on occasion, but corpsing was seriously frowned on in the early years of the show. It was seen as part of the "old-fashioned" comedy exemplified by The Carol Burnett Show that the early creators wanted to avoid.
Perhaps one of the more obvious examples was in the "Dr. Beaman's Office" sketch where, sometime around the moment when Dr. Poop came in, Molly Shannon (playing the baby's mother) had a hard time keeping a straight face, and this spread to Will Ferrell (playing Dr. Beaman), who had to put his hands over his face to compose himself when he delivered the line, "The truth is... we misplaced your baby." In the next cut, Molly Shannon is smiling wide instead of being horrified, and Chris Parnell (the baby's father) doesn't look too upset either.
Another example is Taran Killam's character Jebidiah Atkinson who reviews speeches(along with Christmas specials.) Both times he has appeared Seth Meyers tries to keep a straight face but he fails. In his first appearance he flubbed a Pearl Harbor speech joke. He along with Seth failed at keeping smiles off their faces. In his second appearance he missed a sentence for a joke about A Christmas Carol, and Seth ended up dying of laughter.
Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: There is a common misconception that Steve Martin (one of SNL's most frequent hosts) was a cast member. He was on Lorne Michaels' failed ABC sketch show The New Show, but he was never an SNL cast member.
Cue Card Pause: Prevalent in the "Jimmy Fallon cracking up" era and whenever Bill Hader plays Stefon (which overlaps with the aforementioned corpsing). Not so much now, unless you count the many times that a newbie host has trouble with his or her lines.
Visibly occurred when Chris Farley appeared in a 21st season Spade In America segment as Newt Gingrich. He quickly drops character, stumbles over reading his line then dives into doing Matt Foley shtick before David Spade flat-out asks if he's having trouble reading the cue cards. They then admit Farley is really just there to promote Black Sheep.
During Weekend Update, Norm Mac Donald appeared to pause in the middle of a joke to shuffle some papers before finally snapping "You can flip that cue card anytime you want to", thus revealing the real reason for his fumbling.
Curtain Call: Each individual episode ends like a theatre show with the entire cast and any guest stars (and musicians in the guest band) gathering on the stage, with the ending theme music playing.
Deal with the Devil: In the first TV Funhouse "Anatominals" short, Lorne Michaels views the skit and is disgusted what the show has sunk to, and calls up Satan to get out of his contract of keeping the show running if he gets his soul. After getting a glimpse of what Lorne's life would be like without SNL (basically he provides foreign aid), he rescinds his offer and lets Satan keep his soul after all.
Most of their TV show or movie parodies rip apart the logistics behind certain plotholes, tropes (as in "cliched plot devices," some of which can be found on this website), and character traits. Case in point: The Avengers sketch, with Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. The parody centered on why an archer who doesn't have any superpowers would need to be in a superhero group (especially one that has a super soldier, a radioactive monster, and a Norse god) and what would happen if he ran out of ammo.
The "You're A Champion, Charlie Brown" sketch from the Season 24 episode hosted by Brendon Fraser gives a realistic and depressing spin on the old "Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown" gag, in that Charlie Brown ends up with a severe head wound and the sketch ends with Lucy, Linus, and Franklin (the black Peanuts kid) sobbing as Charlie Brown lays dying.
George Coe, who was in his mid-forties, was hired to be one of the original Not Ready For Primetime Players in 1975, and was billed along with the rest of them. The idea was for him to play the "older male" part in sketches, but that was deemed to be unnecessary and Coe was dropped from the regular cast after only three episodes. However, he continued to get occasional guest parts through 1976.
Yvonne Hudson was the first black woman to be an SNL cast member, though she was credited as a featured player. (A black female repertory player wouldn't be seen until Danitra Vance was hired in 1985, and even still, it would be a while before SNL would have a black female cast member who lasted more than a season [Ellen Cleghorne] and who became popular outside of SNL [Maya Rudolph].) Sadly, it was during the disastrous 1980-81 season. She was fired along with everyone in that cast except for Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy, but she continued to appear as an extra periodically through 1984.
