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 Goodman, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin (who broke Steve Martin's record of most SNL episodes ever hosted in 2011), Christopher Walken, and Justin Timberlake. 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.
Notable SNL Cast Members
Tina Fey: the first woman head writer on SNL (and the one who proved that women SNL cast members can be just as funny as the men, though there have been other women cast members before her that did the same, such as Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, and Melanie Hutsell, though most of them either didn't make much of an impact on audiences or they were only funny because they were paired with gentlemen cast members. Jan Hooks was paired with Phil Hartman and Victoria Jackson was paired with Dennis Miller). She holds the record for the longest running Weekend Update anchorwoman on SNL (though Seth Meyers will most likely break the overall record, Fey will still be considered the longest-running woman Weekend Update anchor).
Harry Shearer: the only cast member to be such for two non-consecutive seasons (1979-80 note season 5 and 1984-85 note season 10), making him the Grover Cleveland of SNL. Also the only cast member to be a regular cast member on another long-running American comedy show that heavily influenced modern pop culture, is considered a goldmine of modern satire and memorable catchphrases, memes, and comic moments, and whose humor and quality has been called into question in pretty much every year it's run (specifically the recent episodes) — The Simpsonsnote (Phil Hartman, while a memorable and endearing cast member of both SNL and The Simpsons, doesn't count since he wasn't credited as a regular on The Simpsons.)
Terry Sweeney: As of 2012, Sweeney is the only male homosexual cast member ever hired, as well as the first openly gay cast member to be hired (his lover is Lanier Laney, who, coincidentally, is Terry Sweeney's comedy writing partner. The two are often credited together as seen in Tripping the Rift and The WB!'s short-lived sketch show, Hype) and one of two cast members who used to be writers for Jean Doumanian's abysmal sixth season (the other was Bill Murray's brother, Brian Doyle-Murray).
Abby Elliott, the first (and so far only) cast member who is the child of another cast member (her father is Chris Elliott, who was on Saturday Night Live during its 20th season [1994-1995]). Chris' own father was Bob Elliott of Bob & Ray (who appeared on a Christmas episode of SNL in 1978), making it three generations of Elliotts who have appeared on the show in some capacity. Elliott was also the youngest female cast member in the show's history (21 and five months when she first appeared as a cast member in 2009), beating out Julia Louis-Dreyfus (21 and eight months when she first came on the show in 1982). Her departure from the show in 2012 makes her the only member of the Elliott family who has been on SNL the longest (her grandfather cameoed in one episode and her father was on the show for a season — and the season he was on was deemed by many to not be very good), with four years (2008 to 2012) under her belt.
Seth Meyers, the only cast member to have a family member who was on a rival show (Josh Meyers, his younger brother, was on MA Dtv for the show's eighth and ninth seasons). Meyers is now the longest-running male cast member on the show following Darrell Hammond's departure in 2009 (Meyers has been on the show since 2001, but he didn't become popular until he replaced Tina Fey as Weekend Update anchor). Meyers has now beaten Dennis Miller as longest-running Weekend Update anchor (and is the second Weekend Update anchor after Charles Rocket to do Weekend Update with a female partner and by himself).
Jeff Richards, the first cast member who was also a MADtv cast member (Richards was on MADtv from 2000-01, then left for SNL and stayed on there from 2001 to the middle of the 2003-04 season).
As of 2010, another former MADtv cast member has been hired on SNL — Taran Killam, one in a long string of feature players who were on MADtv for one to two seasons and rarely got any screentime (outside of a music video or movie trailer parody).
Killam is also the second SNL cast member who got his start on a Nickelodeon sketch show (for Killam, that would be All That's spin-off, The Amanda Show).
Eddie Murphy, the first black SNL cast member to be famous, the youngest black male cast member to be hired (Murphy was only 19 when he joined the 1980-1981 cast) and the only host to host an episode while still a cast member note also the only Jean Doumanian cast member to ever host an episode, the only black cast member Dick Ebersol ever hired, the only black Dick Ebersol cast member to host an episode, and one of four Dick Ebersol cast members to host an episode, joining Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Julia-Louis Dreyfus — specifically the December 11, 1982 show that was supposed to be helmed by Nick Nolte, but Nolte was too hungover from partying to make it to rehearsals, so Murphy took over...much to the shock and anger of the cast, who felt that Eddie Murphy was overtaking the show. Eddie Murphy was also the first SNL cast member to be nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy series. Murphy was nominated in 1983 and lost to Christopher Lloyd for his work as Reverend Jim on the sitcom Taxi.
