The 20 Most Controversial Saturday Night Live Moments of All Time


Whereas Saturday Night Live’s fame as an envelope-pushing TV comedy establishment could stem from a long time of rose-tinted reminiscences and self-mythologizing, it’s past query that the late-night establishment has generated greater than its share of public outrage through the years.

Whereas some controversy erupted out of trenchant takes on hot-button problems with the day, extra typically the NBC switchboards had been lit up because of the whole lot from unintentional expletives to regrettable lapses in comedy judgment to even the manufactured ire of these focused by SNL.

And whereas there are many incidents to select from (Martin Lawrence’s off-script specific monologue, Donald Trump internet hosting, so, so many unintentional expletives), beneath are the 20 Most Controversial Saturday Evening Reside Moments of All Time.

Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase’s Phrase Affiliation Ends on One Specific Phrase (Dec. 13, 1975)

Lorne Michael’s name to usher in good and controversial comic Richard Pryor to host the seventh episode of Saturday Evening Reside noticed NBC scrambling to anticipate and keep away from bother. Pryor was probably the most outspoken and elegantly profane stand-up in America, main the community to order an unprecedented 10-second delay on the “reside broadcast” (there’s nonetheless the query as as to if that directive ever went into impact), however it was the incendiary Pryor’s mere presence on nationwide TV that actually had executives nervous. That unease got here to a head within the “Phrase Affiliation” sketch, the place Pryor’s job applicant is subjected to the titular train by potential employer Chevy Chase, whose initially harmless prompts (“canine,” “quick,” “rain”) escalate to an more and more edgy racial territory till the riled-up Chase lastly sneers “n—–.” The beforehand timid Pryor’s unleashed response, “Lifeless honky,” is met by cathartic laughter from a reside viewers made more and more anxious by the gathering air of comedic racial animosity. Even the authorship of the sketch is in debate, with Chase and Pryor’s visitor author Paul Mooney each laying declare to the premise through the years.


Patti Smith Rebuts the Bible … on Easter Morning (April 17, 1976)

Punk rock pioneer Patti Smith was simply one of many daring and adventurous musical visitors booked for Saturday Evening Reside’s inaugural season, however the Horses singer-songwriter made arguably probably the most incendiary musical statements within the present’s historical past in her solely look. Belting out her tune “Gloria,” Smith, with signature gusto, kicked off with the lyric, “Jesus died for any individual’s sins however not mine,” a provocative sufficient sentiment however much more since Smith’s efficiency commenced simply after midnight, which means that she was flaunting one among Christianity’s central conceits within the wee hours of Easter morning. Making issues even hotter for NBC, that night time’s present was inexplicably hosted by Ron Nessen, White Home press secretary for Republican president Gerald Ford, guaranteeing a more-than-usual conservative viewing viewers caught Smith’s defiant showcase, together with the First Household. Certainly, as Smith’s closing chorus, “And the tower bells chime ding dong, they chime / They’re singing, Jesus died for any individual’s sins however not mine,” the NBC switchboard bells had been already lighting up.


A Michael O’Donoghue Sketch Provokes a Lawsuit From Singer Andy Williams (April 24, 1976)

Claudine Longet was a singer, actress, and the ex-wife of crooner Andy Williams who had simply been arrested for the probably unintentional capturing of her present boyfriend, Olympic skier Vladimir “Spider” Sabich. Notoriously mischievous SNL author Michael “Mr. Mike” O’Donogue parlayed the continuing scandal right into a sketch referred to as “The Claudine Longet Invitational,” which noticed sports activities commentators Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin calling the motion as a sequence of movie clips of crashing skiers noticed the pair repeating variations of, “Oops, he has by accident been shot by Claudine Longet.” In accordance with Herminio Traviesas, NBC’s vp of requirements, his determination to OK the sketch based mostly on the script — with out seeing how the piece would play with the gunshots and Chase and Curtin’s deadpan supply — was one among his largest profession errors and one that just about value NBC some huge cash. Williams, an ardent defender of his ex, threatened to sue, with solely a disclaimer learn by announcer Don Pardo on the following episode heading off the swimsuit. That the tone of the apology was extra “Sorry you may’t take a joke” than “Sorry we completely implied that Ms. Longet was a coldblooded ski-murderer” wasn’t misplaced on SNL’s still-snickering viewers, even when it was sufficient for Williams.


