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Listen: Stephen Tropiano on Pop Culture Tonight!

Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ talks with Patrick Phillips of “Pop Culture Tonight” to discuss the recent 40th anniversary celebration as well as take a look at the show’s history!


00315538Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s in-depth history.


SNL’s 40th Anniversary Special!!

00315538Saturday Night Live celebrates its 40th anniversary with a live, three-hour prime time special on NBC on Sunday, February 15, 2015. In honor of television’s longest running comedy turning the big 4-0, Saturday Night Live FAQ author Stephen Tropiano has provided a list (in chronological order) of 40 memorable moments from Seasons 1-40 (along with the show’s original airdate). You can watch many of these sketches, along with your personal favorites, at the Saturday Night Live archive at (



Saturday Night Live: 40 Memorable Moments

1) In one of the edgiest sketches in SNL history, Chevy Chase gives job applicant Richard Pryor a racially charged “Word Association Test.” (12/13/75)

2) Lorne Michaels offers The Beatles a check for $3,000 to reunite on the show. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were reportedly watching and considered heading down to 30 Rock to make a surprise appearance. (4/24/76)

3) In “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise,” NBC cancels Star Trek but Captain Kirk/William Shatner (John Belushi) isn’t ready to give up command of The Enterprise (5/29/76).

4) Paul Simon regrets opening the show wearing a giant turkey costume and singing “Still Crazy After All These Years.” (11/20/76)

5) After making a major slip up in a public service announcement parody for “The Right to Extreme Stupidity League,” Candice Bergen tries to hold it together as co-star Gilda Radner improvises. (12/11/76)

6) “New kid” Bill Murray delivers an on-air apology for not being funny. “It’s not that I’m not funny,” he admits, “it’s that I’m not being funny at the right time.” (3/19/77)

7) Miskel Spillman, 80, winner of the SNL’s first and only “Anyone Can Host” contest, gets stoned (off-camera) by John Belushi before her opening monologue (12/17/77)

8) The Conehead Family–Beldar, his wife Prymaat, and daughter Connie–are contestants on Family Feud.


9) From Season 3, a pair of brilliant, self-referential “Schiller Reels” by filmmaker Tom Schiller: Don’t Look Back in Anger, in which an elderly John Belushi visits the graves of some of his former cast members (3/11/78); and La Dolce Gilda, a parody of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, featuring Gilda Radner as she struggles with her new found fame. (4/15/78).

10) Cooking guru Julia Child (Dan Aykroyd) cuts “the dickens” out of her finger, turning her show, The French Chef, into a bloody mess. (12/9/78)

11) Hands down the worst sketch in SNL history: “Commie Hunting Season,” in which a group of white rednecks go out to shoot Commies, Jews and African-Americans (complete with the N-word). No one–in the studio audience or at home–was laughing. No one. (11/22/80)

12) Charles Rocket drops the F-bomb. In a parody of “Who Shot J.R.?” Rocket is asked during the “goodnights” by host Charlene Tilton how it feels after being shot. He responds, “It’s the first time I’ve ever been shot in my life. I’d like to know who the fuck did it.” It didn’t matter. Rocket and most of the Season 6 cast would be gone after the next episode. (2/21/81)

13) The slam dancing fans of the punk rock group Fear create chaos in Studio 8H during their performance. In exchange for booking the band, John Belushi makes his final SNL appearance in the show’s cold opening. (10/31/81)

14) A rare appearance by legendary Beat writer William Burroughs, who reads excerpts from his novels, Naked Lunch and Nova Express. (11/7/81)

15) “Buckwheat is shot!” Buckwheat (Eddie Murphy) takes a bullet–or did he? (3/12/83).

16) William Shatner loses it during a Q & A session at a Star Trek convention and tells the show’s obsessive fans to get a life. (12/20/86)

17) The Church Lady (Dana Carvey) welcomes ex-PTL Club leaders Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker (Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks) to Church Chat. (“Isn’t that special?”) (3/28/87)

18) On the 14th season finale, an emotional Steve Martin pays tribute to original cast member Gilda Radner, who died that day of cancer at the age of 42. (5/20/89)

19) Wayne’s World hosts Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) welcome Aerosmith to their show. (“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”) (2/17/90)

20) A shirtless Chris Farley is fearless competing against Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze to be a Chippendales dancer. (10/27/90)

21) Tom Hanks hosts SNL for the fifth time and is invited into the “Five-Timers Club” lounge where he meets other five-time hosts Paul Simon, Steve Martin, and Elliot Gould. SNL staff writer and future talk show host Conan O’Brien plays Sean the Doorman and former cast members Dan Aykroyd, Jon Lovitz, and Martin Short tend the bar and wait tables. (12/8/90)

