As SNL celebrates its 40th Anniversary this weekend, I just wanted to take a few minutes to say thanks.
You see, I’m not a funny person.
I’ve said funny things before, and I’ve gotten a few laughs in my lifetime. But the truth is most of those funny things were stolen. And most of them were stolen from Saturday Night Live.
I’ve never been good at quoting classic movies, but I can recite for you Matt Foley’s entire speech about living in a van down by the river and tell you why there needs to be more cowbell and shout out all of the Spartan Cheerleaders’ routines.
When I was in middle school Comedy Central used to show SNL reruns everyday right around dinner time. I ate them up, recording my favorite sketches and reciting them over and over again. My friends and I would act out the funniest routines in front of our classmates in the hopes of getting a laugh.
In fact I even got the chance to direct my classmates and act out my hosting fantasies in an evening full of SNL sketches my senior year of high school (it was a memorable disaster).
Soon after graduating I moved on from making my classmates laugh to trying to make students laugh as a youth minister.
When I started working in Young Life and as a full time youth minister, I of course turned to my Saturday Night Live memories to recreate characters and entire sketches for youth camps and Wednesday nights.
My other leaders and I blatantly ripped off our favorites. I pulled students into the act as well. I used this semi-obscure Mike Myers sketch about “All Things Scottish” as a jumping off point to create a couple of Scottish blokes who liked to lead games:
So, the secret’s out. 90% of everything I’ve done that was funny, I stole completely from SNL. Anything else that came out of my mouth that was slightly original was definitely inspired by the show.
My top priority as a youth minister was introducing students to God’s word and God’s love – no question. But second to that I felt was the job of making kids laugh.
Some people may see goofy skits and ridiculous games as just a way to kill time before getting to the gospel message. Fair enough. There were certainly moments where I wasted too much time trying to create the perfect skit rather than perfect my bible lessons.
To me though the goofy skits and recurring characters were more than an afterthought. They were a way to share the gospel message in their own right.
Laughter brings diverse groups of people together – just look at the list of memorable characters and skits and hosts from SNL over the years to see that.
So when laughter takes place inside the walls of the church, it can have a special power. A skit at a church service doesn’t have to be a waste of time. It can puts smile on the face of someone who hasn’t smiled in days. It can point that person to a God who created them to experience joy.
Skits and characters, when done well, offer a reflection of the gospel, not a distraction from it.
I’ve read dozens of thinkpieces about the legacy of Saturday Night Live over the past few weeks. The show gets a lot of credit for being the pinnacle of American political satire over the past 4 decades. Deservedly so.
But I think the most important thing SNL created over the years was a place where people could come every Saturday Night at 11:30 PM for little bit of laughter. A place where every age and ethnicity can come together over a common laugh, letting their insecurities and their troubles and their doubts slip away for a moment of hope and joy.
What I hoped to do in youth ministry was to recreate that sort of place and those types of moments to bring students together in a spirit of celebration and to let them know about a God who wanted them to experience a joy unlike any other.
A wise teacher of mine once told me, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.” Without characters and skits inspired by and blatantly ripped off from SNL, my youth ministry would have been a lot less fun. There would have been a lot less laughter. Truthfully, I think there would have been a lot less students.
With that in mind, I want to say thanks to all the of cast members and hosts and writers and directors and producers who have created an incredible legacy of comedy over the past 40 years. You’ve done more than make people laugh. You inspired me to use comedy for a greater purpose.
Without Saturday Night Live, I would not have been able to reach kids with the Gospel the way that I did. As The Church Lady might say, “Isn’t that special?”
What are your memories of Saturday Night Live over the past 40 years?