' Cinema Romantico: The Last Transcendent Saturday Night Live Sketch

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Last Transcendent Saturday Night Live Sketch

I had yet to move to Chicago. I had yet to move back to Des Moines before moving to Chicago. I had yet to move to Phoenix before moving back to Des Moines before moving to Chicago. That was the last time the most famous sketch comedy show of 'em all aired a sketch one could truly call transcendent.

Two things have caused this to be at the forefront of my mind. Last Saturday, after two rather dull NCAA Basketball Tournament games, I chose to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live for the sheer fact that Wilco was the musical guest. And Wilco was awesome. At least, they were awesome with the one song I saw them play - "Hate It Here" from their most recent album. I was unable to make it to their second song because the show was not simply unfunny, but downright wretched. God-awful. An insult to comedy. I couldn't take anymore of it, not even for Wilco. Ellen Page (i.e. "Juno" herself) was hosting and the look on her face the entire time seemed to be saying - "Seriously? This is the best you've got?" The show is just not good. It is just not good. Even Amy Poehler - who I think is a reasonably funny woman - seems as dull as a Colorado Football player discussing the finer points of Michael Bay films (zing!).

Then last night while watching a re-run of "The Office" a commercial appeared for the upcoming episode of "Saturday Night Live" with Christopher Walken, aforementioned Amy Poehler at his side, announcing himself as the host, to which Amy Poehler replied, "Who wants more cowbell?"

That, friends, is, of course, a reference to the sketch which I myself am referencing. If you don't remember it, well, you can watch it right here. Essentially it is done as a VH1 Behind the Music Special in which the 70's rock outfit Blue Oyster Cult is recording its mild hit "Don't Fear the Reaper" with legendary music producer Bruce Dickinson (Christopher Walken). The entire song features a cowbell, played by Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell). The sketch is nothing beyond the band stopping and starting its song as they attempt to determine whether or not the cowbell is necessary with Bruce Dickinson firmly believing it is ("I'm tellin' ya', fellas, you're gonna' want that cowbell on the track").

If nothing about it sounds transcendent, well, if you've seen it, you know damn well it is. It is so frickin' funny that the totally unflappable Will Ferrell can be seen breaking into a smile in the middle of it (the totally flappable Jimmy Fallon completely loses it).

It is the absolute last time I remember going to the office the following Monday morning and hearing people say, "Man, did you see Saturday Night Live?" And then someone else would say, "More cowbell?" And then everyone within earshot would laugh. In fact, I'm willing to bet if you went up to ten people on the street and said in your best Christopher Walken impersonation (even if your best is terrible) "Guess what? I got a fever" that nine people would reply "And the only prescription is more cowbell!" That's transcendent.

The sketch has an entry on Wikipedia. There are "more cowbell" tee shirts. It has been parodied at all levels. And it can be mentioned in a ten second spot 8 years after it aired without fear of no one having any idea what they're talking about.

It makes me think of Michael Jordan's game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Championship which wrapped up Air Mike's sixth title. Remember after he hit that shot? The famous pose of him standing there for the briefest of moments with his right arm up in the air? If you compare that famous photo to the freeze frame of Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkle at the end of the "more cowbell" sketch there actually isn't a whole lot of difference. Kings of the mountain. Two moments of supreme greatness.

And it's all been downhill ever since.

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