Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lorne Michaels, SNL Studios and the death of hope

Illustration for article titled Lorne Michaels, SNL Studios and the death of hope

We as a nation are screwed. The Hopelessness Index has reached an all-time high, with an astonishing 97 percent of the population agreeing that the American people are doomed to get skull-fucked and brain-raped by the unconscionably sadistic dictates of fate and a malevolent trickster-God for the rest of eternity, if not longer.

Yes, we are fucked. Hopelessly, hopelessly fucked. How did we get to this sad and desperate state? Where did it all go wrong? When did we as a culture and a society lose our way and give in to the forces of hopelessness and despair? For me, the current era of bad feelings began on October 13th, 2000. For that was the day the last film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch opened. I don’t need to remind any of you that the film in question was Ladies Man.

Has anything good happened since Ladies Man opened? I don’t think so. The golden epoch of 1992 to 2000 saw the release of an astonishing ten films based on Saturday Night Live characters: Wayne’s World, Mr. Saturday Night, Coneheads, Stuart Saves His Family, Wayne’s World 2, It’s Pat, Blues Brothers 2000, A Night At The Roxbury, Office Space, Superstar and The Ladies Man. This was not so coincidentally a golden age of peace and prosperity. The economy thrived. The market soared. The whole world was giddy with optimism about the utopian possibilities of the imminent online renaissance. Lorne Michaels’ SNL Studios cranked out one masterpiece after another, each more achingly essential than the last.


How could a single five to eight minute sketch do justice to the complexity, depth and richness of those two coked-up guys that nodded their heads in rhythm to “What Is Love”? Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan’s disco enthusiasts merited; no angrily demanded a feature film. It actually merited more than that but so far I haven’t been able to find backing for the next two entries in my proposed Night At The Roxbury triologyor my Night At The Roxbury opera.

The Saturday Night Live movies flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Studios just didn’t see how low-budget, lowbrow comedies with a young, built-in audience could possibly make money so Michaels fucking made them himself, driven by guts, talent and an almost messianic fervor to bring the epic tale of that creepy androgynous person who creeps everyone out with their androgyny to the big screen. That’s why he created SNL Studios. It was his Zoetrope, only more ambitious and less commercial.

When the suits and bean counters couldn’t wrap their square little heads around the enormity and breathtaking ambition of Michaels’ vision he fucking went guerrilla. Like Godard and Truffaut in the heady days of Breathless and 400 Blows these films were financed by maxing out credit cards and hawking personal goods. I have it on good authority that Dan Aykroyd had to pawn his Faberge egg collection to finance The Blues Brothers 2000. The “Man” said it was foolhardy if not downright heretical to make a Blues Brothers movie without John Belushi but Aykroyd was all, “Fuck ‘em. We’ll just replace him with a kid, a black guy, the fat guy from those New Orleans tourism ads, a talking dog, an effete green alien only Jake Blues can see, a Hobbit and, worst case scenario, James Belushi.” He eventually had to scale back his plan but nothing could keep him from bringing the next chapter in the Blues Brothers saga before an adoring public.

Movies like Ladies Man, Superstar, A Night At The Roxbury were shot without permits by non-union crews working eighteen hours so they could help realize Michaels’ mad prophet ambitions. Motherfuckers were sleeping in cars. Motherfuckers were reupholstering cars. Still other motherfuckers were digging for spare change underneath the seats of cars.


Michaels’ mom and wife sewed the costumes for these films and provided bag lunches for the cast and crew. It was as DIY and punk rock as anything Ian McKaye has ever done. It wasn’t business: it was personal. Michaels had to tell these fucking stories. It was goddamned essential.

The SNL Studios’ nineties renaissance spurred a once-in-a-lifetime rush of innovation and productivity. Technologies that would eventually lead to influential businesses like Youtube and Netflix were developed largely to facilitate easier, more convenient viewings of movies like Superstar and Night At The Roxbury. Americans worked harder so that they would be able to afford to take their families, pastors and troubled ruffians to see SNL movies over the weekend. The filmmakers behind SNL Studios inspired us all with their daring, vision and genius.


To cite but a single example I was deeply depressed in 2000. In fact I planned on offing myself until one day I was exiting the University 4 theater in Madison and I heard the magical words, "Free passes for the new Tim Meadows movie! Free passes to the new Tim Meadows movie!" from college students handing out fliers by the exits. I suddenly felt ridiculous. Why would I want to exit a world glorious enough to produce something like a Tim Meadows movie, especially one based on his most beloved SNL character? My despair instantly dissipated, replaced by rapturous joy and optimism. That night SNL Studios literally saved my life. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Then the laughter died. It’s possible that Michaels cruelly stopped the onslaught of SNL movies because he understandably felt it would be impossible to top Ladies Man. He went out on top. Now there are some folks who might argue that Michaels intentionally destroyed American society by cruelly ending production of SNL movies because he’s a Canadian and Canadians are cannibalistic, Satan-worshipping puppy-rapers who sneak into our country and pass as Americans with the sole purpose of destroying us from within. That’s true of course—but only up to a point. I’d like to think Michaels has spent enough time in the United States and ravaged enough of our American women with his depraved, barbed Canadian phallus that he’s developed at least a grudging fondness for our way of life.


The past nine years have seen a gaudy parade of unforgettable SNL characters begging for the big-screen treatment. If I have one problem with these beloved fan favorites it’s that I just don’t see enough of them or get to hear their hilarious catchphrases often enough. A new batch of SNL movies would correct that. I long to learn more about that creepy, upstaging whispering lady Kristen Wiig plays. Why does she feel the need to trumpet her own accomplishments at the expense of others? Is a formative trauma responsible? Is an unhappy childhood to blame? What’s her family like? Did her parents never give her enough attention or validation? Does her need to upstage people play havoc on her romantic and personal life? These are the questions that keep me awake at night. That and my crystal meth addiction.

Why must you deprive us of these movies, Mr. Michaels? Do you hate joy? Don’t you want to make money? It isn’t entirely hopeless however. Later this month HBO will be airing a You’re Welcome, America, A Final Night With George W. Bush, a live broadcast of Will Ferrell’s one-man show based on the ignorant hillbilly President character he created for Saturday Night Live.


This is an encouraging start but movies based on Saturday Night Live characters demand to be seen on the big screen, not broadcast live on pay television. Some folks have argued that Ferrell’s zany “W” character is based on a real person and that this real person may, in fact, be more responsible for the mess we’re in than the dearth of new Saturday Night Live movies. I’m not buying it. So I implore you, Mr. Michaels: make more SNL movies. Give us back our hope.

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