Depraved Kids' Show Host: Mr. Hands in the Mr. Bill Show. Also, everyone on "Happy Smile Patrol" and Mr. Robinson (Eddie Murphy) on "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood".
Drop The Cow: Zigzagged. Some seasons (and episodes within seasons) will have overly long sketches; others will have sketches that know when to stop (or come up too short).
Early-Bird Cameo: A handful of cast members appeared on the show before they became full-fledged cast members (featured and repertory). Among them:
Denny Dillon: Performed a stand-up routine on the Rob Reiner episode (season 1). Despite unsuccessfully auditioning for the show in 1975, Dillon was chosen for the 1980-81 cast.
Ann Risley: Had a small speaking role in a pre-taped sketch called "Mobile Shrink" during season 2's Dick Cavett episode. Like Denny Dillon, Ann would be chosen for the 1980-81 cast.
Yvonne Hudson: Before she became a credited featured player during the 1980-81 season, Yvonne often appeared in season 4 and 5 sketches that needed a black actress note Lorne Michaels didn't have a black female cast member in his cast until 1985, when he hired Danitra Vance. Her most prominent role was during season 5, as a co-host (with Garrett Morris) of the talk show "Bad Clams."
Terry Sweeney: Originally hired as a writer for the 1980-81 season, five years before he was hired as a castmember by Lorne Michaels. He makes one on-screen appearance that season, in the cold opening of the Sally Kellerman/Jimmy Cliff episode where Ronald Reagan (played by Charles Rocket) celebrates his 70th birthday.
Rob Riggle: Appeared on the Donald Trump/Toots and the Maytals episode (from season 29) in a pretaped commercial parody called Fear Factor Junior. Riggle played the father of a child who had to eat the maggots off a plate of eggs Benedict or risk watching his parents divorce.
Tina Fey: Back when she was the first female head writer of SNLnote (which, back then, was considered groundbreaking as SNL has always had men as head writers; there were women writers — including Jean Doumanian during her disastrous tenure as executive producer, but no woman before Tina Fey was a head writer), Fey appeared in some sketches as an uncredited extra and even had a celebrity impersonation (Kathleen Willey) before she became a cast member/Weekend Update anchor in Season 26.
Jason Sudeikis: Had a lot of bit roles in seasons 29 and 30 (the years when he was a writer) until he was hired as a cast member near the end of Season 30.
Billy Crystal: As mentioned in the intro, Billy Crystal is one of two cast members who hosted the show before being hired (the other being Michael McKean). Crystal was originally supposed to be a guest performer on the 1975 premiere, but was passed up in favor of Andy Kaufman.
Phil Hartman: On the Season 11 episode hosted by Pee-Wee Herman, Hartman made an uncredited appearance as a Pilgrim (and also wrote the "Pee-Wee Herman Thanksgiving Special" sketch, on which Hartman played the aforementioned Pilgrim). A year later, Hartman would be part of the cast that would make SNL fans forget about Season 11's informed lousiness and launch a second Golden Age for the show.
Early-Installment Weirdness: When Saturday Night Live premiered (as NBC's Saturday Night), it was much more of a Variety Show, despite that Lorne Michaels wanted the show to be a subverted version of the kind of variety shows they had back in the late 1960s into the 1970s. The first few episodes had multiple musical guests and other performers (Andy Kaufman the most notable of these), with the Not Ready For Prime Time Players only one part of the larger whole. The second episode (October 18, 1975) had no sketch comedy at all other than Weekend Update; the whole rest of the show was given to host/musical guest Paul Simon and other musical acts. Before the first season was finished, the sketch comedy part of the show came to dominate — thanks, in no small part, to the episode hosted by Richard Pryor, which also established SNL as the comedy that wasn't afraid of tackling edgy issues with humor.
The infamous sixth season (1980-81) included a specific case of Real Life Early Installment Weirdness in the form of cast member Gilbert Gottfried. Watch clips of Gottfried from that season and you will see that he doesn't squint, has a full head of black hair, and (most jarring of all) had some semblance of volume control in his voice. You do hear his familiar screeching, obnoxious voice, but mostly, his voice back then was very calm and subdued.
