Saturday Night Live in the early 90s was a flourishing comedic enterprise. The first season of the decade brought us many new stars including Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, and David Spade. Mixed in a with a group of old pros like Mike Myers, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman, and Dana Carvey (oh, I think there were some female cast members as well), the cast had a unique chemistry and produced consistently funny sketches. SNL in the early 90s featured several recurring sketch themes and characters (you can find some of them here). They seemed to adhere to the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Continue not fixing it for as many years as you can possibly milk a single concept...perhaps longer if necessary."
For the most part, the recurring sketches were pretty funny. To keep them fresh, the show's producers brought in flashy big-name cameos, sometimes to the surprise of the show's staff members. As a side effect of the sketches' enormous popularity, they spurned a generation's worth of annoying new catchphrases. Viewers seemed immune to the notion that things that are funny the first time from the mouth of a talented comedian are notably less funny when some regular joe says them over and over and over again. There are only so many times you could hear some shmoe claiming to be "verklempt" before wanting to spill a hot pot of Linda Richman's coffee all over him.
Though there were many, many humorous sketches during the early 90s, here are just a few of the most well-known and recognizable.
Coffee Talk with Linda Richman
Mike Myers actually based the character of Linda Richman on his mother-in-law, whose name was (wait for it) Linda Richman. I'm sure she was just ecstatic. As if relationships with mother-in-laws weren't tenuous enough, why not add an overblown and ridiculously mocking character based on the M-I-L herself to the mix? Well done, Myers.
Linda Richman hosted a show called "Coffee Talk" (pronouced "Cawfee Tawk" for those of you who don't have any older Jewish female relatives). Linda, full of middle aged New York Jewish wisdom, had huge hair, gaudy gold jewelry, and enormous darkened glasses. If you were to step into any deli in Boca Raton, no doubt you would find a hundred of these Linda Richman look-alikes munching on pastrami on marble rye. Myers' overblown stereotypical portrayal perfected the exaggerated New York accent and captured the essence of the modern Jewish mother.
Richman was famous for her many catchphrases. Whenever she was overcome with emotion, Linda would explain, "I'm getting verklempt." To help pass the time between her verklemptness and recovery, she would usually give us something to chat about. It went a little something like this:
"Rhode Island is neither a road nor is it an island. Discuss.""
"The chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss."
"Duran Duran is neither a Duran nor a Duran. Discuss."
Richman and her cohorts occassionally took calls from viewers at home. Linda would announce, "Give a call, we'll talk, no big whoop." Linda Richman was absolutely obsessed with Barbra Streisand, who she frequently described as being "like buttah". Babs actually played a surprise visit to the show in a segment costarring Roseanne Barr and Madonna alongside Myers. Her appearance was planned by producers and kept secret from the actors, who somehow managed to stay in character while experiencing Streisand-induced heart attacks of joy:
Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker
I'm going to come right out and say it: I love Chris Farley. Not everyone is a fan of his shtick, but you have to admit that he knew how to drive a joke home. He consistently gave it his all and had no sense of propriety about going completely insane on camera. As Matt Foley, motivational speaker, Farley hammed it up in a plaid jacket, green tie, and thick glasses, constantly bent in an overly eager leaning-forward position.
Foley's brand of motivation was not particularly positive. In fact, it usually involved Foley speaking disparagingly about his own damned existence in which he was 35 years old, divorced, and living in a VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER. He told his audiences that they too would probably end up living in a VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER, throwing their comments back in their face with a triumphant "la-dee-FREAKIN'-da!" In this first sketch, Farley accidentally tripped and fell flat on his face, which was later turned into the sketch's recurring gag. Watch for David Spade's uncontrollable laughter:
Matt Foley-Motivational Speeker
There was a lot of cross-dressing going on at the Saturday Night Live studio in the 90s. It seemed their theory was that every concept would be funnier if we used our male actors in drag instead of the many females actresses we have on hand. Pure brilliance, I tell you.
Admittedly some of the male cast members made better women than others. For instance, David Spade was moderately passable, whereas Adam Sandler was completely and utterly ridiculous. One of the more popular tranvestital* sketches featured Spade, Sandler, and Farley as the "Gap Girls", a group of ditzy, mall-ratty valley girls who folded jeans at the Gap. They characteristically giggled uncontrollably nails-on-chalkboard style at their own inane jokes. Their jokes were really, truly terrible. Just awful.
Whenever a customer came in with any sort of question, their advice was always the same, "Just cinch it!" as they tightened the belt to eye-bulging proportions. The clip below shows off the characters nicely, though their jokes about Michael Jackson are probably a smidge on the untimely side. If it offends you in anyway, just listen to Adam Sandler's character's counterargument. He (seen here as a "she") directly repeats what s/he heard on CourtTV, so you know it has to be true.
Pumping up with Hans and Franz
Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey played Hans and Franz, two Austrian bodybuilders comically based on then-actor now-governator Arnold Schwarzenagger. On their set of life-size Schwarzenagger cutouts, Hans and Franz dispensed quasi-useful bodybuilding advice that usually consisted of openly mocking their clients and referring to them as "girly men".
Hans and Franz wore trademark grey sweatshirts complete with enormously padded fake muscles. They would issue their bodybuilding expertise with their trademark promise to pump (clap!) you up!
Hans and Franz finally received their comeuppance when the Terminator himself came and flexed a little pre-gubernatorial muscle:
Fake accents were another popular theme of 90s SNL recurring sketches, the vaguer the better. In fact, overblown accented English was nearly enough to pass for a foreign language. As was the case with Adam Sandler's Opera Man, an Italian operatic singer who belted out arias about current events.
Sandler wore a cape and was somewhat Dracula-esque in appearance. Well, technically he reminds me of the Count from Sesame Street, but maybe that's too embarrassing to admit. Then again, I just did, so maybe it's not as shameful as I'd imagined. Opera Man sang loud and ostentatiously in a language that sounded like Italian until you took a look at the subtitles flashing across the screen. In reality, he added a lot of Italian-esque suffixes to English words to make them sound Italiany. This is definitely one of those hit-or-miss ideas that could have crashed and burned into an unstoppable pile of mounting flames, but Sandler's comic timing was well-suited (okay, well-caped) to its silliness.
Dana Carvey's Church Lady character had quite the SNL lifespan, with sketches running from 1986-1992. In the sketches, Carvey played Enid Strict, an uptight, sanctimonious schoolmarm-type who openly chastises the alledged sinning behavior of her celebrity guests. While ordinarily other cast members would play the roles of celebrities, occasionally the celebs themselves would good-naturedly appear on Church Chat for some pious berating.
The Church Lady wore cats-eye glasses and drab knee-high hosiery and displayed a notable amount of bitterness and sarcasm. She was famous for her rhetorical, “Well, isn't that special?” and also for calling out celebrities with the phrase "How conveeeeeeeeeeenient!" For someone so supposedly full of Christian love, she was kind of a bitch.
Yes, the early 90s were a sort of renewed golden age for SNL, with its talented cast and memorable sketches. Sure, the writing wasn't exactly Pulitzer-worthy, but the actors had the comic chops to infuse life into the characters. To this day, we have to wonder what could have been had Chris Farley lived to make the Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker movie. Then again, what do we know? We'll probably just end up living in a VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER.
*This is a made-up word