Buck Henry’s Uncle Roy Makes America (and NBC) Very Uncomfortable (Three appearances from 1978-1980)

There’s no query that these sketches, that includes frequent early host Buck Henry because the lecherous relative and babysitter of Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman’s prepubescent expenses, gave NBC requirements and practices the willies a lot that its reps actively tried to get Lorne Michaels to mitigate and even banish the sketches. What did air was actually creepy sufficient, with the grinning Uncle Roy urging his unsuspecting nieces to play video games like “Glass Backside Boat” (the women stand on prime of a glass espresso desk whereas Roy leers from beneath) and “Ruffy the Canine” (the place the women spank him for being unhealthy). Writers Rosie Shuster and Anne Beatts defended their creation by noting the sly public service contained inside, as the problem of kid abuse from inside households was largely a taboo matter. Once they had the women’ grateful mother and father name Roy “one in 1,000,000,” Henry’s winking response straight to the digital camera – “Oh, there’s extra of me than you may anticipate” – was, in line with the proudly feminist Beatts and Shuster, supposed to steer feminine viewers of all ages to forged a suspicious look towards their handsy male kin. Regardless, your mileage could very a lot differ when re-watching Uncle Roy.


In a Breast Most cancers Sketch, SNL Asks, However What Concerning the Husband? (Nov. 17, 1979)

Quickly after NBC information correspondent Betty Rollin’s autobiography about her battle with breast most cancers, Then, You Cry, was changed into a Mary Tyler Moore-starring TV film, Al Franken and Tom Davis determined to sort out the problem of their signature, provocative method. Their sketch, “First He Cries,” as a substitute focuses on husband Bill Murray coming to grips with being married to a “half a lady” after spouse Gilda Radner undergoes a mastectomy. The purpose of the sketch is that Murray’s egocentric husband is an asshole (“What about me?” he screams at one level. “I’m caught with some sort of hideous, deformed freak!”), however Franken and Davis’ humorousness typically didn’t register as satire to some viewers in its brashly button-pushing juvenilia, and viewers had been outraged that Saturday Evening Reside seemed to be endorsing such self-involved cruelty regarding a delicate challenge. NBC was flooded with lots of of calls and letters, and never even a public letter of help from Rollin herself (who stated, “I assumed the premise of the sketch was terrific”) served to quiet the outcry, with one motivated viewer monitoring down that night time’s host Bea Arthur to berate her on the cellphone in her lodge room for showing within the sketch and a reluctant Murray complaining all week, “Are you aware what it’s prefer to go on the market and play one thing that’s going to make individuals hate you?”

NBC, Getty Photos

NBC, Getty Photos


Charles Rocket Drops an F-Bomb (Feb. 21, 1981)

The late Charles Rocket was singled out as the most important star in producer Jean Doumanian’s daring, in the end doomed reboot of Saturday Evening Reside after unique producer Lorne Michaels and the complete preliminary forged left the present after its fifth season. The snarky and photogenic Rocket bought the prime “Weekend Replace” slot and plenty of of that woeful season’s sketches had been constructed round his supposed main man charisma. However that every one got here crashing down in Season 6’s 11th episode. Constructed round Dallas costar Charlene Tilton’s internet hosting duties, a “Who Shot Charles Rocket?” operating gag performed out over the episode, with the wounded Rocket in the end recovering sufficient to take a seat in a wheelchair for the standard forged goodnights. Sadly for Rocket, the present was operating brief, and offscreen requires him to vamp lengthy sufficient to fill time noticed the actor answering Tilton’s query, “Charlie, how are you feeling after you’ve got been shot?,” with an offhand however unmistakable, “It is the primary time I’ve ever been shot in my life. I would prefer to know who the fuck did it.” It wasn’t the primary f-bomb ever dropped on SNL, and it would not be the final, however contemplating the already precarious state of Doumanian’s iteration of the present, Rocket’s gaffe sounded the loss of life knell. Doumanian and Rocket had been quickly fired, together with a lot of the forged and writers, earlier than Dick Ebersol took the reins for Season 7.


