Forty years is a long time. It’s a seemingly impossible feat for any television show to dream of 10 seasons, let alone four times that number. Yet “SNL” has done it. This weekend, Lorne Michaels and his gang of merry improv actors will celebrate the unprecedented accomplishment with a three-hour special (on Sunday night, for some reason). We’ll undoubtedly revisit fan favorites and classic characters, but there are some under-the-radar sketches deserving of just as much love — if not from them, than from us. Below we’ve chosen 12 of our favorite forgotten sketches from “SNL’s” lengthy run. Devout fans may remember some, but many may have long forgotten these gems. Here’s hoping it won’t happen again.
“John Belushi & Joe Cocker”
October 2, 1976 — Sometimes all you need for a great sketch is commitment and timing. Here, John Belushi adds to those key ingredients an incredible talent for mimicry and his consistent attention-demanding charisma. The late, great “SNL” vet was gaining a reputation for his musical talents when this sketch aired in the fall of 1976, as The Blues Brothers were about to break out and Belushi had already performed a number of successful sketches in the series debut season a year earlier. Here, Belushi was so convincing with his vocal performance, Cocker thought he was lip-synching to a prerecorded track from Cocker himself. In reality, it’s all John, just as it always was.
“Black Perspective with Fran Tarkenton”
January 29, 1977 — Try as we might, Indiewire couldn’t come up with a video of this sketch. The selection above is from another interpretation of the Garrett Morris-hosted bit, provided to give you an idea of what the true forgotten gem might have looked like. You can read the real thing for yourself right here, and — as dull as that may sound — we’re betting it’s still the funniest, sharpest and most daring “SNL” sketch you’ve experienced in a long, long while. Now, please, NBC: put this clip online!
“The Judy Miller Show”
October 29, 1977 — Original “SNL” cast member Gilda Radner had a genius for creating eccentric but infinitely lovable characters and should have gone onto mega-stardom alongside Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and her other contemporaries. Though her life was cut tragically short by cancer, many of her performances have stood the test of time, and characters like “Baba Wawa” and “Rosanne Roseannadanna” have endured in the cultural consciousness. My favorite, however, was always Judy Miller, a hyper-active schoolgirl cooped up all by herself in her room where she is just. So. Bored! Miller does what so many only children do: she puts on a show for herself, The Judy Miller Show. This is the ultimate showcase of Radner’s talents. She is the only person in the whole sketch, but manages to create a character and world that feel real, funny, and anything but boring. “SNL” alum Amy Poehler wrote in her recent memoir that the Miller character was the inspiration for Poehler’s “Kaitlin,” another loud an energetic kid. The Miller — and Radner — legacy lives on!
“Larry the Lobster”
“Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall’s Book Review”
April 12, 1986 — Two promising young stars sat down at the Weekend Update desk with one purpose in mind: to share their thoughts on a book by one of our great modern writers. Their take on the material, however, proved a bit… young. Seen by many as a nadir of the show during some of its darker years, this sketch won our hearts largely by how fully it embraced the immaturity of the bit (coupled with Dennis MIller’s dry final word on the subject). Boys will be boys, is perhaps the lesson, even if they’re cast members on “Saturday Night Live.”
“Il Cantore Restaurant”
October 12, 1991 — Many “SNL” sketches are made or broken by the central premise. If it’s too complicated, an audience can get lost. But if it’s too simple, they can get ahead of it and get bored only a few seconds in, making recovery nearly impossible. “Il Cantore Restaurant” walks the line perfectly, utilizing a talented cast and a game host in Kristie Alley — who should receive eternal accolades for not breaking — to draw the most laughs from an escalating bit. A bonus: Chris Farley’s brash screaming to close things out, which inexplicably works.
“Phillip the Hyper Hypo”
November 20, 1993 — As we’ve already mentioned on this list, adults acting like children is nothing new to “SNL” (or comedy in general). To pull it off, performers must be able to not only inhabit the proper mindset, but also create a character who’s not easily exhausted. In other words, they can’t be annoying. Mike Myers has invented enough characters over the years to make a perfect batting average impossible (even for his films), but he understands these principles better than most. It turns out, so does Nicole Kidman, and thus the pair makes for an unlikely dynamic duo in what’s one of the best sketches of “SNL’s” heyday. “I love you, you know” perfectly encapsulates our feelings for this sketch.
