The most remarkable thing, however, was seeing the show in its infancy, trying to find the patterns we know today. These days, it chugs along like a train on the same track, the rhythms of the show and the style of the humor established both by tradition and by SNL’s influence over future generations of comics. Those trying out for the show today know exactly what an SNL sketch should look and sound like and they fit their act accordingly. When the show was just starting, the sketches were less topical and more absurd and surreal.
The first sketch ever featured [John] Belushi going to a tutor to learn English – except every sentence he has to repeat is something insane that has to do with wolverines. The premiere also showcased Andy Kaufman and his famous performance singing Mighty Mouse, where he stands next to a record player nervously and only lip syncs “Here I come to save the day”.
These are not things that we would see on today’s broadcast, which is much broader and focused more on well-known characters, repeatable franchises, political commentary and gags ripped from the headlines. Some things have become more refined, like the mock commercials, which are much funnier than one in the first episode about an arthritis drug with a child-proof cap.
...we see the DNA of the SNL we have today – possibly because it’s almost always been produced by Lorne Michaels. But it’s like a recipe a chef is still trying to master. He’s playing around with the ingredients, changing them and bringing them out in different proportions. Over time, he finds just the perfect combination and once he does, it calcifies for the rest of time, being served exactly the same way.
That’s what watching an old episode [of] Saturday Night Live is like: appreciating the perfection of the present but missing the messiness of the past. And knowing that, no matter what, everything will be a little bit sketchy.
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