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October 13, 2014

Saturday Night Live, Which Is Awful, Accused of Stealing a Sketch from the Improv Comedy Troupe The Groundlings, and Making that Sketch Awful

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Silverman hosted the awful amateur sketch show, and appeared in a sketch in which three women in shag wigs and sequiney red mini-dresses did a Three Woman Tina Turner tribute, singing Proud Mary. During the song, the stopped singing to explain how they had come to be part of this terrible act.

The Groundlings are an improv troupe from which Saturday Night Live recruits a lot of its talent. (I think Phil Hartman was a Groundling, for example.)

Most Groundlings' career plan is to get hired by Saturday Night Live. So they're generally afraid to accuse the show of anything untoward -- they'd be damaging their career.

So it's a major thing for a couple of Groundlings to step forward and say SNL ripped them off.

But in this case it seems so blatant they're saying it anyway. The Groundlings sketch -- which they've been doing for the past few weeks -- features two women in shag wigs and sequiney red mini-dresses doing a Two Woman Tina Turner tribute, also singing Proud Mary, also pausing their singing to explain the terrible circumstances which brought them to do this terrible act.

Videos at the AV Club. The SNL video isn't embeddable, so you'll just have to go there for it. The tweet by one of the Groundlings noting the close similarities is below the fold.

That article links to a FaceBook post by a Groundlings teacher who says he's had enough.

Alright. So this is weird. And a delicate subject...

[general praise of SNL as an institution omitted]

But, over the years I have seen MANY, MANY sketches flat out stolen from my friends by Saturday Night Live. Nearly verbatim. Word for word... And everyone in our community goes "Oh man. That sucks." and nobody says anything because I guess SNL is still some dream for some people or they donít want to get involved, or a million other reasonable things that stop people from standing up for each other when things are blatantly wrong.

Well, enough of that. This is f***ed up. This is stupid. And we have the means to make people aware of blatant rip offs of other peoples material. It doesn't need to be a witch hunt. It doesn't need to be pointing fingers, assigning blame, or taking sides. But a simple case of whatís right and wrong.

Recently, SNL has been accused of lifting a sketch from Key & Peele. Personally, I find this accusation weak -- the sketches both feature football players coming out and announcing themselves (as they do in televised games). In the SNL sketch, pro football players come out and announce their criminal records. In the Key & Peele sketch, college football players come out and announce their names, which are all ridiculous.

To me, that's not even close to a rip-off. Everyone has seen those football players coming out and announcing their names and their colleges; this is the sort of premise that is going to occur to thousands and thousands of comedy writers as something to exploit for humor.

And the SNL sketch and Key & Peele sketch also have different takes: SNL has them announcing criminal records, Key & Peele just have them announcing funny, oddball names.

But this Tina Turner Tribute sketch is not the sort of thing that just occurs to thousands of people at once. It's pretty specific, in both the thing being parodied -- how many people have recently seen a lame lounge act like this -- and the specific way it's being exploited for humor (pausing "Proud Mary" to talk about how their terrible life circumstances).

So is this entirely a case of "Parallel Thinking," as an SNL statement would have it?

It would be a case of parallel thinking, I think, if the SNL writer could establish he'd just been at a lame Vegas lounge act in which he saw a couple of women doing this tribute. In that case, perhaps the Groundlings performers and the SNL writer both just happened to see the same sort of strange act and both decided to make it a sketch. The actual jokes -- talking about the poor life choices that brought them to this place -- could be explained, I guess, as being obvious, once you had the set-up. (And SNL has done this sort of stop-singing-to-talk-about-dark-things sketch dozens of times before.)

But I do think SNL does need to provide some explanation here. The sketches are just too close to each other to have both been thought of randomly by independent writers. Perhaps there is a rash of Tina Turner Tribute double-acts or triple-acts sweeping the nation's casinos -- in which case, sure, I could see multiple people writing sketches about this this week.

But if there's not -- how did such an odd, specific premise occur to SNL just a couple of weeks after it occurred to the Groundlings?

Oh, and from @benk84's morning news round-up -- SNL's ratings have dived to an all-time low.

Apparently the show's ratings began falling last year, and it's continuing into this season.




But Here's Another SNL Sketch That is Strangely Similar to a Key & Peele Sketch.

Saturday Night Live did a sketch about airport early-boarding announcements on September 28, 2013. The joke was that a passenger became increasingly frustrated as two people at the boarding desk kept calling out every conceivable group for early boarding -- every group, that is, except any the frustrated passenger belonged to.

On October 9, 2013, Key and Peele ran a sketch with the exact same premise.

I saw one reviewer call this a "warmed-over" remake of the SNL sketch.

But is it?

Or is it the other way around?

The Key & Peele sketch is filmed -- and things which are filmed are filmed earlier than things which are written and performed live. (SNL usually writes its sketches the week of the show itself.)

So who did the sketch first? Did SNL write and perform the sketch first, or did Key & Peele write and film the sketch first?

Based on this Tweet from Jordan Peele -- who writes on October first (three days after the SNL sketch) that Key & Peele will be running a similar sketch the following Wednesday -- I think it's a pretty reasonable conclusion that the Key & Peele sketch was already in the can by September 28.


So my belief about the timing here is that Key & Peele filmed this sketch some time before SNL> I imagine it was filmed maybe a couple of weeks, maybe even a month before SNL -- filming requires scheduling, location scouting (or set dressing) and editing.

These are all time-consuming processes.

Also note the ending of the Key & Peele sketch involves a major outdoor shot on a crashed airplane set. That's the kind of set you have to book weeks (if not months) in advance, I'm thinking.

So I take Jordan Peele's tweet to mean "Don't give SNL any grief; I'm sure this is just a coincidence."

Maybe it is just a coincidence. This is the kind of sketch that could occur to any comedy writer boarding a plane and becoming frustrated himself.

It is odd, though.

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posted by Ace at 01:02 PM

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