One bowl of Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky has more fiber than 30,000 bowls of your breakfast cereal.
"And I love that it's all natural! Except for the crack cocaine part."—Kelly Ripa
Back when I was in college, I knew a very beautiful woman who was desired by all my friends. After our evening class, we would all go out to a bar together, and whenever she would get up from the table, we guys would talk about her constantly. But none of us would ask her out. She had a boyfriend, but that wasn't the reason we didn't hit on her. It was the fact that her boyfriend fancied himself a comedy writer, and his dream was to be a writer on Saturday Night Live. We figured that, if she continued to date this guy, she obviously didn't have any taste and probably wasn't very bright.
Steve Martin said it best, folks. Comedy is not pretty. To wit: Saturday Night Live. Sure, it is a television institution. Sure, there have been some memorable moments and a handful of classic comedy bits. Sure, there have been some talented comedy writers on the show, like Al Franken and Tina Fey. But these morsels have been few and far between. The same for performers. For every John Belushi (whose talent was, to be honest, more in his unharnessed potential than in the actual execution of material), there have been half a dozen Jim Belushis. Never has so much comedy talent—funneled from the fantastic training grounds like Second City and the Groundlings—been sanded down and homogenized to remove any threatening edges.
To be fair, having to produce over an hour of new material every week (after you remove musical spots and commercials) is tough. SNL has tried to keep up in two ways: the use of recurring characters that might have been amusing one time but keep getting more annoying as the premise stretches too thin ("Makin' copies!") and dragging out sketches like medieval torture victims on the rack.
Logically then, the best showcase for SNL material should be the stuff that doesn't rely on those lazy tricks. Fake commercials and advertising parodies are short, focused, and resist repetitive gags. And since they are filmed ahead of time, they can be rehearsed, timed, and edited to maximize the performers' strengths, especially for those comedians who need an enclosed environment (as opposed to a live studio).
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Commercial Parodies starts off right away with three funny bits, commercials for a back-tattoo removal medicine, an adult diaper, and a shampoo with crack. So, in short, why are these funny? The first ad, starring show regulars, mocks the aging Gen Xers who make up SNL's core audience in a concentrated package. The other two ads are even funnier, because they do not feature SNL regulars at all. Getting the real Kelly Ripa to make fun of her own chipper television persona is an unexpected treat. Few SNL regulars (Phil Hartman for example) can muster the earnestness of real commercials; they often seem to be winking to the audience. Queen Latifa selling medicine for racial tension headaches. Ben Affleck tearing up a Thai hotel room ("You're being selfish! You don't need both your kidneys!"). Sam Waterston selling anti-robot insurance. Alec Baldwin in pretty much anything. This stuff is funny. (Feel free to skip Jessica Simpson advertising Chicken of the Sea though.)
A surprising number of these advertisements base their humor around bodily functions. From "Oops, I Crapped My Pants" to the "Love Toilet" to the Dyson Vacuum toilet to feminine napkins made from chunky wood pulp to a "Magic Mouth" that turns your farts into speech. If it happens below the waist, you will hear about it again and again. Some are funny ("Kotex Classic" sends up retro fashion trends as well as getting yucks from a bodily function) and some are not (the host segments, in which Will Ferrell tries to read for a tampon ad), but overall, they suggest a tendency on the part of SNL writers to fall back on poop jokes. It reminds me of the moment when the writers discovered they could say "penis" on the air—and wrote a sketch in which everyone stood around and just said "penis" for an interminable length of time. If you are a seventh-grader, you'll laugh. Grown-ups will find it tiresome.
Best of Commercial Parodies was originally compiled as a prime time special, featuring over 80 minutes of gags laid out in apparently random order. (There was also an earlier television special, from about 15 years ago, that contained slightly different content—which should have been included here as an extra feature.) The material stretches from classics like Dan Aykroyd charging through a Bassomatic demonstration (a parody of Ron Popeil that will probably be lost on your kids) to more recent parodies like Woomba (a vacuum cleaner for "your lady business"). Will Farrell shows why SNL sketch material sucks by stretching a bit about invading a Madison Avenue firm way too long. But the commercials themselves? I have to say, many of them were actually funnier on second viewing than on the first. And with four dozen shorts—plus ten more as the only extra content on the disc—the duds blow by quickly.
Rarely do the sketches take real risks, and there were times where I thought to myself, "Wow, Bob and David would have gone farther with that bit" or "They should have cast an unknown in that part instead of a smirking show regular." On the other hand, you will enjoy appearances by your favorite past cast members (Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat, or John Belushi enjoying Little Chocolate Donuts breakfast cereal with a cigarette dangling in his fingers). You may miss a few favorites from the old days in this show, cut in favor of bits from the last few years, but remember that Lorne Michaels has another whole disc worth of worthy mock ads (where's Steve Martin's Penis Beauty Cream and Mel's Char Palace, where Dan Aykroyd tells restaurant patrons that they get to stun and chainsaw their own beefsteaks?) waiting in the wings for a second volume.
Of course, with four dozen shorts, Best of Commercial Parodies gets a little exhausting, and by the halfway point, you will find yourself wanting a break. But overall, this disc may be one of the better compilations of Saturday Night Live material. If the rest of the show were this consistently good, it wouldn't be so embarrassing to want to be an SNL writer.
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Scales of Justice
• Additional Commercial Parodies
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