The only other cast member to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy and lose it to a sitcom actor is Bill Hader, who was nominated in 2011 for his work on the season 37 episode hosted by Katy Perry and lost to Eric Stonestreet for his work as Cameron Tucker on Modern Family.
Michael McKean, the oldest person to be hired as a cast member (he was 46 years old when he first joined the cast near the end of the 19th season).
Darrell Hammond, the cast member with the most celebrity impersonations (107, with Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, most of George W. Bush's Cabinet [particularly Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney], Hardball host Chris Matthews, and Sean Connery as his most frequent and most popular)note As of 2013, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Kenan Thompson have the highest number of celebrity impressions — Armisen has 98, Thompson has 97, Hader has 80, and Sudeikis has 75, the last cast member hired in the 1990s to leave the show (Hammond left at the end of Season 34), the oldest cast member to leave the show (Hammond was 55 when he left the show), and the longest-running white male cast member at 14 seasons.
Billy Crystal, one of two cast members who hosted prior to being cast on the show (the other was McKean, who also holds the distinction of being the only cast member to host and be a musical guest before becoming a cast member).
Rob Riggle, the only member of the U.S. Marine Corps to be a cast member. Also the third former cast member to become a correspondent on The Daily Show, joining A. Whitney Brownnote A feature player who first appeared on the 1985-1986 season and Nancy Wallsnote Nancy Walls was on the show during the 21st season — 1995-1996, and was let go in favor of Ana Gasteyer. Is married to Steve Carell, who auditioned to be on SNL, but got passed up in favor of Will Ferrell.
Tim Meadows, the longest-serving black male cast member (1990-2000). He wasn't that popular in his early years on the show, but became popular in the mid-to-late 1990s when Lorne fired most of the season 20 cast and revamped the show for season 21. As of 2012, Meadows is now tied with Kenan Thompson for longest-serving black male cast member.
Tony Rosato, Pamela Stephenson, Morwenna Banks, Horatio Sanz, and Nasim Pedrad are the only cast members to be born outside of North Americanote "North America" meaning the United States, Canada, and Mexico. SNL has had a lot of American-born and Canadian-born cast members (Rosato was born in Italy before his parents emigrated to Canada, Stephenson was born in New Zealand and is now an Australian citizen, Banks was originally from England and moved back there after getting fired from SNL, Sanz was born in Chile, and Nasim Pedrad was originally from Iran).
Tony Rosato and Robin Duke are also the first former cast members of SCTV to be on Saturday Night Live (though the SCTV cast member who crossed over to SNL most people would remember is Martin Short, as he brought his Ed Grimley character from SCTV to SNL. Short is also the only cast member whose recurring character has his own Saturday morning cartoon: The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley and, as of December 2012, is the only Dick Ebersol-era cast member to host more than twice).
Danitra Vance (a little-known cast member from the same cast as Terry Sweeney [1985-1986]) is not only the first black female cast member who was hired as a repertory player (Yvonne Hudson is technically the first black female cast member ever to be hired on SNL, but Hudson was only hired as a feature player — during Jean Doumanian's notoriously bad sixth season — and not much is known about her either, besides the fact that she was on SNL), but also the only SNL cast member who had a learning disability (she was dyslexic), the only black female SNL cast member who is deceased (Vance died of breast cancer in 1994), and the first female cast member who was a lesbian (though her sexual preference wasn't made known until after she died).
As of April 2012, SNL, for the first time in 27 years, has hired a cast member who, like Terry Sweeney, is openly gay, and like Danitra Vance, is a lesbian. Her name is Kate McKinnon. Like Erica Ash on MA Dtv's 14th season, McKinnon got her sketch comedy start on Logo's The Big Gay Sketch Show.
Joan Cusack (from the 1985-1986 season) and Kristen Wiig are the only female cast members to be nominated for Academy Awards; Cusack, twice (for Best Supporting Actress in Working Girl and In & Out), and Wiig, once (for Best Original Screenplay, as the co-writer of Bridesmaids).