Andy Kaufman Is Voted off Saturday Evening Reside Endlessly (Nov. 20, 1982)

Boundary-pushing comic and efficiency artist Andy Kaufman appeared on the very first episode of Saturday Evening Reside, with the comic intermittently dropping by through the years to amuse, confuse and, as a rule, deliberately irritate audiences. At all times a grasp of provocation, Kaufman and then-producer Dick Ebersol cooked up a groundbreaking gag in 1982, staging a backstage fight that noticed Ebersol make a uncommon onscreen look to apologize for canceling Kaufman’s booked look and noting that he simply didn’t discover the comic’s confrontational antics as much as SNL’s requirements any longer. The truth that this was, within the terminology of wrestling provocateur Kaufman, a piece was hidden from most everybody on the present, as was the next, Drew Barrymore-hosted episode, wherein viewers had been requested to name one among two 900 numbers and vote on whether or not Andy Kaufman ought to ever seem on Saturday Evening Reside once more. Solid members introducing the bit all through the present had been torn between these assuming this was simply one other Kaufman bit and people genuinely upset at how Kaufman was being handled, with Eddie Murphy half-jokingly threatening to beat up anybody who voted for the comic’s banishment and Mary Gross speed-reading the “dump Andy” cellphone quantity so individuals would miss it. Ultimately, and with a nervous Kaufman watching at residence, the vote went in opposition to Kaufman, 195,444 to 169,186 (with viewers paying 50 cents per name). True to the joke, Kaufman certainly by no means appeared reside on SNL once more earlier than his loss of life in 1984.


Dana Carvey Loves Taking part in an Offensive Asian Stereotype (Seven appearances from 1986-2000)

Saturday Evening Reside has needed to develop up over the a long time on the subject of deploying racial caricatures for laughs, with one of the bewilderingly long-recurring characters from Dana Carvey standing out as notably egregious. Debuting a broken-English jabbering Chinese language shopkeeper named (sigh) Ching Chang again in 1986, Carvey was inexplicably capable of convey the broadly objectionable train in yellowface again six extra instances, together with even lobbying to resurrect the character after a 10-year absence when Carvey got here again to host in October of 2000. Carvey’s sub-Jerry Lewis fashion caricature loves chickens, wears a slicked-down black wig, speaks in an exaggerated approximation of first-gen Chinese language immigrant patter and customarily serves as an unpleasant blemish on Carvey’s SNL tenure. Some efforts had been made to answer criticism of Carvey’s minstrelsy through the years, though having fellow white forged member Nora Dunn fake to be Asian whereas her character upbraids brother Chang for his stereotypical habits is problematic in its personal proper.

NBC, Getty Photos

NBC, Getty Photos


Conan O’Brien Takes the Phrase “Penis” and Runs With It (Oct. 15, 1988)

With the FCC lastly stress-free its restrictions on sure phrases that might be heard on the general public airwaves, younger SNL author Conan O’Brien noticed a chance. So, with a recreation Matthew Broderick pulling internet hosting duties and his career-spanning penchant for subversive silliness, O’Brien penned “Nude Seashore,” a sketch the place the bare however obscured male forged members repeat the phrase “penis” greater than 40 instances. In a case of giving Conan an inch, the sketch sees Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey all touch upon the state and situation of every others’ genitals, earlier than conversationally noting how small Broderick’s penis is. Nealon lastly breaks the fourth wall to upbraid the viewers for snickering at such an on a regular basis phrase, with the assembled forged all fortunately singing the sketch out with the rousing refrain, “Penis, penis, penis, penis tune! Penis, penis, penis, penis, penis all day lengthy!” The sketch drew about 40,000 letters of grievance. That’s roughly 10,000 per “penis.”


