Comedian and Filmmaker discuss why Saturday Night Live will always be current
Following up on his Emmy-nominated and critically acclaimed documentaries Live From New York - The First Five Years and Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost and Found, writer-director-producer Kenneth Bowser recently created a new look at the effects of the show titled, Saturday Night Live in the 90's: Pop Culture Nation. The decade saw SNL going from being named "a national institution" by the prestigious Peabody Awards to being deemed "Saturday Night Dead" by the press a mere two years later...only to return stronger than ever.
We recently caught up with Bowser and long time Saturday Night Live player Tim Meadows as they discussed the show, the documentary and future of this American mainstay.
Tim, did you call Darrell Hammond when he took the title of longest running Saturday Night Live cast member away from you?
Tim Meadows: You know, if I was a better man, I would have done that. I was very happy for him. Not a lot of people have worked on the show that long. Even though he has taken over the record, I still feel like Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, you know? I'm still in good company.
Would you guys say that this documentary proves that any claims that Saturday Night Live is going down hill is very subjective and highly exaggerated?
Kenneth Bowser: If I ran all the "Saturday Night Dead" headlines I could pretty much cover the 90 minutes of the show; from every year the show has been on the air. I think they're having a particularly strong year this year. A lot of people feel this cast is really a great cast. They've got some good writers, so yes, I think it's very subjective. Some of the biggest, we point out in the show, are from that '94-'95 year, which probably had the worst reviews of any year in the history of the show: Norm MacDonald, Adam Sandler, you're talking about some very, very talented people.
Tim Meadows: It was very hard to accept that kind of criticism. We were trying to carry on the torch of the show so that was difficult, to feel like you're responsible for killing something that you really love. The nature of the show was always focusing on what you had to do that week, so you really didn't get too caught up in the criticism. Also, we sort of dished it out too so you have to be able to take it. Also this cast, and from the past few years also, from what I've seen, I think it's been a very funny show. Regardless, there's always moments throughout the season where something hits really big. Whether it be the "Lazy Sunday" digital shorts... or the two "A-Hole" characters they have on the show now. There's always something, regardless of how critics view the show, there's always something that will break out.
Ken, what did you learn from doing the first two specials that you took to this one?
Kenneth Bowser: There were certain things I knew I could tell a story with. I had a confidence that the show, by it's nature, is somewhat autobiographical. People will reveal their issues and frustrations and their happiness in the course of these sketches. Two... over the course of ten years will give me more than enough material to comment on what's going on.
How important a resource was Tom Shales Live From New York book?
Kenneth Bowser: You know what, I read that book actually when it came out, before I was hired to do the show; I haven't looked at it since. To be honest with you my researchers always look at it... is there some particular story, or incident, or whatever that I should know about when I'm interviewing Tim or whoever it is. I haven't looked at it since it came out.
Tim, where there ever any sketches that got cut in the dress rehearsal that you wish would've made it on the air?
Tim Meadows: Yeah, there was this one sketch that I love that never made it to air. It was "Leon the Cool Centor." It was me in a Centor costume and I was in high school and I was this tough guy who was like half man/half horse. The joke of the sketch was that horse end kept making droppings on the floor. It was more of a conceptual sketch. We did it twice and it always got laughs but I think it may have been a little bit too out there for our show, I don't know.
Why do you guys think we need Saturday Night Live?
Tim Meadows: Why do we need SNL? That's a good question. Well, I think it's great that we have a show that fans of feel they can depend on from week to week, and sort of present it in a comic fashion. I think also a show like SNL develops comedy talent that lets people go on to do bigger and better things. Why do we need medical schools? Well, we need to develop new talent and to find new ideas and people with a new viewpoint.
Is it a voice?
Tim Meadows: It provides an opportunity for comics and artists and filmmakers and writers, to get better at their craft. That's why it's a hit and miss sorta show. It's people learning how to do something new. Also, having a place where musical acts can also go and be seen.
Kenneth Bowser: I would add to that its still the only sketch comedy show that is current. In other words, you have the various other shows that are out there. The Daily Show kind of does the Weekend Update, if you will, blown up, but it's still the only sketch comedy show where sketch comedy minds are coming to bare on what happened this week or in the last few weeks in the culture. There isn't another show out there that does that.
Tim, when Eddie Murphy started on Saturday Night Live, he did a sketch about how he was replacing Garret Morris on SNL as the "Black guy." Did you ever feel that you were perceived that way?
Tim Meadows: No. I was aware that other people perceived it that way. I didn't perceive myself as the Black who was replacing Eddie or Chris or anybody else. When I got there I was in awe. I couldn't even believe that I was working on this show. I realized that, yeah, part of being African American is that I'm gonna represent things that effect my life or things that I find funny. In addition to that, I'm also gonna try to do things that have nothing to do with being Black or a Black character. I'm gonna try to write sketches that are just conceptual or just funny to me. I always felt that I was more than just a Black comic actor. My first year there I was a writer and a performer and I wrote sketches that I didn't appear in that had nothing to do with being African American. They were sketches that were just funny and stood on their own.
Saturday Night Live in the 90's: Pop Culture Nation will air on NBC-TV on Sunday, May 6 from 9-11:00 p.m. ET.
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