This week, Saturday Night Live kicks off its 38th season and another year of not being funny for the past 20 years. SNL refuses to die, no matter how much hate monopolizes the audience’s love-hate relationship with Lorne Michaels’ sketch comedy mainstay. In that sense, it’s an encouraging analogy for fraught relationships and their pesky ebbs and flows.
It used to be that watching SNL implied a lack of weekend romantic options (unless it acted as a soundtrack to coitus). DVR has made the show a less solitary pursuit, and, as with dating and everything else, brought America’s rocky, indomitable relationship with the show into the digital age.
Here are some sketches that have kept the stalwart frisky:
The Festrunk Brothers
This iconic skit premiered during Season 3 and introduced a number of all-time classic SNL lines. Brothers Yortuk and Georg Festrunk (Dan Akroyd, Steve Martin) are “two wild and crazy guys” from a barren Czechoslovakia intent on doing little else in their new land than “holding big American breasts.” Disastrously mixing paisley and plaid, the Festrunks’ plunging necklines and suffocating pant crotches somehow don’t keep the brothers from shimmying across any surface they touch. Despite discouraging game reviews from friends and repeated vows to “never swing again,” Yortuk and Georg endured to become a garish, endearingly naive monument to the libidinous days and nights of disco.
The Ladies Man
Banish the regrettable movie spinoff from your mind on the off-chance it’s lodged there and remember the joys of this skit starring Tim Meadows as Leon Phelps, self-deluded ladies man, afroed blaxploitation relic and randy talk show host. The setup continued SNL’s proud tradition of public access television satire and was a welcome piece of retro goofiness when the series was fanatically intent on mocking every angle of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. (Lewinsky appeared in the sketch.) Phelps’ sex advice, much of it “involving the butt,” could be lewd, bringing an edge to the series and reminding viewers why it was still not ready for primetime. A sample ode to Cupid: “You’re an angel my dear, of this much I’m certain. So this Valentine’s Day, let’s do some bumpin’ and squirtin’.
With its famed stable of Harvard Lampoon-trained writers, SNL is in prime position to mock Boston area eccentricities. And so in 1999 the show gave us Denise “Zazu” McDonough (Rachel Dratch) and Pat “Sully” Sullivan (Jimmy Fallon), a pair of often plastered Nomar Garciaparra fans calling each other “retahded” and dry humping in New England locales including an ersatz colonial village and a boozy prom. The mostly physical humor and regional barbs may not be as sly as in the other skits, but credit Denise and Sully for making copulation a reality rather than a Clarvin-style New Age treatise or Yortuk strikeout.
Professors Roger and Virginia Clarvin (Will Ferrell, Rachel Dratch) debuted during Season 26, and over seven appearances dispensed unwanted advice in the art of unconventional lovemaking to strangers they happened across in a scarily accurate send-up of a brainy-crunchy Berkshires college town. Over aphrodisiacal spiced meats—lamb shanks were a favorite—the Clarvins exercised their erotic erudition while recalling their own earthy sexual peaks (such as the time Roger rubbed Virginia’s “nubile body with fruit liniments and Noxzema”) and playing Kama Sutra to an array of acquaintances and potential lov-ahs gamely played by everyone from Katie Holmes to Christopher Walken.
The Ambiguously Gay Duo
An off-color send-up of muscled superheroes and their young, lithe male sidekicks, the Robert Smigel-animated adventures of Ace and Gary represent one of the longest recurring bits and codpieces in SNL history, originating in 1996 and appearing as recently as last year in a live action installment starring Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon. Sight gags imply mid-crime fighting fellatio while a phalanx of phallic symbols crackles with the love that dare not speak its name. SNL has taken some heat for its relentlessly minstrel treatment of gay men, but Ace and Gary, by playing coy, represent the rare (potential) couple on the series who needn’t broadcast their sex lives to passersby and keep their gloved hands off each other—or at least obscure handjobs behind a well-placed steering wheel).