Nirvana Makes Out (Jan. 11, 1982)

Grunge rockers Nirvana made no bones concerning the trio’s disdain of homophobia, misogyny and bigotry throughout their meteoric rise to stardom, with frontman Kurt Cobain famously telling such self-proclaimed Nirvana followers, “Don’t come to our exhibits and don’t purchase our information.” When the band was booked on a reside tv present, Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic leaped on the chance to place their anti-hate sentiments into motion and, after tearing by way of anarchic performances of their Nevermind songs “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Territorial Pissings,” all three band members used the unstructured goodnights to very visibly make out with one another in flip. Intending to impress any homophobes watching throughout the nation, Novocelic first passionately kissed Grohl earlier than turning to French kiss Cobain, who’d dyed his hair (reportedly with strawberry Kool-Assist) a surprising pink for the efficiency. Whether or not homophobes themselves or in worry of these within the viewing viewers, NBC took Nirvana’s bait, censoring the three-way make-out from all reruns, with even the streaming Peacock model substituting the kiss-less gown rehearsal credit as a replacement.


Sinead O’Connor Tears Up the Pope’s {Photograph} (Oct. 3, 1992)

It was the rip heard ‘round the world when Irish singer Sinead O’Connor produced an image of pontiff John Paul II after a stirring a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “Warfare” and tore it into items. The outspoken singer had supposed her gesture to convey consideration to the Catholic church’s now well-litigated historical past of condoning and enabling little one sexual abuse, however all a 1992 viewers noticed was crimson as O’Connor, urging viewers to “Combat the actual enemy,” defaced the picture of a world spiritual chief on reside tv. The backlash was violent and speedy, with any intention on O’Connor’s half to spark debate drowned in a tsunami of wrath, canceled appearances and loss of life threats. Regardless of O’Connor showing in the course of the goodnights and being embraced by host Tim Robbins, few at Saturday Evening Reside had been followers of the singer’s unannounced gesture, with O’Connor by no means being invited again and the subsequent week’s host, actor Joe Pesci, not simply taping O’Connor’s torn photograph again collectively however saying his need to “smack” the younger singer. O’Connor, who was booed off of Madison Sq. Backyard’s stage at a tribute live performance for Bob Dylan just a few weeks later, survived the controversy, even when she by no means once more reached the identical stage of American success.


Robert Smigel’s “Conspiracy Concept Rock” Conjures up Censorship Conspiracy (March 14, 1998)

Utilizing his TV Funhouse segments to smuggle in some sensitive material was at all times Robert Smigel’s jam, however even the provocative and prolific author discovered himself belatedly reprimanded for some particularly pointed bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you materials when his Schoolhouse Rock-styled parody aired on March 14, 1998 … and by no means once more. A musical revue with regards to media consolidation and related company censorship (together with that by NBC), the piece was a point-by-point recreation of the beloved educational cartoons, full with annotated examples of mum or dad firms ordering their owned TV information divisions to hush up or downplay tales crucial of company pursuits. (And upbraiding SNL viewers for purchasing these SNL advertisers’ merchandise.) The sketch went over effectively sufficient, however was then pulled from all reruns and syndication, reportedly on the order of each Lorne Michaels and future NBC president Rick Ludwin, then a Basic Electrical government (GE being one goal of the piece). Michaels claimed, in Reside From New York: The Full, Uncensored Historical past of Saturday Evening Reside that Smigel’s piece simply wasn’t humorous sufficient to incorporate later, though contemplating the a number of clunker sketches littering Peacock’s hand-edited episodes, the excuse rings unusually like — dare we are saying it? — a conspiracy.


Jimmy Fallon’s Blackface Chris Rock Impression Takes 20 Years to Blow Up in His Face (March 11, 2000)

Name this one a too-long-delayed comeuppance for a regrettable longtime leisure follow. Jimmy Fallon did a stable impression of pal and SNL alum Chris Rock in a sketch that additionally noticed the white comedian slathered in brown make-up to painting the decidedly not-white Rock. Glacial as the character of cultural enlightenment is, the sketch handed with a minimal outcry, even briefly popping up on 2005’s Better of Jimmy Fallon DVD. That modified when the clip resurfaced in 2019 after NBC lastly fired former Fox determine and blackface defender Megyn Kelly, with Kelly’s supporters all of the sudden pretending to care concerning the precise challenge of offensive racial cosplay by calling for Fallon to be equally let go from The Tonight Present. Ultimately, Fallon belatedly apologized, Rock claimed no offense at his pal’s long-ago impression and Megyn Kelly followers went in the hunt for the subsequent tortured instance of white grievance to cynically exploit.


