Spit Take Saturday: Saturday Night Live FAQ

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SNLFAQWelcome to Spit Take Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No a**-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.” 

Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

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Stephen Tropiano declares himself a Saturday Night Live loyalist early in the introduction to his Saturday Night Live FAQ: Everything Left to Know About Television’s Longest Running Comedy. The book, he explains, is written from the point of view of a “critical fan,” someone willing to sit through all the bad sketches and lame premises, and to ignore the conventional wisdom when it’s down on the show. He’d have to be, to sit through more than 38 seasons of television, what he estimates as “1,117.5 hours of original programming,” to put together this guide, which runs from the first season through May 2013. (For the initiated, the book starts with feeding your fingertips to the wolverines and ends with the marriage of Stefon.)

It’s not that Tropiano is all that pie-eyed and pandering about SNL’s failings. Even he can’t whitewash over the original cast’s departure, which he deals with in a chapter called “Season 6 – The Worst Season (So Far).” He calls out some clunkers and voices his opinion, but he doesn’t delve too deeply into criticism.

The first 307 pages cover the history of the show, including a complete rundown of the players, highlights from every season and major themes like political controversies. The Appendix contains a 121-page episode guide: airdate, episode number, musical guest and “programming notes.” It’s not an exhaustive list of every sketch, but compiling that might have killed Tropiano (see “Season 6”). It’s also fully indexed, so anyone trying to remember a particular host or musical guest will find it useful.

There is a plethora of good SNL-related books available, and Tropiano references many of them, most often Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s excellent and comprehensive Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad’s Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live and Michael Cader’s Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years. He recommends all three in his introduction, and those seeking more on SNL‘s backstage drama would do better with those FAQ.

But Tropiano didn’t limit his research to three sources. He cites plenty of other books, as well as newspaper and magazine articles, and provides a broad, detailed survey of the more interesting bits. It may not contain all the lurid details about, say, Chevy Chase leaving the show or the Norm MacDonald/Don Ohlmeyer dust-up, but they are addressed in the history of the show. And there are some great tidbits: for one, he confirms my personal suspicion that writer John Mulaney would throw in a few extra details about the clubs Stefon would describe on the air, which is why Bill Hader usually had a hard time keeping a straight face during “Weekend Update.”

This is more than a simple FAQ, due in part to the amount of material it seeks to include. It’s a handy reference and a good introduction for those looking to frame Saturday Night Live, if not necessarily all of the personal dealings of the people behind it, in a wider context.

By Nick A. Zaino III

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For more great comedy with an emphasis on character work, check out:

TONIGHT! Saturday, November 30 I Broadminded Comedy: JerksMilwaukee, Wisconsin  Jerks, a new sketch comedy show celebrating the people you love to hate. You know all those d-bags, a-holes and well, jerkfaces. Join “the broads” at the Arcade Theatre in the Underground Collaborative tonight as they send up know-it-alls, mall girls, and the fine folks at the NSA who are reading your text messages at this very moment. This show is BYOB!

Sunday, December 1 I Small Town Comedy Presents Rory Scovel Healdsburg, California  Small Town Comedy is back, this time bringing you one of the biggest up and coming comedians in the country. Rory Scovel has performed on Comedy Central, HBO, Conan Obrien, and is one of the stars of the up coming TBS series Ground Floor. Don’t miss this opportunity to see this brilliant comedian in an intimate setting.

Friday, December 13 Hodapp & Rothwell New York, New York  Hodapp & Rothwell bring more than five years of improv collaboration to stage for an evening of bold, committed characters and probably a fart joke in there for good measure.