22) David Spade is a snooty, dismissive receptionist at Dick Clark Productions who asks Roseanne (as herself), Dick Clark’s long lost biological mother (Julia Sweeney) and Jesus Christ (Phil Hartman) to take a seat. (2/22/92)

23) Barbra Streisand surprises guests Madonna and Roseanne with a cameo on Coffee Talk with Linda Richman (Mike Myers). Barbra’s nails? Like buttah! (2/22/92)

24) Irish singer Sinead O’Connor stuns the studio audience and sparks a major controversy when she ends her a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “War” by ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul II and declaring, “Fight the real enemy!” (O’Connor was protesting the Catholic Church in Dublin protecting pedophile priests). (10/3/92)

25) Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra, who insults a long list of recording artists, including Liza Minnelli (host Rosie O’Donnell), Barbra Streisand (Mike Myers), and K.D. Lang (Rob Schneider), as they line up to record a duet for Ol’ Blue Eyes’s 1993 Duets album. (11/13/93)

26) In the first of many parodies of Celebrity Jeopardy!, host Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell) endures Sean Connery’s (Darrell Hammond) insults and Burt Reynold’s (Norm MacDonald) and Jerry Lewis’s (Martin Short) stupidity. (12/7/96)


27) The Delicious Dish hosts Margaret Joe McCullin (Ana Gasteyer) and Terry Rialto (Molly Shannon) welcome Pete Schwetty (Alec Baldwin) to their show and enjoy his “Schwetty Balls.” (12/12/98)

28) SNL’s 25th Anniversary Special: Cast members and hosts reunite to honor the show’s 25th anniversary, which includes moving tributes to late cast members John Belushi, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, and Gilda Radner. (9/25/99)

29) “More Cowbell!” cries record producer Bruce Dickson at the 1976 recording session of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” Will Ferrell is Gene Frenkel, the overly enthusiastic cowbell player. (4/8/2000)

30) Season 27 opens with a moving tribute to 9/11 First Responders (9/29/01) with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; members of New York City’s Fire, Police, and Port Authority Police Departments; and Paul Simon singing “The Boxer.” (9/29/01)

31) In her debut, Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch) ruins a family trip to Walt Disney World while host Lindsay Lohan and SNL cast members struggle to control their laughter. (5/1/04)

32) When musical guest Ashlee Simpson starts to sing her second number (“Autobiography”), an audio track of her first number (“Pieces of Me”) starts to play, thereby revealing to all of America that some of the musical performances on SNL are not necessarily live. (10/23/04)

33) An early holiday present from Robert Smigel: A brilliant claymation music video, “Christmas Time for the Jews,” with vocals by the great Darlene Love. (12/17/05)

34) The second “SNL Digital Short” is a rap music video entitled “Lazy Sunday,” in which Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell sing about buying snacks and going to see Chronicles of Narnia. Produced with Samberg’s Lonely Island partners, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, the video went viral. (12/17/05)

35) The best “SNL Digital Short” was “D–k in a Box,” an R & B holiday duet sung by Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake, who give their girlfriends a very special package for Christmas. Samberg, Timberlake, and their collaborators, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma & Asa Taccone, and Katreese Barnes won an Emmy for Best Original Song. (12/16/06)

36) Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) and former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (Amy Poehler) deliver a bi-partisan message about sexism toward female candidates in the Presidential campaign. (Palin/Fey’s best line: “And I can see Russia from my house!”) (9/13/08)


37) Two weeks later, Palin (Fey) is interviewed by CBS Evening New’s Katie Couric (Poehler) in a sketch that plays more like a reenactment of the real interview (except for the part when Palin, like a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, wants to use one of her “lifelines” to help her answer a question). (9/27/08)

38) The Season 38th Christmas show opens with a The New York City Children’s Chorus singing “Silent Night” in memory of the twenty children and six adult staff members who lost their lives in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut the previous day. (12/15/12)

39) Weekend Update cultural correspondent Stefon (Bill Hader), who is in love with anchor Seth Meyers, says goodbye. Meyers finally admits he has feelings for Stefon and in a hilarious video, runs to the church to stop Stefon from marrying CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. (5/18/13)

40) Kate McKinnon’s reprises her impersonation of Justin Bieber in a series of commercial parodies of his latest Calvin Klein commercials. Bieber was a good sport, tweeting, “Well played. LOL.” (1/17/15)


A Tribute To Jan Hooks

SNL star Jan Hooks sadly passed away on October 9th.  Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ, wrote a fitting tribute to this talented woman. Thank you for the laughs, Jan.

A Tribute to Jan Hooks

The recent death of Saturday Night Live of cast member Jan Hooks from an “undisclosed illness” took everyone by surprise last week. The fact she had been ill was never made public and she hasn’t been seen on television since 2010, when she appeared on the prime time special, The Women of SNL, and two episodes of 30 Rock as Jenna’s Maroney’s (Jane Krakowski) mother, Verna.