Jason Sudeikis and Paul Brittain: Both are nephews to two sitcom actors who have hosted the show more than once. Jason Sudeikis's uncle is George Wendt (Norm from Cheers), who first hosted during the 1985-1986 season note on a bizarre, fourth wall-breaking episode that had Francis Ford Coppola trying to fix the show and a musical performance by Phillip Glass and made frequent appearances in the 1990s as one of Bob Swerski's "Super Fans"; Paul Brittain is the nephew of Bob Newhart, who first hosted during the 1979-1980 season note The fifth season and the last season featuring the remnants of the original cast — and Harry Shearer before he became a cast member on The Simpsons and hosted again during the notoriously awful 20th season.
Al Franken: The first — and so far only — SNL cast member who is now a U.S. Senator.
Christopher Guest (from the 1984-1985 season — season 10): Is the only SNL cast member who is a member of British nobility (his real title is, "Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest," or "Lord Haden-Guest" for short).
Brad Hall and Julia-Louis Dreyfus: The only SNL cast members to be married to each other.
Rich Hall (no relation to Brad or Anthony Michael): The only cast member from Fridaysnote ABC's answer to Saturday Night Live that lasted from 1980 to 1982, though Rich Hall wasn't credited as a cast member on Fridays. He, like Michael O'Donoghue on SNL, was a writer who often appeared on-camera performing bits that he wrote himself to be a cast member on SNL.
John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Danitra Vance, Michael O Donoghue, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Charles Rocket, and Tom Davis: These eight are the only SNL cast members who, as of 2012, are dead. John Belushi and Chris Farley died from drug overdoses (they were both done in by a speedballnote a mixture of cocaine and heroin), Gilda Radnernote from the first five years, Danitra Vancenote from Lorne Michaels' return cast in 1985; is the first black female repertory player and the first lesbian cast member hired and Tom Davisnote writing partner of Al Franken and a featured player from 1977-1980. One of the show's original writers who still made occasional contributions in the 1990s and 2000s died of cancer (Gilda had ovarian cancer; Danitra had breast cancer; Tom had neck and throat cancer), Michael O'Donoghue note Not officially a cast member despite being credited as one in the first season, but was an integral part in setting up SNL's warped humor and sometimes appeared in sketches — even having a recurring sketch called "Mr. Mike's Least-Loved Bedtime Stories" died of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by years of migraine headaches, Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife, Brynn note His wife, Brynn, actually appeared in the opening credits of some of the early 1990s episodes. She's the woman sitting next to Hartman at a diner table with her back to the camera with the swinging earring, and Charles Rocket was found dead in his yard with a slashed throat, which police ruled as a suicide after they found the box cutters he used to cut himself.
Conversely, there are a handful of SNL cast members who almost died, but didn't:
Joe Piscopo and Julia Sweeney survived cancer (Julia Sweeney's brush with uterine cancer is covered on her tragicomic stage special "God Said, 'Ha!'")
Molly Shannon (when she was a baby) was the sole survivor of a car crash that took the lives of her mom, her cousin, and her sister
Vanessa Bayer (one of the current-era players) is a leukemia survivor (also happened when she was a kid)
Garrett Morris (from the original 1970s cast) survived getting shot during a robbery in the early 1990s.
From the 2012-2013 crop of feature players, we have:
Aidy Bryant, the first plus-sized female cast membernote meaning that SNL finally has a fat woman to play fat women in sketches and not have to compensate by putting the token fat guy — in this case for the current cast, Bobby Moynihan — in drag, though the "fat guy dressed as a woman" schtick will always be the funny option the show takes, and possibly the one least fraught with complaints of sexism and making fun of people based on their weight, and the new youngest member of the current cast (Aidy Bryant was born in May 1987, making her a month older than the previous youngest female cast member Abby Elliott).
Cecily Strong, the show's first Hispanic female cast member, and the third Hispanic cast member hired overall (after the Chilean Horatio Sanz and the partially-Venezuelan Fred Armisen).
Tim Robinson, the third member of the current cast (after Bill Hader and Taran Killam) to be married with children, and the fourth male member of the current cast to be married (joining Bill Hader, Taran Killam, and Kenan Thompson [Thompson is married, but doesn't have children]).
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 (who later hosted an episode of the NBC SNL in 1985).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 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.")
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, 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 with 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.
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.
Brainless Beauty: Cecily Strong's Weekend Update character "The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At a Party".
Broadcast Live: From New York (only on the Eastern and Central timezones, tape delayed for all others).
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).
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.
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.
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. 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.
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, Boby Moynihan as Snooki from Jersey Shore, and Fred Armisen as Governor David Patersen 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!"
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.
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.