Next: The 2000s
“Lorne & Tom In A Tub: Rubber Duck”
November 18, 2001 — Remember in the mid ’90s when Tom Green was a super influential comedian? I’m not being facetious. At the height of his career, Green not only hosted “SNL” but lent the episode his particular comedic sensibility, one of the few hosts ever to do so. He pretends to marry Drew Barrymore on stage and takes a bath with Lorne Michaels. There are a few “Lorne & Tom In A Tub” bits sprinkled throughout the episode, but by far the strangest is “Rubber Duck.” As Michaels sips a juice box, Green plays with a rubber duck. That’s the whole thing. Michaels calls it “funny,” and it, weirdly, kind of is. It’s one of those bizarre laugh-til-you-pee or hate-it-with-a-fiery passion comedy moments that could only have happened on “SNL.” If it aired today, the images would have been meme’d to death by Monday. Instead, it’s a semi-forgotten footnote on the oddity that was Green. The biggest takeaway from this clip, though, is that Lorne is such a trooper.
“Jake Gyllenhaal’s Opening Monologue”
January 13, 2007 — Honestly, we just can’t believe Jake Gyllenhaal can hit that high note, let alone hold it for so long. Say what you will about the “Brokeback Mountain” star’s vocal performance throughout his surprise rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls” — we believe he found the ideal chord that’s both sonically appealing but still humorous — but no one can deny his commitment to the silly, next-level premise. Plus, it’s hard to imagine a funnier image than what Will Forte looks like grabbing his cowboy hat in astonishment. We’re betting he didn’t even have to fake it (much).
May 9, 2009 — Justin Timberlake’s been at the heart of a lot of iconic “SNL” moments, but this sketch, about his ancestor Cornelius Timberlake dreaming big about the future, often goes overlooked despite its truly genius meta moments. Cornelius’s tale of how his great-great-grandson may earn millions of dollars, the virginity of Britney Spears and the adoration of all via “popular song” is full of hilarious truths and insights into Timberlake as both a comedian — and a person.
December 12, 2009 — “Twilight” star Taylor Lautner will likely not be remembered by history as a great comedic actor… Or as a great actor of any kind. But when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2009, he was game for a totally ridiculous sketch that ended up nailing not just the absurdity of “Twilight’s” crazed fanbase, but the meaninglessness of “Team Edward” versus “Team Jacob.” There aren’t many young men who are game for this level of self-parody, but Lautner proved himself to be extremely self-assured. The guy who plays Jacob does deserve an Oscar for those abs, Taylor. We believe it.
Jan 30, 2010 — This sketch is just flat-out weird, in the best way possible. A pretty cut-and-dry parody of “Thinner” and other high-concept Stephen King horror tales gets an absurdist edge when Jon Hamm literally smashes into the scene. Some of this sketch’s beats are maybe a bit predictable, but there’s nothing expected about the intense perfect swivel of Jon Hamm’s hips. (Runner-up sketch, from the same night: Jon Hamm and Michael Buble team up to start a restaurant! What could possibly go wrong?)
“Women of ‘SNL’: Real Housewives Opening”
November 1, 2010 — Maybe we’re crazy. Maybe everyone knows of this mere four-and-a-half year old sketch. Maybe it’s as iconic as any other, with such a dream assembly of stars. But no one in the Indiewire office was familiar with the special edition of “SNL” known as “The Women of ‘SNL’,” let alone its opening riff on the “Real Housewives” TV franchise. Bringing together Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rachel Dratch and many more of your favorite “SNL” ladies, the only issue with this nearly eight-minute opener is that it’s not longer. Pardon us while we dig for more treasure from this overlooked — at least on our part — event.
September 16, 2012 — Clocking in at just under a minute and airing around 1am, “Wooden Spoons” has a premise so simple you can almost see the writer’s working it out. Two Amish brothers (Elijah and Ezekiel Yodah) make a rudimentary commercial for their business selling wooden spoons online. Host Seth MacFarlane does almost all of the talking, while then-featured-player Tim Robinson (who left the cast to write for the show full time) holds props and looks sufficiently goofy (and Amish). There is no edge, irony, satire, crazy character or second level in this sketch. It’s just a man naming letters by describing snakes. And it’s brilliant.