When The Blues Brothers made their debut on January 17, 1976, they were dressed as bees (the "Killer Bees" were a recurring first season sketch).
Fake Hair Drama: A parody commercial was about avoiding this trope by using a pubic hair transplant instead.
Fun Hating Confiscating Adult: Cheri Oteri's recurring character Rita DelVecchio, who would tell kids "I keep it now! It's mine now!" when their football/novelty flying disc/etc. would land on her lawn or porch.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Justified in that the show was meant to be a variety show that catered to the younger crowd, and what better way to appeal to them is with risque humor? It worked for Laugh-In (which, coincidentally, had Lorne Michaels on as a writer).
Hot for Student: The Season 35 classroom sketch with Tina Fey and Justin Bieber. Deconstructed when the student (Bieber) catches wise to what his teacher is doing and threatens to sue her for sexual harassment.
A Season 32 sketch where episode host Annette Bening plays a teacher who's in love with an apathetic student (Andy Samberg) who doesn't realize that he's in a relationship with his teacher.
On the Josh Brolin/Gotye episode from Season 37, a drunk teacher (Brolin) during Booker T. Washington High's prom confessed that he's in a relationship with a student (played by Nasim Pedrad).
Hulk Speak: The team-ups of Tarzan (Kevin Nealon), Tonto (Jon Lovitz), and Frankenstein's monster (Phil Hartman)! One sketch revealed the monster had a completely articulate Evil Twin played by Mel Gibson.
Hypothetical Fight Debate: In the recurring sketch "Bill Swerski's Superfans", the Chicago natives sit around discussing who would win things, with the answer always being "Da Bears!" (Or if it's basketball, "Da Bulls!") Or complete non-sequiturs like Mike Ditka vs. a hurricane.
In the Seth MacFarlane episode/Season 38 premiere, Barack Obama (now played by Jay Pharoah) prefaced his attack ad on Mitt Romney with, "I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message. Uhhhh...but I'm not real proud of it."
In Memoriam: SNL often pays tribute to deceased cast members and guest hosts.
Gilda Radner had died the same day of the 1988-89 season finale, so instead of his planned monologue, host Steve Martin replayed a 1978 sketch featuring himself and Radner.
When George Carlin died in June 2008, rather than rerun a 2008 episode hosted by Ellen Page, the very first episode of SNL, which was hosted by Carlin, was aired instead.
Inadvertent Entrance Cue: The third ex-porn star in the "We're not porn stars anymore" skits will walk in and ask "Did somebody say [pun relating to the item being sold]?" - only it's subverted because the cue is never said, and eventually the main girls just have the third one do their schtick regardless.
Karmic Rape: At one point during his tenure as host of Weekend Update, Norm Mc Donald joked that Prison Rape, being the worst part of the whole experience, should be formally portioned out during sentencing.
What's this? [sniffs milk] I'd better put this in the fridge before it turns.
Live But Delayed: SNL had three episodes were put on seven-second delay, all of which were hosted by controversial comedians — Richard Pryor (Season 1), Sam Kinison (Season 12), and Andrew "Dice" Clay (Season 15). Outside of that, SNL is only live on the East and Central Time Zones and tape delayed on the Mountain and West.
Long-Runner Cast Turnover: The show's cast and crew turnover is as legendary as its peak-and-valley quality, and the reason why it has such a love/hate relationship with viewers. According to show creator Lorne Michaels on an E!-channel special about the history of the show (from Season 1 to 28), this is the secret to the show's longevity (that, and NBC calling a mulligan on Seasons 6 and 11).
Long Runners: SNL is pushing forty and shows no signs of ending its run anytime soon. It has survived cast and crew changes, seven U.S. Presidents (starting with Gerald Ford), harsh critics, low ratings, threats of cancellation, fickle fans, radical (and not-so-radical) social and cultural shifts, world and domestic events that often make it hard to laugh at the news (particularly the September 11th attacks, as it happened in the city where the show is broadcast), and all of the Dueling Shows that have aired as alternatives (taking out Fridays and MADtv, which were specifically made to get disillusioned fans of SNL to watch their shows and see them as better). Its presidential election spoofs are now so traditional, they're a de facto part of the American Political System.
