I felt like I should pay tribute to Saturday Night Live as the 40th anniversary was the talk of the town this weekend. But this is one of the few instances where I actually have no idea what to say. SNL has always been in my life and more importantly, been a part of my life. I’ve never known a world without SNL and frankly, I don’t care to. It feels a bit weird to make such adamantly sentimental and loving statements about a show that is so often looked down on – accused of either being past its prime or never having been funny at all – but I can’t help how I feel. “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” takes me to my happy place. I honestly don’t know who I would be if I didn’t hear those magical seven words every Saturday night growing up.
I have vividly clear memories of watching SNL for the first time. It was the spring of 1996, I was 10 years old and up with the flu and a fever. My younger brother was tucked away in bed and I was being tended to by my parents in the living room. My mom spread a sheet out on the floor for me (she would sleep on the couch in case I needed anything during the night) and I can still remember how cool and refreshing the sheet felt against my fever-warm skin. 11:30 rolled around (though it seemed much later to a delirious 10-year-old) and my father turned the muted TV to Saturday Night Live, as (I’d later find out) he often did. I was familiar with the show only by name and reputation – I was a fan of Nickelodeon’s kid-oriented sketch shows, Roundhouse and All That, and knew that those shows were based on that model. And I knew it was something I was not allowed to watch, a fact I had learned 2 years previous when Nancy Kerrigan (I was obsessed with figure skating for a few years in my childhood) hosted and my parents tuned in and told me about it after the fact.
But for some reason, this night was different. As fate would have it, Jim Carrey was hosting and my parents were tickled by The Mask. By monologue’s end, Dad had unmuted the TV. Mom was still attending to my illness, pressing a cold washcloth to my forehead, but her attention slowly began to shift from me to the television. The first sketch was Carrey joining in on Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri’s Spartan Cheerleaders routine. It was weird, it was manic, it was… amazing? The next sketch was the soon-to-be-iconic sight of Carrey with Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan’s Roxbury Guys. Incredible. The third sketch featured Carrey as an overzealous lifeguard supervising Will Ferrell sitting in a Jacuzzi. The three of us were in hysterics.
Even in my feverish haze, I remember feeling like I was getting away with something. Did my parents forget I was in the room? Is this a treat because I’m sick? Do they figure I’m not retaining any of this because I’m fuzzy from the cold medicine? Anytime any joke or event happened that I knew (or extrapolated) was “inappropriate,” I would squint my eyes (squint, not close. I obviously wasn’t going to stop watching!) and pretend to have fallen asleep, not for fear of embarrassment but for fear that my Dad would feel pressured to change the channel. There was no way he could change the channel.