Dawson Casting: Many sketches in which the cast members play teens or children (usually if they're making fun of a live-action kids' show or have a sketch featuring a family with kids or a sketch about kids causing trouble of some kind). Obviously unavoidable, but it has become prevalent in latter-day seasons where most of the cast members currently hired were born after SNL premiered in 1975 (starting with Kenan Thompson).
Deal with the Devil: In "Anatominals", 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.
Deconstructive Parody: 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 "Laser Cats" sketch is a particularly interesting example. Though it never mentions any actual properties, it manages to be a spot-on parody of Gundam Wing (an overly dramatic story full of grandiose speeches about war and justice wrapped clumsily around a cartoony, Merchandise Driven concept).
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.
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".
Fridays, despite being panned by critics for being a less funny carbon copy of SNL, did manage to find success with audiences when SNL was struggling with its 1980-81 cast. It was cited by critics as the only sketch show that, if not for getting screwed over by ABC, could have kicked "SNL"'s butt in the ratings and with audiences who felt that SNL wasn't the satirical powerhouse everyone else thought it was. Unfortunately, Fridays ended up suffering from a timeslot change and a failed attempt at trying to beat Dallas in the ratings as a primetime sketch show. It was canceled after its second season and no episodes have been released on home video or DVD. It was rerun on the USA Network for a time, but all the episodes were 60-minute cuts and the show hasn't been seen in syndication since the late 1980s. Some sketches do appear on YouTube (even the banned sketch, "Diner of the Living Dead"), but no full episodes.
SCTV Network 90 ended due to cast exhaustion.
In Living Color was Screwed by the Network from Executive Meddling over censorship and eventually died of seasonal rot when the Wayans siblings left and Jim Carrey pursued a movie career. A revival was planned for 2012, but due to negative test audience reactions, it's been shelved until the show can be fixed, the project is scrapped, or another network decides to pick it up and air it.
House of Buggin, Saturday Night Special, and Hype weren't received warmly by critics and ended up being canceled as quickly as they premiered.
MA Dtv — serving 14 years as SNL's worthiest late-night sketch show rival — was canned in 2009 due to low ratings and issues with the show's budget. There was word of MADtv coming back as a cable show, but, unless one were to count the Cartoon Network sketch show MAD and Comedy Central's Key And Peele, the show is gone for good.
Almost Live lasted 15 years and kickstarted BillNye's television career, but got cancelled as ratings dropped heavily in later years, and a new company bought the hosting station in Seattle.
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, 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 had come 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).
Edited for Syndication: Sometimes the 90-minute NBC reruns will either have sketches or segments edited out due to a current event that turned the sketch into a "Funny Aneurysm" Momentnote (a rerun of the episode hosted by Blake Lively cut the Weekend Update segment where Abby Elliot impersonates Brittany Murphy due to Murphy's sudden death fifteen days after the episode's premiere) or censorship complaints note (i.e. the Sinead O'Connor incident on the Season 18 episode hosted by Tim Robbins; Martin Lawrence's raunchy monologue from Season 19 was shortened and replaced with a series of cards telling viewers that his monologue was so controversial that it almost got everyone on SNL fired and it can never air on TV again). Other times, parts will be edited (or replaced with dress rehearsal versions) because of miscues, accidental use of the F-(or S-)word, or just the simple fact that the dress rehearsal version was done better (and includes funnier jokes that were either botched on-camera or omitted due to time constraints).
SNL when shown in syndication on cable (Comedy Central, E!, VH-1, and VH-1 Classic) are all cut down to an hour, trimming out all the sketches and Weekend Update jokes that are considered weak and paring down the musical performances to one (though some also cut the musical performances, like the Lucy Lawless episode from season 24 that doesn't have Elliott Smith's sole performance). The NBC reruns of the season 38 episodes that air at 10:00pm (eastern time) are shown the same way.
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) had great fun with this. One sketch revealed the monster had a completely articulate Evil Twin played by Mel Gibson.
Hypothetical Fight Debate: In the recurring sketch "The Superfans", the guys 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.
On the Seth MacFarlane 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."
Keep Circulating the Tapes: It's been speculated that the episodes produced by Jean Doumanian and Dick Ebersol (which span from November 1980 to April 1985note That's from the first episode of season six to the last episode of season 10 will never be commercially released on DVD, beyond the use of occasional clips in documentaries on SNL's rocky history during the first half of the 1980s. The reasoning for this varies from rights issues (usually related to musical guests) to a direct decision by Lorne Michaels not to release shows he himself didn't produce (and audience reaction to those seasons, which range from outright hate to a lukewarm love).