Monochrome Casting: The show has received some criticism in The New Tens for not having a diverse cast. The majority of its cast members have been white and the show has rarely had more than one non-white cast member at a time (and has never had any Asian cast members). The show has especially come under fire for not having any black female cast members since Maya Rudolph's departure in 2007(and for having had only 4 black female cast members in its 38 year history), a fact that was highlighted when Kerry Washington guest starred. SNL attempted to remedy this by holding a casting call in December 2013 specifically for black women, and in January 2014 hired black woman Sasheer Zamata.
N-Word Privileges; The 70s Buddy Cop Show parody "Dyke & Fats" about a pair of Chicago policewomen: "Les Dykawitz"(Kate McKinnon), who's gay and "Chubbina Fatzarelli" (Aidy Bryant), who's large. After they solve a case they congratulate each other, calling each other by their nicknames but when the Da Chief(host Louis C.K.) says "Good going Dyke and Fats!" they get angry and yell "You don't get to call us that! Only we get to say it! Those are our words! We love each other, we're friends!" and then the end credit reads: "Created by Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant".
New Season, New Name: When this show first started, it was called "NBC's Saturday Night" because there was already a show on ABC called "Saturday Night Live" (this one had Howard Cosell as a permanent host). The NBC version wouldn't be officially called Saturday Night Live until season three (in season two, the "NBC" part of the title was dropped and the show was called Saturday Night).
The 1980-81 season was renamed "Saturday Night Live '80" in order to differentiate it from the five Lorne-produced seasons before it. The "80" was dropped in January 1981 (and the rest of the Jean Doumanian season was dropped a month later).
News Parody: Weekend Update, which has been a part of the show since the beginning, is arguably the Trope Maker for this genre.
No Product Safety Standards: Dan Aykroyd's recurring character Irwin Mainway. He's a corrupt salesman; in his first appearance he is trying to persuade a TV reporter that his company's toys are fun and safe for children. The products include a teddy bear with a built-in functioning chainsaw, Johnny Switchblade Adventure Punk, and Bag O' Glass (a bag of real broken glass! Also try Bag O' Sulfiric Acid!), etc. More Hilarity Ensues when he then tries to "prove" that other, safe toys are extremely unsafe. In a later appearance he's running an Amusement Park of Doom that works on similar (un)principles; the sketch ends with the host attacking him out of sheer horror!
Obvious Stunt Double: Kristen Wiig and Mike And Molly's Melissa McCarthy do a jazzy dance behind a sheet, so we only see their outlines. McCarthy's is about 150 lbs thinner than she is.
Old Shame: In-universe, there's a TV Funhouse cartoon where a boy and a girl gain entrance to the "Disney Vault", which is filled with old shames from the Disney legacy (such as a really racist cut of Song of the South). Mickey Mouse argues that you have to take the bad with the good.
Overly Nervous Flop Sweat: There was a skit, Alex Karras as guest host, where Billy Crystal plays a guy at a soda company who sweats excessively at a board meeting.
Persona Non Grata: There are a handful of hosts who have caused so much trouble backstage (or on the show) that they can never host SNL again. Who are they, you ask? Well...
Louise Lasser: Hosted the penultimate episode of Season 1 (1975-76). Michaels has gone on record in saying that Lasser was incoherent during her performance and wouldn't appear in any sketches unless she was by herself or with Chevy Chase.
Chevy Chase: Speaking of which, he's banned from hosting (after doing so nine times, the record for a former cast member) due to his Jerk Ass attitude toward the writers and cast members. He has made cameos in a few episodes, but hasn't hosted since Season 22 (1996-97).
Steven Seagal: Hosted the April 20, 1991 episode, and was banned soon afterward because he had difficulty working with the cast and crew.
