Saturday, April 05, 2008

Walken for a good time.

Christopher Walken will be hosting Saturday Night Live tonight for the 7th time. It's a significant number (far beyond the initial requirement for the exclusive Five-Timer's Club) but still a far cry from Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin's 14 and 13 respectively. I was fairly sure he had hosted more times but apparently it's been five years since his last hosting gig.

In my mind Walken exists as a sort of a comedic last resort for the show; like there's a special red phone in Loren Michaels' office under a plate of glass with the words: USE IN CASE OF LACK OF LAUGHS that connects directly to Walken's cell. No matter how many badly written, humorless sketches; or second rate featured players; or awkward lines of dialog the show can bury him under, there'll still be at least one or two classically hilarious moments that are powered purely on Walken. It's an inevitable law of nature that anything Christopher Walken does (whether it be dance, sing, act, walk the dog, pay his taxes, drink a Dr. Pepper) is uniquely strange, fascinating, and many times oddly funny.

Probably my all time favorite SNL sketch is a Walken sketch. It's not as well known as "More Cowbell" or "Colonel Angus" but in my opinion I cannot remember a better written sketch on the show. I give you Walken and Meadows in "Census Taker".

All the elements of the perfect SNL sketch could be found in that example:
  • The guest host was utilized perfectly and not shoehorned into a superfluous role. There was no other host who could have pulled off that character the way a weirdo like Walken could have. It doesn't seem all that implausible that this is how the real Walken would answer a US survey.
  • The sketch was a model of efficiency. Lasting only five or so minutes, it never overstayed its welcome and actually had a logical ending (which actually is cut off in that clip I have, but believe me it's nicely succinct and provides closure). There are so many poor sketches that appear to never have an ending assigned to them and the only way for the viewer to know it's over is when the trained applause suddenly comes on.
  • It didn't have to rely on any wacky behavior. While break away furniture, fake vomiting, and manic physical comedy in the right hands (Chris Farley, John Belushi) have made some of the funnest sketches in SNL history, many times it's just a desperate cover up for a lack of material.
  • There's a timelessness to the sketch. The best sketches are the ones where the writers don't need the crutch of some omni present pop culture reference or some topical issue. Most of those kinds of comedy sketches only illicit cheap laughs and age terribly. I'm sure all our children will be busting a gut over all the contemporary "jokes" in "Meet the Spartans"
  • It had Tim Meadows in it. One of the most underrated cast members, he played one of the best straight men in the show's history. His nuanced portrayal of confusion and frustration perfectly compliments Walken's surreal responses.
On a side note, what surprised me the most about this sketch was that fact that it was apparently written by, then head writer, Tina Fey. Call me sexist but I'm of the Jerry Lewis school of female comedy, in that women comedians are not funny. I never found a single female stand up all that hilarious, nor have I really admired any past female SNL cast members (I especially found nearly every character played by the three headed monster of Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer, and Cheri Oteri to be unbearably annoying). However in this case I have got to tip my chauvinist hat to you Ms. Fey, between this sketch, "Mean Girls", and the second season of "30 Rock", you are indeed a funny writer...and you're a total babe with that whole foxy 90s Lisa Loeb/sexy librarian thing going on (sorry, I've got to reaffirm my sexism).

So if you ever had to watch one episode of SNL all year, this would probably be your best bet. Who knows you may be there to firsthand witness, live, the next "More Cowbell" or "Ed Glosser: Trivial Physcic." At the very least you'll probably see them drive the "The Continental" sketch into the ground, which is always kind of amusing.

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