Adrien Brody Dons Dreads, Advert Libs and Will get Proven the Door (Could 10, 2003)

Since musical visitor Sean Paul was from Jamaica, host Adrien Brody thought it was a fantastic thought to introduce the singer in lengthy pretend dreadlocks and do a stereotypical Jamaican accent. Cultural appropriation and insensitivity apart, what actually torpedoed the Oscar winner was his further determination to go off script with a protracted, rambling, slang-filled introduction, lasting some 45 treasured seconds of the reside broadcast’s operating time. Lorne Michaels, an avowed hater of ad-libbing on SNL, reportedly informed Brody to lose Saturday Evening Reside’s quantity. He’s by no means appeared on the present since.


Christoph Waltz Tarantinos Jesus (Feb. 16, 2013)

With Django Unchained Oscar winner Christoph Waltz in the home, SNL determined to undertake director Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist cineaste historical past method in re-telling the best story ever informed. Waltz performs a vengeance-hungry savior within the trailer for Jesus Uncrossed, rising from his tomb all out of cheeks to show. Waltz’s Jesus is all about swords and weapons and pithy pre-kill one-liners, whereas the forged chips in with impressions of Tarantino alums like Kenan Thompson’s Ving Rhames, Jay Pharoah’s Samuel L. Jackson and Taran Killam’s Brad Pitt, right here transported into Pontius Pilate, Judas and a redneck St. Peter, respectively. The bloody sketch is as a lot a parody of Tarantino’s film-geek excesses as it’s the Bible (though a evaluation states the Jesus-y kill-fest not less than isn’t as gory as The Ardour of the Christ), however that didn’t cease NBC from receiving complaints from each Christian teams and the Council of American-Islamic Relations, with main advertisers caving to strain from evangelical political motion teams to drag their adverts from streaming reruns.


Fred Armisen Repeatedly Mocks New York Governor David Paterson’s Blindness (Ten sketches from 2008-2013)

New York’s governor on the time, David Paterson, is legally blind, which led to Saturday Evening Reside and Fred Armisen considering that portraying the politician as a bumbling, Mr. Magoo-esque determine on “Weekend Replace” was comedian gold. Armisen’s impression is one half traditional New York political mockery and about 4 elements Armisen squinting cross-eyed into the unsuitable digital camera, and it drew sufficient ire from advocates for the sightless that Paterson himself appeared on the Season 36 premiere episode alongside Armisen’s iteration, making enjoyable of Saturday Evening Reside outstaying its welcome earlier than noting earnestly, “However whereas I’ve a superb humorousness, jokes that degrade individuals only for their disabilities are sophomoric and silly.” Whereas Paterson performed alongside, he responded to apologies from Armisen (nonetheless doing the impression on to his proper) and anchors Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers by delivering the stable exit zinger, “You need to be sorry. You’ve poked a lot enjoyable at me for being blind that I forgot I used to be Black.”


SNL Thinks Youngster Molestation Is Hilarious Sufficient to Do It Twice (April 11, 2015, Jan. 23, 2016)

Age-old double requirements regarding sexual abuse are the premise for these two courtroom sketches, each centering on Pete Davidson’s underage highschool scholar testifying about his sexual relationships with varied grownup feminine academics. Within the first, the predatory educator is Cecily Robust, whereas the return sees Davidson on the stand regarding his three-way with Robust and fellow instructor, host Rhonda Rousey. In each, the sketch is a nonstop snigger-fest, with even Kenan Thompson’s decide high-fiving the “fortunate” boy for his experiences being abused by sexual predators, the most important chortle strains coming within the type of the parade of admiring nicknames Davidson’s friends bestow upon him as soon as the felony sexual contact is revealed. Other than the truth that there’s no approach the sketch would air if the genders had been reversed (or if it had been a same-sex encounter), SNL refused to soak up the criticism from advocates for survivors of kid sexual abuse to convey the identical sketch again a 12 months later stays completely baffling and irresponsible.


