Skit Ideas Not Even Good Enough for Saturday Night Live

Thanks for the welcome, Mark. It's good to be back. I hope to deliver posts with substance. This, though, won't be one of them. The Internet loves lists and it loves witnessing people get embarrassed. So let me start my stint with a list about a failure of mine. I recently got a new Mac at work, and since I'm one of those losers who needs to have everything he has on a local hard disk (you never know when you're going to have to watch a scene from This Is Spinal Tap right now), I ported everything over from my Mac (now my son's) to the new one. But the new one has a slightly smaller hard disk than the old one, so I had to go through some directories to purge some files. A few big files were easy to get rid of (I am never going to listen to Metal Machine Music again), but I wound up looking at some directories I hadn't seen in a long, long time. How long ago? Before Axl Rose started recording Chinese Democracy long ago. In one such directory, there was a file called SNL.DOC. What could that be? I double-clicked.
In the mid-90s, I worked for Delphi, an early proprietary online service. We were Rent-a-Wreck to AOL's Hertz. We had some significant firsts (one day I'll tell the story of how we talked the Rolling Stones' reps into making us the band's official online service for free) and we were briefly overfunded (News Corp. bought us during one of its intermittent sessions of new-media panic), but the venture failed. For a brief time, before I went solo, I was living in Massachusetts (where I still am) while my job had migrated to Manhattan, so I went back and forth from home to job a few times each week. This went on for only a few months, but it felt like a long time at the time. Hey, that is a long time to be away from your family. snl logoAnyway, from my hotel I could see the NBC building, and one gets bored sitting alone in a hotel room at night, so I started writing ideas for NBC shows. (Then as now, I didn't watch much TV, so I got most of my story notions from the ads for the shows I saw around Times Square.) One night, after a session of Coca-Cola and sushi, I scribbled several dozen ideas for Saturday Night Live. Fueled by insomnia, homesickness, caffeine, sugar, and probably mercury, I thought so much of my ideas that the next day I snuck into the floor at 30 Rockefeller Plaza where the show's offices were and dropped off a package. I returned to the Delphi office, certain that the phone would ring ... right ... now. The file SNL.DOC contained my proposal to Saturday Night Live. It sketched out 36 skits. Most of them were sub-mediocre at best. The worst involved the viewers' knowing what McHale's Navy was, a dubious proposition. Here are the least bad of the pitches:
Much like a driving test, a teen couple that wants to become sexually active has to pass a test with a tester in the bed with them, grading and commenting on their every move.

Hollywood executives convene a pitch meeting for the Speed sequel, with ridiculous concepts, such as Sloth, in which the bus must stay under 10 mph.

Folks sit in a movie audience and their entertainment is not the film itself, but trying to guess who on the screen is gay.

Chris Farley is a Mary Kay salesman. (Hey, this was a long time ago.)

A couple eats lunch at a McDonald's set up like a high-end eatery; they ask the waiter questions like "How is the root beer today?"

A Schindler's List parody called Schneider's List, based on the character from the sitcom One Day at a Time

An ATM dispenses items other than money, such as taxis, advice, and photos with NBC celebrities

Folks watch absurdly interactive TV, where viewers can do wild things with a remote.

A bona-fide emergency happens on the set of ER and disasters ensue.

The joke, if there was one, was on me. I hadn't watched SNL regularly since Emily Litella was a recurrent character, so I had no idea whether these ideas for skits would have made any sense for the show. I was surprised the day after I dropped off the package when I didn't hear back. I was disappointed the second day. By the third day, I was on to the next scheme.


  1. In your defense, I chuckled at the “Schneider’s List” concept, though I realize most folks between 30 and 40 would assume “Rob”, and most younger than that wouldn’t have any context at all.

  2. How bizzare, I keep inadvertantly hitting some key combo that makes a back button.
    Regardless, I chuckeled at the Sex Test and the Sloth Pitch.
    As an aside, today in 1975 marked the premier of NBC Saturday Night with George Carlin as the guest host.

  3. I’d watch Chris Farley as a Mary Kay salesperson.

    I also find it amusing that these days you can get Photoshop, a camera, a printer with a battery and on the streets of New York have a business producing photos with an NBC celebrity. In fact, I may stop by Times Square tonight and start doing that outside Madame Tussaud’s…

  4. I don’t think that the problem was the quality of the ideas. I think that the problem was that SNL didn’t really take ideas for sketches. It’s easy to have ideas for sketches. It’s much tougher to write good sketches. If you’d written some of them and then submitted them, they might have bought some of them from you.

