“Saturday Night Live” is celebrating its milestone 40th anniversary this season and as a huge fan of the show I wanted to celebrate it with a list of what I consider to be the show’s 40 most memorable moments. Trying to condense a show like “Saturday Night Live” into 40 memorable moments for its 40 years on television is a fool’s errand. One-hundred moments wouldn’t be enough. So there are going to be moments throughout this list that cause controversy because they are included when others aren’t, but that’s what happens when you have such a legendary show and it’s the debate caused by those moments chosen and those left out that truly makes a list fun and worthwhile.
1. Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult (More Cowbell) (April 8, 2000)
Choosing the all-time most memorable moment in the great 40 year history of “Saturday Night Live” is not an easy task as there are literally dozens of deserving moments and sketches that deserve the honor. However, I think the spot should go to the funniest and greatest sketch in the show’s history and I believe that sketch to be the Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult, better known as the “More Cowbell,” sketch from the April 8, 2000 episode hosted by Christopher Walken. It’s a sketch that would likely top many a list of the greatest ‘SNL’ sketches of all-time.
The great thing about the More Cowbell sketch is that it could have been a bust had it not been for the improvisational antics of Will Ferrell – who, in my opinion, is the greatest cast member in the show’s history.
The idea behind the sketch is rather simple. Christopher Walken plays record producer Bruce Dickinson who while in the studio listening to the popular ‘70s hard rock group Blue Oyster Cult lay down the track for their future hit “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” he realizes the song is missing a little something … more cowbell.
Dickinson demands that the group add more cowbell to the track, which is where Will Ferrell comes in as cowbell extraordinaire Gene Frenkle. Frenkle’s cowbell playing starts out rather simple and low-key at first, but Dickinson demands more from him. Walken’s exclamation that “I gotta have more cowbell” has become one of the most memorable lines in ‘SNL’ history and a part of the pop culture lexicon.
Ferrell begins to explore more space with his cowbell playing on future takes that becomes wilder by the take to the chagrin of his bandmates, particularly lead singer Eric Bloom (played by Chris Parnell).
Ferrell’s raucous cowbell playing though soon takes this sketch from a funny one to the greatest in ‘SNL’ history when his antics begin to make everybody else in the sketch break character and crack up on live television. Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan and Parnell as the other band members all lose it completely at points during the sketch, which causes the audience to laugh even harder than they had been at Ferrell’s wild gyrations while pounding the cowbell.
Fallon attributed the sketch being hugely popular and hilarious to a last second wardrobe change on Ferrell’s part saying, “The cowbell sketch in dress [rehearsal] wasn’t as funny. And then Will changed his shirt, he wore a smaller shirt.” This smaller shirt allowed Ferrell’s large belly to protrude from under it when he really got to gyrating during his cowbell playing and truly does ratchet up the funny in the sketch tenfold.
After Bloom finally freaks out on Frenkle about his cowbell playing Frenkle goes on an absolutely terrific impromptu speech which leaves everybody, both those in the sketch and those watching from home in hysterics: “Can I just say one thing? I’m standing here, staring at rock legend Bruce Dickinson! And if Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell, we should probably give him more cowbell! And, Bobby, you are right – I am being selfish. But the last time I checked, we don’t have a whole lot of songs that feature the cowbell. And I’d be doing myself a disservice and every member of this band, if I didn’t perform the HELL out of this!”
During this speech Ferrell even cracks himself up, which was something fans didn’t see too much of on the show. Ferrell’s break of character forces Fallon to lose it so much that he literally turns away from the camera and bites down on one of the drumsticks he’s holding.
It’s quite unbelievable now, but this funniest sketch in ‘SNL’ history actually had trouble making it to air. Ferrell, who had written the sketch with ‘SNL’ writer Donnell Campbell, said on the TV special “Saturday Night Live in the 90s: Pop Culture Nation”: “The cowbell sketch, I’d written it early in the first half of the year…it just didn’t get picked for whatever reason.”
When it finally got picked Ferrell made damn sure that it’d never be forgotten.
2. Weekend Update
3. Word Association
5. Chippendales Audition