Lorne Michaels gathered his merry band of jesters at 30 Rockefeller Center’s hallowed Studio 8H on Sunday to celebrate four decades of comedy with Saturday Night Live‘s 40th anniversary special.
In the words of Bill Hader’s Stefon, this anniversary had everything: veterans (Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David), current pop-culture fixtures (Taylor Swift, Kerry Washington, Miley Cyrus), former hosts (Tom Hanks, Derek Jeter, Alec Baldwin), willing butts of the joke (Sarah Palin) – even Land Shark!
The three-and-a-half-hour special showcased fan favorites’ audition tapes and many of the last 40 years’ best sketches and digital shorts. Alongside the laughs were touching tributes to New York City and late cast members, plus musical performances from Cyrus, Kanye West, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon.
During the course of the star-studded evening, five segments showcased the series’s past, present and future.
The Opening Monologue(s)
Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake opened the show by paying homage to several of the most memorable moments in SNL history, from Church to the Ambiguously Gay Duo, “two wild and crazy guys,” “more cowbell!” and the pals’ own (uncensored!) “D— in a Box.” Molly Shannon even dropped by as Mary Katherine Gallagher to smell her armpits, and Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer once again brought down the mood, reminding the guys musical numbers send ratings into a tailspin.
Later, beloved SNL vet Steve Martin took the stage and noted wryly, “Tonight is like an enormous high school reunion. … A high school that is almost all white.” After a few words, past hosts – including Hanks, Baldwin, Chris Rock, Cyrus and Melissa McCarthy – joined him onstage to land one-liners.
Ferrell reprised his role as game show host Alex Trebek and welcomed Sean Connery (current SNL emcee Darrell Hammond) and Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald). Per usual, Connery uncouthly struggled reading the categories (see: “Whore Ads” instead of “Who Reads” and “Le Tits Now” instead of “Let It Snow”), and no one got a single answer correct.
Joining the pros were current cast member Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber and three-time host Jim Carrey as Matthew McConaughey (reviving a ready-made viral sensation digital short from his recent October hosting stint). Kenan Thompson took a risky role in the video Daily Double as Bill Cosby, who was making “his favorite cocktail” in a clip that Ferrell’s Trebek frantically insisted had been “shot six months ago.”
Thompson, Hader, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer returned in the recurring soap opera parody. This time around, Karina (Wiig) finds out she’s pregnant – but not with the baby of husband Stuart (Armisen) or with lover Devin (Hader). Twist! The denim short short-sporting pool boy Greg … or Craig … (Bradley Cooper).
Rounding out the A-list cast – in nearly incomprehensible Valley girl accents – were Taylor Swift, Kerry Washington and none other than Betty White, whose character had had an affair with Cooper’s. Long story short, Cooper and White kissed, and it broke the Internet.
Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Jane Curtin took over “Weekend Update” anchor duties, though their guests managed to occupy plenty of the spotlight. Emma Stone stepped out to do her best impression of Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, McCarthy crashed into the “Update” desk as Chris Farley’s “motivational” speaker Matt Foley and Edward Norton emulated Stefon. (To the audience’s delight, the real Stefon, a.k.a. Hader, joined Norton and gave tips, including “Make a teepee for your secrets!”)
Schwing! Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) reunited for another episode of Wayne’s World. Sharing an SNL-themed Top 10 list, the seasoned pros anchored the special with a sentimental thank-you to producer Lorne Michaels and the crew even as they managed to deliver some of the night’s most topical jokes, including an extended gag about West pegged to his Feb. 8 Grammys lash-out at Beck. After telling West not to “storm the stage,” they kept the laughs coming: “I think Beck was one of the best, even better than Beyoncé.”
All in all, it was a night that honored where SNL has irreverently been and the creative minds who have formed its identity, all the while keeping an eye toward the current events that have provided the show’s backbone over the last 40 years. Oh, and there was a bass in a blender.