Liz and Candy Sweeney  (Jan Hooks, left, and Nora Dunn) butcher some holiday standards at their annual Christmas party (c/o "Saturday Night Live FAQ").

Liz and Candy Sweeney (Jan Hooks, left, and Nora Dunn) butcher some holiday standards at their annual Christmas party (c/o “Saturday Night Live FAQ”).

We often read stories about Method film actors like Robert DeNiro, Daniel Day Lewis, and Christian Bale getting “lost in a film role” and walking away in the end with an Oscar. Over Saturday Night Live’s forty year history, Jan Hooks was part of a select group of cast members—a list that also includes Dan Aykroyd, Nora Dunn, Mike Myers, and Cheri Oteri—who were the sketch comedy equivalent of Method actors. What separated Hooks and the others from most SNL performers is how they embodied the roles they played to the point where you felt like you really never knew the real person behind the comic persona.

A former member of the Los Angeles based comedy troupe, The Groundlings, Hooks never broke character because she was always in way too deep. She will be best remembered on SNL as Candy Sweeney, half of the meagerly talented singing duo, the Sweeney Sisters. They were high-energy and their performances were peppered with plenty of playful patter, yet musically Candy and her sister Liz (Dunn) always seemed like they were having an off-night.

Hooks created a few other original characters (Marge Keister and Anita), but she was also the show’s resident female impressionist for the six seasons (1986-1991) she appeared on the show. She was given the chance to play an array of famous women, like Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Sinead O’Connor, Jessica Hahn, and Tammy Faye Baker (to name a few). For five of the six seasons, Hooks, Dunn, and Victoria Jackson were the only women on the show. When Dunn left in 1990, it was only Hooks, Jackson, and newcomer Julia Sweeney.

It was talented performers like Hooks who paved the way for the other funny women who followed. Kristin Wiig, who was also in the spotlight during her seven seasons on the show (when Amy Poehler left in 2008, she was the only female regular on the show). Wiig paid tribute to Hooks on last week’s show. “She was one of the best that ever was,” Wiig remarked, “and her influence was clear in everyone one of us who has been here since.”

Samurai Futaba

Today is the anniversary of the debut of Samurai Futaba on Saturday Night Live (1975). Below is an excerpt from Saturday Night Live FAQ to commemorate the special occasion.

In addition to his rants on Weekend Update, John Belushi was given the chance to let loose by inhabiting the body of a Japanese samurai, one of the elite warriors who served the feudal lords of preindustrial Japan. The samurai practiced a strict code of conduct known as Bushido (“the way of the warrior”) that valued chiv- alry, loyalty, and honor. A samurai who was dishonorable, or may have brought shame upon himself, or would rather die with honor than fall into enemy hands performed a form of ritual suicide known as seppuku or hara-kiri by sticking a sharp blade in his abdomen. The samurai was popularized by Japanese cinema, particularly in the films of director Akira Kurosawa such as Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), and Yojimbo (1961), all of which starred Toshiro Mifune.

According to Judith Belushi Pisano, Mifune was the inspiration for her husband’s Samurai Futaba character. She told Michael Streeter, author of Nothing Lasts Forever: The Films of Tom Schiller, that John started to imitate Mifune after watching a Japanese film festival on television. “John would sit so close to the television,” Belushi Pisano recalled, “that when there was a close-up of Mifune, it appeared as if he was looking in a mirror—John would reflect what he saw.” She gave him a robe, a rubber band to put his hair up, and a clothes bar from a closet to use as a sword. Belushi auditioned for the show with the Samurai character playing pool, which is how writer Tom Schiller got the idea of “Samurai Hotelier.” Lorne Michaels, who worked on the sketch with Schiller, Chevy Chase, and Alan Zweibel, thought some people wouldn’t know what a “hotelier” is, so they changed the title of the sketch to “Samurai Hotel.” Zweibel wrote the remaining sketches, though Schiller provided him with a list of possible occupations for Samurai Futaba.

Each sketch works off the same premise: Samurai Futaba, who is dressed in traditional Samurai garb and has a limited understanding of the English language, has a different profession that’s incongruous with being a samurai warrior. In his sketch debut (1.7), Samurai Futaba faces off with a bellboy samurai (host Richard Pryor) over who is going to take a guest’s (Chase) bag up to his room. Belushi enjoys playing with his sword, using it to mime a golf putter and, like his audition, a pool cue. After some swordplay, Futaba insults the bellboy with the Japanese version of the traditional maternal insult (“Your momma-san”). The bellboy reacts by splitting the front desk in two with his sword.

Samurai Futaba responds with the only English words we ever hear him speak— “I can dig where you’re comin’ from . . .”—as he takes the guest’s bag up to his room.

