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  Cup o' Joel  

In defense of Saturday Night Live’s “Potato Chip” sketch

This has been almost universally panned. Me? I think it’s frickin’ genius:

Netflix right now has the early seasons of SNL available on its streaming site. You should go check it out sometime — especially the very first season. These days, everybody knows exactly what you’re going to get when you watch Saturday Night Live: A couple of skits about the news, a couple of skits that either comment on pop culture events directly or parody the broad trends somewhat more broadly. And a couple of songs.

Those first seasons of SNL, though, could be pretty frickin’ weird. And they were much less formulaic. One early episode featured a short film from Gary Weis that featured a number of New York City nightclub acts playing “Misty.” It was odd and it was brilliant.

What’s great about the “Potato Chip” sketch is that it reflects that earlier, unbridled SNL sensibility. This skit is not about anything but it’s own absurdity. Which wouldn’t be so impressive, except that these three actors — facing an almost complete lack of positive audience feedback, only occasional nervous and bewildered laughter — commit, completely, to their performance. Most of these guys come up through improv troupes like Second City, and you can easily see something like this playing in a small room like that.

One commenter compared the sketch to Kids in the Hall. That’s about right, although I also thought back to this bit from Mr. Show:

YouTube Preview Image

Weird. Just weird. But kinda funny. And funnier on repeated viewings.

Trust me on this: People will be talking about the “Potato Chip” sketch in 5, 15 or 20 years the way we remember the Bass-O-Matic advertisement today. It was that weird, and that good.

  1. Aaron Says: Dec 7 1:22 PM

    I totally agree, I rarely watch SNL these days, but happened upon this skit Saturday night, watched it, couldn’t stop laughing. It was completely absurd, the actors were 100% commited, and the ending almost made me cry. I may evey start watching SNL again because of this skit.

  2. brendancalling Says: Dec 7 2:19 PM

    both sketches would be a lot funnier if they didn’t stop abruptly every 5 seconds to rebuffer. it makes the clip unwatchable.

  3. Joel Mathis Says: Dec 7 2:31 PM

    I haven’t had that problem, B.

  4. Steve-O Says: Dec 7 5:54 PM

    I loved this bit, too. The fixation on decorum rather than competence, at NASA of all places. It’s so delightfully surreal.

  5. Ben Says: Dec 14 5:26 PM

    I know alot of people liked the skit for having a more classic feal to it. But in my opinion I think there was a reason why they don’t do stuff along those lines anymore. The style of SNL has changed with what the people find funny, and from what I’ve heard, most people just didn’t find this skit to be funny (including most of the audience).

  6. ed Says: Dec 29 11:11 PM

    brilliant work.

  7. Josh Says: Jan 24 1:56 AM

    Couldn’t agree more! This skit reminded me a lot of Monty Python.

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