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March 31, 2014 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Apropos of Louis C.K.'s low key no-frills "just a standup set" Saturday Night Live monologue, I'm curious. Are there other examples of SNL opening monologues that deviate from the expected pattern?

I'm referring to the typical SNL monologue style, where that week's guest attempts to give a monologue, but it's actually an extended meta-sketch where the SNL cast comes out onto the stage to interact in various ways with the monologue performer.

Rather than gin up a contrived monologue sketch, this week's SNL just had standup comedian host Louis C.K. just do his thing. And as expected, it was brilliant.

Are there other examples of standup comedian guest hosts using the monologue to their advantage in this way? Other unusual monologues? Has the SNL opening monologue always been a thing, and always in the "meta-monologue" style?
posted by Sara C. to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
In the first seasons of SNL the guest hosts that were comedians pretty much did a portion of their act and not much else. George Carlin's monologue from S1E1 is the canonical example. He slides into his classic "baseball vs. football" bit within 30 seconds.

This whole meta-host thing didn't pop up until the last decade or so, as far as I can remember.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:14 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Steve Martin hosted in 1991, and delivered his monologue in the form of a song about how he was "Not Gonna Phone It In Tonight".
posted by KatlaDragon at 10:17 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Here's Norm MacDonald using his whole monologue to talk about how he got fired from the show and was then asked to host it.
posted by sweetkid at 10:19 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


I stopped watching SNL in the late 90s, I think, and I always remember the monologue being an actual monologue, not a sketch. I watched the opening bit a few weeks ago and was weirded out by the other cast members all showing up during it. So yeah, that's a new-ish thing.
posted by jaguar at 10:23 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Steve Martin also deviated from the usual monologue here, after Gilda Radner died.
posted by scody at 10:28 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


There were definitely scene based opening monologues before just recently. I remember they had Clinton and W based ones during those presidencies. I think it usually just has to do with who the host is, and if they're a comedian if they want to do a monologue or want to do a character bit.

I can't find the reference but I think the first SNL after 9/11 just opened with Paul Simon playing "The Boxer."
posted by sweetkid at 10:30 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Here it is. It opened with Giuliani and the NYPD/NYFD and then went to Simon.
posted by sweetkid at 10:34 AM on March 31


Not very many honest-to-god stand-up comedians host SNL nowadays. Looking back through the last few seasons, I only found a couple--Russell Brand, Dane Cook (1,2), Zach Galifinakis (1,2). In each of these the hosts does what is essentially a stand-up routine.
posted by mullacc at 10:38 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


They've always skitted the monologue, just not every time. In fact, I'd say it's the less-strong hosts who do the robotic card-read, and even weaker ones have three lines in a monologue skit that is mostly the regular cast.
posted by rhizome at 10:40 AM on March 31


Yeah, the monologue-as-sketch thing has been going on forever. I remember being a kid and watching Mary Hartman lose her shit on stage and not realizing it was just a sketch.

Stand up comics, when they host, often just do stand-up. Zach Galifinakis did, and I think Martin Lawrence's infamous monologue was just a somewhat dirty stand-up act.
posted by bondcliff at 10:53 AM on March 31


I mainly watched the show in the early to mid 90s, and I seem to remember (although may be wrong) that the vast majority of monologues were of the meta-skit variety. I remember Teri Hatcher doing one, when she was still playing Lois Lane on "Lois & Clark." She started to give her monologue and various members of the cast would come up to congratulate her on what a good job she's doing, only they were wearing glasses so she didn't recognize them.

There was also one not long after Home Alone came out (1990?), when Macauley Culkin hosted. He comes out to do the monologue, only there's no audience, and no cast or crew. The scene changes to show that they all flew out to Paris to do the show there, forgetting the host and leaving him "home alone." Hijinks ensue.

I remember seeing a few regular monologues during this time. Martin Lawrence (which got him banned or censored), Jerry Seinfeld, and others that I can't think of at the moment.

It seems that if a comedian is hosting, they do a traditional, no-frills monologue. But if it's an actor, who likely does not have experience doing a stand-up comedy routine, then they do a skit.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 10:54 AM on March 31


Look at the 1999-2000 season. Only two stand-ups host--Jerry Seinfeld and Norm McDonald, who both do stand-up. Jamie Foxx is both a stand-up and an actor, but his appearance was just after Any Given Sunday, so I think he's in "actor mode." All the other hosts do a sketch or song or something like that.
posted by mullacc at 10:54 AM on March 31


I have a vague recollection that there was some sort of "incident" with a host during the opener, around mid-to late 80s, maybe early 90s? And after that, all the openers were extremely scripted and boring. Maybe someone else can remember what I'm thinking of?
posted by peep at 11:12 AM on March 31


peep, everything is explicitly scripted and blocked because there are precise timing needs to make sure the show finishes within its allotted time.
posted by mmascolino at 11:27 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Yes, even if the monologue is a basic stand up monologue, it's still scripted and rehearsed ahead of time. I don't think there was any huge scandal or change that made them change course at any time.
posted by sweetkid at 11:30 AM on March 31


I have a vague recollection that there was some sort of "incident" with a host during the opener, around mid-to late 80s, maybe early 90s? And after that, all the openers were extremely scripted and boring. Maybe someone else can remember what I'm thinking of?

