Do you have sense of humor? Well, I can’t imagine too many people who would answer that question with no. Most people think they have one, but in my opinion, they would be wrong. Well, not wrong, but rather misled. I guess we all have different senses of humor, but there is a vast majority of people who just don’t ‘get it’. Growing up I thought I lived in a world of those who just didn’t ‘get it’. They may well have had a deep-seated sense of humor, but it wasn’t close enough to the surface to be experienced first-hand. Being silly, telling lame jokes, pulling pranks — those things were funny, but I’m not talking about funny haha although that certainly is a ‘thing’, I’m talking about that 7th sense — a sense of humor.
Everything changed one night in 1975. The clouds parted, the sun shone through, and out of the heavens, onto our televisions, and into mainstream America came Saturday Night Live. Oh my God! Yes, Virginia, there is intelligence in the universe! I was like Steve Martin discovering swing in the Jerk. “Well if that’s out there, think of what else is out there?” There were others out there who ‘get it’! Who knew? It was so exciting. The eclectic Not Ready For Primetime Players, Chicago’s Second City alums, were ground-breaking. Music had been revolutionized in the 60’s and 70’s, now humor was joining the pop culture bandwagon. These people were brilliant, looked at their world from a fresh and ludicrous point of view. Pointing out hypocrisies, duplicities, societal craziness, political outrageousness, and just plain silliness was their practice. We were forced to take a look at ourselves. I mean the shark from Jaws delivering a candygram to an apartment dweller, the cast in bumblebee costumes; John Belushi as a samurai, a restaurant serving only cheeseburgers and Pepsi, Chevy Chase with his spoofy newscast, “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not,” Bill Murray as a lounge singer singing the Star Wars theme, Gilda Radner as the grossed-out rocker chick, Dan Akyroyd, Jane Curtain, and Laraine Newman as Coneheads from France, Garrett Morris as Hispanic baseball player Chico Escuela, Steve Martin and Dan were wild and crazy guys, John and Dan were the Blues Brothers. They were funny, they were in on their own jokes, they got each other, and they didn’t care if we liked it or ‘got it’ or not. I could go on and on and on. Mix in cutting-edge rock, and well-known guest stars and SNL was a hit! OMG! Could there have been others around me who did ‘get it’ all along but we just didn’t have that common water-cooler reference we could gab about with our friends and co-workers the next day? Who didn’t at some point infuse, “Well excuuuuuusssssssse me,” into a conversation. This radical revolution made us who ‘got it’ collectively want to explore, develop, and nurture our national sense of humor.
Its a different world today than when I was growing up. There’s the pre-SNL era and the SNL phenomenon. Until SNL we had polite and twittering conversations at cocktail parties, some dumb scripted jokes like, ‘What does an 800 pound canary say? Here, kitty, kitty,’ or pleasant storytelling from personal experiences. There was the quirky I Love Lucy, charming Leave it to Beaver, wonderful Andy Griffith show, there were old vaudeville leftovers like Uncle Milty, and Sid Caesar and Jimmy Durante, stand-ups like the incomparable Bob Hope. All delightful and entertaining in their own right. Who can forget George Carlin or Richard Pryor who were cutting-edge stand-ups but most of their real brilliance was on a stage, not on television at the time. With SNL a counter-culture national sense of humor was being developed all from the backstage party hardy outrageousness of those who ‘got it, didn’t care if anyone else did or not, and fought to get it broadcast on television — our communal window to the world. Through positive TV ratings we were now a cohesive unit with an insatiable drive for more of the same. SNL spawned an entire culture of stand-ups, comedy clubs cropping up everywhere, radio programs featuring comedians, books, pay cable specials, talk-show and other appearances, movies, spin-off situation comedies, etc. all as a result of the initial concept of piercing irreverence mixed with silliness.
Just as with rock and roll, humor evolved into a new art form and continues to evolve to this day. Thank you Lorne Michaels and the entire cast of Saturday Night Live from the first season to the present. We love that you are just as brilliant as you are horrible all at the same time. You keep putting it out there and letting us decide. You resurrected an entire population from not ‘getting it’ to ‘I think that’s funny.’ It’s no longer lame to be quirky and outrageous, it’s cool. Way cool… Sandy