From season 1 to his final episode in season 4, Belushi repeated the role in a series of sketches featuring Buck Henry or another guest host as his customer or patient, who seems oblivious to the fact he’s a Samurai as he engages in small talk, which Futaba at times seems to understand. Belushi comically responds with grunts and Japanese gibberish, along with the raising of his bushy eyebrows and his sword. When the customer is displeased, Futaba kneels on the floor and pulls out his sword as if he is about to commit hara-kiri (at that point the customer usually assures him it’s all right). The sketch ends with Futaba raising his sword—with a freeze-frame and Don Pardo inviting us to “Tune in next week, for another episode of Samurai _______.”

Saturday Night Live FAQ

Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s history with an in-depth look at all thirty-eight seasons.

It’s all here – the comedic highlights and low points, memorable hosts and musical guests, controversial moments, and, of course, the recurring characters and sketches, catch phrases, and film shorts that have made SNL the epicenter of American comedy for nearly four decades. SNL FAQ also examines the show’s influence on American culture and includes profiles of over 100 SNL cast members, along with a comprehensive guide detailing every episode.

Happy Birthday, Tina Fey!


Guest Bloggers: Darryl and Tuezdae Littleton, authors of Comediennes: Laugh Be a Ladycontribute a little something for Tina Fey’s 43rd birthday today.

Despite SNL’s imperfections over the years, the show’s output of talent can’t be denied and no comedienne has been more impressive than Tina Fey. By sheer accomplishments and accolades alone she’s in a class all by herself – female or male. An alumni of Chicago’s Second City, the writer / actress / producer / author has managed, in a career spanning a mere 17 years, to amass 7 Emmys, 4 Screen Actor Guild, 3 Golden Globes and 4 Writer Guild of America Awards. Fey’s film, Mean Girls had a worldwide box office take of 129 million dollars. Baby Mama made 64 million and Megamind pulled down 321 million worldwide.

Her comedy virginity was broken by old Marx Brothers movies and Honeymooner episodes. Her father forbade the viewing of The Flintstones since he deemed them a Honeymooners rip-off. However, she was allowed to watch Second City TV and adopt Catherine O’Hara as the woman she wanted to be one day.

During middle school she did a project on the subject of comedy. Then Tina went to work on learning her chosen craft by studying playwriting and acting in college earning a degree in drama; next stop – Second City and total immersion in the religion of improvisation. She took a stab at stand-up, but realized her strength lied in improvisation.

Besides, being quick on her feet and a nimble wit, Fey was also a writer with a wicked pen. In 1997 she got her SNL gig by submitting scripts, which got the attention of then head writer Adam McKay, who suggested her for a paid writing slot. She took personal improvement to the next level and lost 30 pounds to make her physical package more TV friendly after seeing herself on camera. Following that version of scaling back she got approached to do a lot more sketches.

In 2000 she got the coveted co-anchor position on SNL’s ‘Weekend Update” along with Jimmy Fallon. Fey was now not only the first female head writer for the show, but according to alumni, Dennis Miller – the funniest “anchor” to ever sit at the Weekend Update desk.

30 Rock had already been green-lit be NBC by the time Fey left SNL at the end of the 2006 season. It had actually been a rejected pilot idea she presented in 2002 to a cable affiliate of NBC’s. In 2003 she signed a renewal contract for SNL that also allowed her to develop a sitcom. As soon as she left in 2006 30 Rock made its premiere in October of that year and ranked very poorly. Regardless, NBC stuck with it and the show became a critical darling if not a ratings blockbuster. Fey and the show won so many awards that you forgot there were other nominees.

On top of all the industry recognition Fey became a cultural phenomenon. Between September 2008 and March 2011 she impersonated Sarah Palin a half dozen times, with the September 13th maiden voyage holding the distinction of going viral to the tune of 5.7 million hits (a SNL record), and the October 18, 2008 sketch where Fey meets the real Sarah Palin being the highest rated program since 1994. Fey’s debut as a screenwriter (Mean Girls) grossed 129 million worldwide and her follow-up, Baby Mama made 64 million at the box office.   She’s been ranked as hot and beautiful by Maxim and People magazines respectively and voted one of the 50 most powerful women by the New York Post.  And did we forget to mention that in 2011 Tina Fey was Forbes magazine’s highest paid TV actress.

Well, not every comedienne is going to be a Tina Fey, but she’s a yardstick; something to aspire to be and she’s just hitting stride.


Comediennes: Laugh Be a Lady chronicles the evolution of the humor through the research of Darryl and Tuezdae Littleton and the scores of interviews they conducted with veteran female performers from all mediums, as well as Tuezdae’s own experiences as a comedienne. Startling facts are revealed and tributes are paid to the icons of yesteryear by the titans of today in their own words and sentiments. Women have always made us laugh, from their outrageous characters, pratfall humor, cutting barbs, clever wit and unforgettable side-splitting moments. Their “herstory” has only just begun.