Martin Lawrence: Hosted the episode that came right after the infamous Alec Baldwin-hosted show with the "Canteen Boy Goes Camping" sketch (where Canteen Boy (Adam Sandler) is molested by his scoutmaster) in 1994 (Season 19), and got himself banned when he launched into a monologue about the decline in women's hygiene. All reruns have cut off Martin's monologue and replaced it with cards that explain why this can never air on TV again.
Adrien Brody: Hosted in Season 28 (2002-03) and got himself banned after introducing musical guest Sean Paul in a rude boy Jamaican get-up and ad-libbing. There was nothing obscene about it; it's just that Lorne Michaels didn't approve of the piece and warned Brody not to do it. Considering how shaky in quality SNL was in its 28th season, this was considered a highlight (along with Dan Aykroyd coming back to host the last episode of the season).
Musical guest Sinead O'Connor was banned after ripping up a picture of the Pope and calling him 'the real enemy' after her second song (the segment has been edited out as well, replaced with the dress rehearsal version where she shows the audience a picture of a starving child from Africa).
The most famous was probably Elvis Costello, who in a 1977 appearance defied Lorne Michaels' order that he was not to play "Radio Radio" on air. The ban was in effect until 1999, when Elvis was allowed to disrupt a Beastie Boys performance to play the song again during the 25th anniversary special and was the musical guest for the season 14 episode hosted by Mary Tyler Moore.
Speaking of musical guests, Fear was banned after their performance in 1981, since they made such a mess of the set while performing (not helped by the people in the mosh pit, who caused at least $20,000 in damages).
Recurring Extra: The show often uses writers and production staff as extras in sketches. The show's "all hands on deck" mentality was more prevalent in its early days, but these days, SNL will use writers as honorary cast members, often if the monologue involves the celebrity host to interact with audience members (mostly the Q&A sessions where a celebrity fields questions from fans) or other sketches where they have more roles than cast members or need some background people if the sketch takes place somewhere where there is a high number of people (restaurants, busy streets, Congressional hearings, press conferences, classrooms, hospital waiting rooms, stores, etc). SNL's choreographer Danielle Flora has appeared as a recurring extra in sketches (often ones that are big musical numbers and they need dancers).
Reluctant Gift: In an episode from late 1992/early 1993, Barbara Bush is showing Hillary Clinton around the White House, but is reluctant to let go of the precious antiques and such that stay with the house.
Running Gag: Generally specific to individual performers; some guest hosts have appeared so often that they've developed their own.
One particular gag was running roller captions over a bit. Done twice during Garrett Morris' songs ("An Die Musik", on Garrett's surprising song choice, and "Danny Boy", supposedly written by Morris himself in response), and twice during Buck Henry's monologues (one on how he was hired out of pity, and another on how he was brought back because the writers didn't need to work very hard for him).
An 18 year old high school student in Florida, who was suspended after school officials learned that he was starring in adult films, has been allowed to return to classes. School officials are also stressing that the way they found out the student was starring in adult films "is not important."
Sketch Comedy: Not the first of its kind, but definitely one of the most popular.
Sliding Scale of Continuity: The show alternates between Level 0 (Non-Linear Installments) and Level 1 (Negative Continuity), with some recurring sketches and characters.
Two months into the summer break between Season 1 and Season 2, the show aired two more live episodes at the end of July, then went back to reruns until the proper start of Season 2 at the end of September. This remains the only time that SNL has aired new episodes during the summer TV hiatus.
The December 17, 1977 episode hosted by an old woman named Miskell Spillman, winner of an "Anyone Can Host" contest, is the only episode hosted by someone who's not a celebrity (which, sadly, means that Paris Hilton [who hosted on February 2005 during the 30th season] does count as a celebrity).
The February 20, 1977 episode was staged in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and it aired in prime time on Sunday. It was a fiasco, and remains the only time the show has left New York.