Netflix has all the episodes of SNL from season's one to 37 (with season 38 sure to follow), though the episodes included in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s collections are edited to remove musical performances, sketches and Weekend Update segments that weren't very funny or had copyright issues. As a result the episodes can be cut down to anywhere from 15 minutes (the second time Kathleen Turner hosted during season 15 is so short, it only has her monologue, Weekend Update with Dennis Miller, and the Curtain Call) to nearly an hour.
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 one to 28), this is the secret to the show's longevity (that, and NBC calling a mulligan on season six and season 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 MA Dtv, 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.
Missing Episode: In its 38 years, there have been times where the show was put on hiatus due to the Writers' Guild of America going on strike (specifically in 1981, 1985, 1988, and 2007-08). Because of this, a lot of planned episodes were never written — or were written but never performed. One particularly sad example is a planned 1988 episode that was supposed to be hosted by Gilda Radner from the original "Not Ready for Primetime Players" cast. Sadly, because of the strike and Radner's death from ovarian cancer, this episode has never been made and never will be.
One missing episode that was actually produced was Chevy Chase/Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, which aired in April 1981. Originally intended to start the revised second half of season 6 (after Jean Doumanian was replaced by Dick Ebersol, and a number of her cast members were fired), a writer's strike cut the season short. This episode has gone unseen in its original form since 1981. Its lone Comedy Central airing was heavily re-edited, and contained material from other season 6 episodes in place of a few original sketches.
For reasons unknown, the season 27 episode hosted by Alec Baldwin with musical guest P.O.D. only aired once. Some of the sketches from that episode were seen, however, on the SNL clip show episode, "The Best of Alec Baldwin."
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: In one sketch, Dan Aykroyd plays Irwin Mainway, a corrupt salesman who 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 and a bag of broken glass. More Hilarity Ensues when he then tries to "prove" that other safe toys are extremely unsafe.
Old Shame: The 12 episodes produced by Jean Doumanian during the 1980-81 season has been barred from syndication (in America, barring the Bill Murray episode that aired on Comedy Central in the 1990s and the Jamie Lee Curtis episode that aired on NBC in 2005; Canada's Comedy Network has aired all of Jean Doumanian's episodes) in America due to how poorly it was received by...just about everyone.
Season 11 (the 1985-1986 season) is also a season everyone would like to forget, most especially for the writers at the time (who would go on to write for The Simpsons) who simply didn't know how to create funny material for the cast hired at the time.
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. Mickey Mouse argues that you have to take the bad with the good.
The Other Darrin: When cast members leave, they take their famous celebrity impersonations with them. When that happens, sometimes SNL will either find a replacement or just forget about it and move on. Some examples:
When Will Ferrell left the show in 2002, he took his George W. Bush impersonation with him. Because of this, four other cast members had to play Dubya (Darrell Hammond, Chris Parnell, Will Forte (who has probably played him more often than the others), and Jason Sudeikis).
When short-lived feature player Michaela Watkins left after Season 34, Jenny Slate (a then-newly-hired feature player) was chosen to play Hoda Kotb for the Today Show sketches. With Jenny Slate gone, Nasim Pedrad picked up the role.
When Ana Gasteyer left at the end of Season 27, her Martha Stewart impression was played by Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Kristen Wiig, and Kate Mc Kinnon.
And also by David Spade in his 2nd time hosting.
A sketch in which Chinese president Hu Jintao asks Barack Obama (Fred Armisen) to violate him to settle the nation's debt. Thing is, this was a retread from a similarly-plotted season 35 cold opening sketch. The actor who played Hu Jintao in the Season 35 version of the sketch (Will Forte) is no longer a cast member in Season 36. In the Season 36 version, Bill Hader is now Hu Jintao.
Phil Hartman and Darrell Hammond both played Bill Clinton and, while Hammond held onto the role longer than Hartman, both impersonations are remembered fondly.
This was even lampshaded by the show. The first sketch of the first post-Hartman SNL was a sketch where the various cast members tried out for the new Clinton role.