You may be thinking of Martin Lawrence's infamous monologue, but that didn't result in a change in the show philosophy. It's always been extremely scripted.
posted by Etrigan at 11:42 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Are there other examples of standup comedian guest hosts using the monologue to their advantage in this way? Other unusual monologues?

Way back in the day the monologues were a little different and less routinized/scripted. Milton Berle hosted in 1979.
On April 14, 1979, Berle guest-hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live. Berle's long reputation for taking control of an entire television production—whether invited to do so or not—was a cause of stress on the set. One of the show's writers, Rosie Shuster, described the rehearsals for the Berle SNL show and the telecast as "watching a comedy train accident in slow motion on a loop." Upstaging, camera mugging, doing spit-takes, inserting old comedy bits, and climaxing the show with a maudlin performance of "September Song" complete with a pre-arranged standing ovation (something producer Lorne Michaels had never sanctioned) resulted in Berle being banned from hosting the show again. The episode was also barred from being rerun until surfacing in 2003, because Michaels thought it brought down the show's reputation.
His monologue went on so long there was some active attempt to get him to wrap it up. saw the episode recently, it was pretty interesting (and sometimes funny). Thanks to the internet you can now see the first ever monlogue from SNL featuring George Carlin. When Zack Galifiniakis hosted and did the Annie bit (second link) the whole Annie part didn't make it to Hulu because of copyright concerns (don't know if that's changed now or not).

Louise "Mary Hartman" Lasser was another notable bad monologue from the 70s. "On July 24, 1976, Lasser hosted Saturday Night Live at the end of the first season. Her performance is best known for her opening monologue in which she has a Mary Hartman-esque meltdown and locks herself in her dressing room. She is then coaxed out by Chevy Chase/Land Shark."
posted by jessamyn at 1:09 PM on March 31


Sam Kinison did a set of stand-up when he appeared on SNL in 1986. If I recall correctly, it wasn't during the opening monologue, but later in the show.
Before his appearance on Saturday Night Live in October 1986, the censors told him not to do his routines about the war on drugs and religion. Kinison, always the rebel, ignored their requests and did his act just as he originally wanted to. While the East Coast audience got to hear his comments, the NBC television network changed the program for its West Coast broadcast. Still, the remarks caused quite a stir, leading the show's producer Lorne Michaels to ban Kinison from Saturday Night Live. Michaels later reversed his decision after the network was inundated with letters and calls from Kinison supporters.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:16 PM on March 31


Now I'm wondering if the Lasser thing was a bit, but folks seem to not think it was....
posted by jessamyn at 2:00 PM on March 31


My formative SNL years were in the 90s, and I also remember the monologue being an actual monologue. But I also remember it not being an obvious stand-up bit, like Louis C.K.'s or George Carlin's.

I watched the first season on Netflix not too long ago, and all three styles were there from the beginning (as well as a few episodes that simply didn't have a monologue)
posted by ckape at 2:25 PM on March 31


(as well as a few episodes that simply didn't have a monologue)

Ah, now that's a move I'd like to see them reinstate.
posted by rhizome at 2:34 PM on March 31


... I also remember the monologue [in the 90s] being an actual monologue. But I also remember it not being an obvious stand-up bit, like Louis C.K.'s or George Carlin's.

If you look at the list of guest hosts in the 1990s, there weren't a lot of standup comedians. Standup comedy was saturating American TV by that point in time and SNL was too large to be a breakout show for a rising comedian (like Steve Martin in the 70s). Young comedians were slotted to Letterman, Carson/Leno, or cable TV.

Most of the hosts were actors (especially comedic movie actors) plugging their new film that just came out. The writers gave them a monologue of funny topical comedy, but it was nothing they would perform on a film or TV show by themselves.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:43 PM on March 31


I have a vague recollection that there was some sort of "incident" with a host during the opener, around mid-to late 80s, maybe early 90s?
You might also be thinking of 1977 musical guest Elvis Costello.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:21 PM on March 31


Now I'm wondering if the Lasser thing was a bit, but folks seem to not think it was....

Did the visit from the landshark not give it away?
posted by bondcliff at 4:27 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


Now I'm wondering if the Lasser thing was a bit, but folks seem to not think it was....

Did the visit from the landshark not give it away?


According to the SNL Wiki, it was at least somewhat grounded in fact:
Lasser was said to be going through personal problems at the time and was often nearly incoherent throughout the broadcast. She refused to appear in any sketches unless she was in them alone, or if her only costar was Chevy Chase.... This episode was such a disappointment to producer Lorne Michaels that it was also not repeated on NBC, although it has appeared in syndication since 1981.
posted by Etrigan at 4:36 PM on March 31


So the thing I was remembering WAS the Martin Lawrence thing. I guess scripted is not what I meant; I realize they are all scripted. But my memory of 80s SNL openers was that they were MONOLOGUES. After the Martin Lawrence thing, it seems like there was a move to "bits", where the host hardly talks or is basically a straight man for members of the audience (i.e. the regular cast members). I was young, though, so I probably have a narrow memory of what was actually happening.
posted by peep at 9:45 AM on April 2


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