The musical guests' performances are usually straightforward (unless there's a nasty surprise to it, like when Sinead O'Connor tore Pope John Paul II's picture, when Ashlee Simpson did an awkward jig and left the stage after the music track for the first song accidentally played during her second song, and when Fear turned their performance into a mosh pit on the 1981 Halloween episode hosted by Donald Pleasance), but there have been unusual approaches taken on rare occasions. ABBA's appearance in Season One has them as entertainment on the Titanic as it begins to take on water. All three songs in David Bowie's first appearance in Season Five have surreal, Bowie-conceived staging and even Costume Porn. When George Harrison appeared on the show hosted by Paul Simon in the second season, Harrson presented two of his music videos rather than playing live (Harrison did join Simon for two duets). Kanye West's performance on the Bryan Cranston episode from season 36 had the entire stage covered in white with a troupe of ballet dancers.
Spoofed with Their Own Words: The famous skit about Sarah Palin during the 2008 U.S. presidential race. It very intentionally consisted almost entirely of actual Palin lines from her interview with Katie Couric. A couple of judicious additions and Tina Fey's delivery were all it took.
Straight Gay: Seth Meyers is revealed to be this, after stopping Stefon's wedding and claiming Stefon for himself.
Surprise Party: A recurring sketch is about a group of people planning a surprise [birthday/anniversary/retirement/etc.] party for one of their friends, and Kristen Wiig's character is so very very excited about it she just can't keep still - or keep her mouth shut when the character in question appears.
Jeremy Irons's guest appearance featured a skit in which Sherlock Holmes's friends try to throw a surprise party for him. Turns out they can't surprise the clever Holmes with anything!
They Killed Kenny Again: Mr. Bill, the little Play-Doh man who died a violent death in every sketch at the hands of...well, a giant pair of hands known as Mr. Hands!
Also Bobby Moynihan's character, Ass Dan, who, despite being dead since 2009, has been appearing in the Under Underground commercials alive and well, until they freeze-frame the shot and play funereal music as the caption: "Ass Dan 1981 - [whatever year he died. So far, he's died once in 2009, twice in 2010, twice in 2011, and once in 2012, so that's six times if you're keeping score at home].
Trash the Set: Some SNL sketches do end with a character laying waste to the cheap, flimsy sets and props on the show, most notably the sketches featuring Molly Shannon's neurotic Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher or Chris Farley's loud, obnoxious motivational speaker, Matt Foley.
Trolling Translator: In a 1987 sketch, Kevin Nealon plays a translator live-translating a joint press conference by Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev, but he doesn't speak Russian very well. To cover Nealon "translates" Gorbachev saying "I'm now going to start speaking in a very obscure Russian dialect that very few have ever heard of and it will be impossible for your translator to translate." (paraphrased.)
Vomit Indiscretion Shot: An infamous sketch where a murder victim is apparently so gruesome that all the cops/coroners/reporters/etc who see pictures vomit everywhere. It was later parodied on 30 Rock.
We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: Parodied on the banned TV Funhouse cartoon "Mediaopoly"; late in the song, after exposing many dark secrets about General Electric, a "technical difficulties" title card appears, implying GE censored the sketch. However, it's actually part of the sketch, since the chorus keeps singing afterwards. The singers even lampshade the fact that We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties is sometimes used as a cheap way to censor out anything that the sponsors or network may find controversial.
Word Association Test: The seventh episode of Season 1, hosted by Richard Pryor, had a sketch in which a prospective black employee (Pryor) is interviewed by a white boss (Chevy Chase). Everything goes normally until partway through the test, when Chase breaks out the black racial epithets. Pryor counters with white racial epithets, escalating to:
Interviewer: Jungle bunny!
Mr. Wilson: Honky!
Mr. Wilson: Honky honky!
Mr. Wilson:Dead honky!
(In the end, Pryor's character gets the job.)
It should be noted that this sketch was cited (by Tina Fey, on a Season 31 episode that aired on the same day Richard Pryor died) as the sketch that solidified SNL's reputation as the "edgy, outrageous late-night sketch show".
Xtreme Kool Letterz: Parodied in the "Z shirt" sketch from the episode hosted by Kevin Hart. The sketch is a commercial for the "Z-shirt" (which is just a T-shirt with the letter "Z" on it), and Hart's character keeps asking what kind of shirt it is, using every letter of the alphabet in order ("Is that an A-shirt?" "Is it a B-shirt?" etc.).