SNL’s Product Integration Goes Rogue, and Safelite Is Not Glad (Oct. 7, 2017)

Lorne Michaels has at all times courted some good previous company synergy, normally offered by way of compensated product integration (in recent times as a strategy to minimize down on actual industrial interruptions). However a pretend advert for the unsuspecting Safelite AutoGlass firm actually isn’t one thing the windshield replacers would have approved, because the industrial sees Beck Bennett’s creepily smiling substitute specialist (sporting a outstanding firm brand on his work shirt) repeatedly smashing a mother’s windshield so he can creep on her underage daughter. Safelite was not thrilled, to the extent that NBC instantly yanked the offending filmed sketch from reruns and streaming, and continues to aggressively scrub any reposts of it from the web. No phrase if authorized motion or simply plain remorse is behind the purge, however good luck discovering the piece anyplace.

NBC/Common, Getty Photos

NBC/Common, Getty Photos


Pete Davidson Will get Loss of life Threats for Mocking a Warfare-Wounded Congressional Candidate (Nov. 3, 2018)

Slotted comfortably into his function as SNL’s stoner child brother by this level, Pete Davidson hardly ever touched on politics in his self-effacing “Weekend Replace” appearances. On this night time, nevertheless, the stand-up did just a few stable minutes roasting the bodily appearances of a different crop of candidates competing within the upcoming midterm elections, along with his offhand joke about Texas Republican and war-wounded former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw coming in for sudden warmth. Davidson’s slideshow consists of Crenshaw, who misplaced a watch in Afghanistan, with the comedian joking, “You might be shocked to listen to that he’s a congressional candidate from Texas and never a hitman in a porno film.” Davidson bought massive laughs all phase, and although anchor Michael Che seemingly makes an attempt to warn Davidson off from the Crenshaw line, the gag was simply one among a sequence of bipartisan slams. That’s till conservative media seized upon Davidson’s joke (and his follow-up, “I’m sorry, I do know he misplaced his eye in battle … or no matter”) as proof of the left-leaning present’s supposed disrespect for service members—particularly one as beloved of the far-right. Crenshaw, then battling for a seat in Congress, leaped on the controversy, with Fox Information whipping up outrage to the extent that Davidson obtained loss of life threats, together with one within the type of a cellphone name to his mom’s home. SNL ultimately invited Crenshaw, who’d received his seat, to roast Davidson again on “Replace” because the comic and the candidate made up, with Davidson calling Crenshaw “a superb man,” one thing the comedian later recanted upon studying simply how virulently right-wing Crenshaw was.


Dave Chappelle Swerves to Keep away from One Controversy, Crashes Proper Into One other (Nov. 13, 2022)

After one other well-deserved spherical of complaints from individuals who aren’t into anti-trans bigotry after Dave Chappelle’s current Netflix particular, The Nearer, viewers had been tuning in to see how or if the legendary stand-up would tackle the problem on SNL. However, after a fake-out, Chappelle as a substitute weighed in at size on the then-current spate of Black superstars (Kanye West, Kyrie Irving) brazenly participating in vocal antisemitism, and, deliberately or not, stole the warmth from one Dave Chappelle controversy and threw it onto one other. Whereas Chappelle’s fastidiously worded and written-out blanket condemnation of anti-Jewish bigotry and the 2 aforementioned celebrities leads off his monologue, the comedian then goes off in a number of instructions that tacitly reinforce the concept that “cancel tradition” is being disproportionately pushed by highly effective Jewish figures within the leisure and media industries — and that he’s one other one among their victims. As a result of it’s Chappelle, there may be some comedy gold and a few ticklish social commentary all through the prolonged monologue, however, ultimately, he comes off extra like a cranky previous conspiracy theorist than the sparklingly unique comedian drive former followers keep in mind so fondly. Protests from the Anti-Defamation League, amongst different teams, adopted.

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