In season 38, Jay Pharoah took over the role of Barack Obama, although Fred Armisen is still a cast member (though Armisen, along with Bill Hader, has announced that he was leaving after season 38, leaving Pharoah as the new Obama). This does, however, avert the Unfortunate Implications of having an actor who wasn't black (but had mixed ethnicity — just not the one that matched Obama's) play Obama. The show didn't have a lanky black cast member in 2008 and, what's worse, they passed up on Jordan Peelenote who, coincidentally, now plays Obama on his own show: Key And Peele and Donald Glover, who did audition to play Obama when Lorne was looking for new cast members while his show was on hiatus from the Writers Guild strike of 2007-2008.
In another peculiar example, a Funny Or Die sketch directed by Ron Howard featured President Obama (Armisen) getting visited by all of his predecessors that would have been in office from SNL's inception to the present (Gerald Ford to George W. Bush). In it, just about every President is played by the SNL cast member most associated with the role (Chevy Chase as Ford, Dan Aykroyd a Jimmy Carter, Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush, Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton, and Will Ferrell as George W. Bush) The only exception to this is Ronald Reagan, as Phil Hartman had died a decade before the sketch was filmed and Charles Rocket (who also played Reagan during the sixth season) killed himself in 2005. Jim Carrey ended up taking his place.
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).
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).
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).
Sketch Comedy: Not the first of its kind, but definitely one of the most popular.
The December 17, 1977 episode hosted by an old woman named Miskell Spillman 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.
Spoofed With Their Own Words: It had a famous skit about Sarah Palin during the 2008 U.S. presidential race. The skit 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.
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.
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.
Throw It In: Being always LIVE leaves a lot of things improvised on the set, often with the actors cracking up.
A famous one being a simple costume change for the "More Cowbell" sketch. During rehearsals the cast admitted it wasn't really working out, then for the live performance Will Ferrell changed his shirt to something about two sizes too small and everything just snowballed from there.
Another famous one from the 1970s — Gilda Radner and episode host Candice Bergen are in this sketch that's really a public service announcement for the Right to Stupidity. Bergen accidentally calls Radner "Fern", which is Bergen's character's name. After much cracking up, Gilda flips the sketch around so that way Bergen's character's the stupid one and not her.
On the episode hosted by Jason Lee, there was a "Falconer" sketch where a landowner (Lee) appears and calls Forte's character (the Falconer) a "dickhead" instead of a "dickweed". While Lee corrects himself, Forte ad-libs that he is neither a dickweed or a dickhead. The fact that this was done without anyone cracking up is nothing short of amazing.
In a sketch entitled Black History Minute, Eddie Murphy was playing an Angry Black Man giving a hectoring monologue to the camera. At one point he stumbled over some words, and a couple of audience members tittered. Without breaking character, he addressed the crowd: "So I messed up. Shut up!"
During a Scorpion King sketch with The Rock, he accidentally skipped several lines. However, having made his name with his ability with a microphone on live TV, he kept his cool and somehow seamlessly linked his lines back together, then told the audience, "Don't worry, I've got this!"
In the infamous first Matt Foley sketch with Chris Farley, near the end Matt tumbles over and breaks the table. This was purely accidental; Farley tripped and crashed into the table, and it went from there, thankfully managing to continue the sketch uninterrupted. The moment was so memorable though that most later Foley sketches had the character crashing into walls or breaking the furniture.
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.
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".
Write Who You Know: A lot of SNL's recurring characters are actually based on people that either the writers or the cast members have encountered in life:
Jay Pharoah's Principal Frye, a senile, wheezing high school principal who constantly interrupts assemblies with news of some kind of disaster happening at the school, is actually based on the principal from Pharoah's high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. The only thing that's changed is the name: the principal's name in real life is James while the character Jay Pharoah plays is named Daniel.
Bill Hader's Stefon character is actually based on two people: a club promoter John Mulaney (the writer behind the Stefon segments on Weekend Update) met while in New York, and a barista Bill Hader met who actually looked, dressed, and spoke like Stefon. This is one of the weirder examples of this trope because it doesn't seem like something that anyone would immediately believe (unless you live in New York City and see this on a regular basis).
Julia Sweeney's adrogynous Pat character was actually based on a woman Julia saw who looked so much like a man that Sweeney questioned her gender.
One of Kristen Wiig's characters was "Aunt Linda", who appeared on Weekend Update to review/complain about new movies. Kristen Wiig got the idea for the character from a woman she saw on a airplane, who was very confused by the in-flight movie (The Matrix, in case you were wondering) and very vocal about her confusion.
Mike Meyers' recurring sketch Coffee Talk With Linda Richman was based on his mother-in-law, Linda Richman.