  5. I had a similar “problem” in submitting an idea to “The Onion” in that they don’t take submissions. I finally decided to e-mail it to customer service or something and of course never heard back. So I will use this forum to share my brilliant headline (inspired from reality) that would be perfect…

    House-Husband Finally Vacuums Stray Tiny Legos Instead of Picking Them Up.

    1. The reason they did not use your idea was you fell outside the Onion Editorial voice.
      It should have read
      Area House Husband…..

  6. This actually sounds a lot like real SNL sketches. The premise is possibly funny when described, but the actual sketch goes on forever with no real humor.

    1. Maybe that’s how SNL should air. They can just give elevator pitches of the funny scenarios and skip the production. They’d save a ton of money on salaries both on the writing and acting sides, and the overall show quality might actually improve!

  7. The interactive TV idea was done on “Not the Nine O’Clock News” in the UK in the late 70s or early 80s…sadly I can’t find the sketch through Google… I recall that in addition to having “Sex” and “Violence” buttons, you could also control the level of “Irony”…Very british, wot?

  8. They did the “watch a couple having sex” skit back in the Dan Ackroyd days. But it wasnt a “driving teacher”. It was the Supreme Court.

  9. I gotta agree with KeithIrwin that at least part of the problem is that coming up with an idea for a sketch is pretty different than actually writing a good sketch (same goes for a novel, movie, video game, painting etc). Anyone who works in a creative field can tell you the real challenge is in the execution.

  10. The problem with almost all SNL skits (before I stopped watching them and switched to ipecac) is the ending. They didn’t have one.

    The super-powered TV remote has lots of potential, not least for audience interaction. “What’s the ‘splash’ button do? Oh.”

    Maybe you ought to file suit against Adam Sandler for Click?

    1. Yeah, it seems Lorne’s never been very good at finding comedians who understood the importance of a good wrap-up/punchline.

  11. I’d like to see how SNL would have staged an ATM dispensing a taxi.

    Actually I would guess no one from the writing staff ever saw your work. As far back and 1974 I was reading that no one in TV would look at unsolicited, unagented manuscripts for fear of getting sued if they decided to come up with an idea that was even remotely close to something that came over the transom.

  12. Kinda what Omir said above, but it’s a union thing, too. They’re not allowed to take unsolicited writing of any kind if it’s a Writers Guild shop. In college, I once sent a fully written skit to SNL and called to find out afterward if they’d received it. A very nice customer service person replied (very politely and apologetically) that they couldn’t take script submissions, and that the mail would have been opened and destroyed by someone not on the writing staff. She was, as I said, very nice about the whole thing.

    If you really want to get a skit idea on SNL, do something laughably stupid in politics or entertainment, or injure yourself setting off a new meme.

  13. I worked for Warner Bros. for a while in Burbank. People would actually throw their scripts over the studio lot wall. They had guy whose job it was to collect them all and toss them in the dumpster.

    There was one particular spot where it was easy to toss them over the wall. The studio eventually just parked an open dumpster there. People didn’t realize they were throwing them right into a dumpster. I watch the dumpster fill up, it took about 3 months.

    1. That’s really funny about the dumpster. I bet there was some decent stuff in there, though, especially compared to most of the crap that comes out of Hollywood. And it’s not like it’s easy to get a break, no matter how good you are, so throwing your script over the wall probably seems like a good idea once you’ve tried everything else and no one was willing to even read the title.

      Anyway back on topic, I think some of these ideas are OK, but in order to be funny they’d have to be substantially changed. I was expecting much worse ;)

      I’m not sure what’s wrong with the McHale’s Navy one – I would like to know what that idea was – I know that show and I’m pretty young (24). Of course SNL doesn’t tend to do many direct pop culture references, to their credit, instead trying to be original (not that I’ve watched very much SNL, but I can’t think of any well-known skits that were directly based on something else, though I’m sure there are some).

      1. Celebrity Jeopardy! immediately springs to mind, and usually they’ll lampoon whatever the week’s host is/was involved with as well.

  14. “The album was ranked number two in the 1991 book The Worst Rock ‘n’ Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell”

    -from Metal Machine Music’s wikipedia page

    Ahh, now it makes sense

  15. I just have to say that I’m adding a new thing to my List of Things to Do When I Get a Time Machine:

    #3) Convince Lorne Michaels to do the Chris Farley as a Mary Kay salesman skit, because I have a feeling it would be one of my favorites still today if it had ever happened.

    (Things #1 and #2 have to do with historically important removals of leaders and/or muckrakers).

  16. These skits are surprisingly consistent with the quality of actual SNL skits in the mid-90’s, so I’m surprised you didn’t get a bite on them… :)

  17. Folks watch absurdly interactive TV, where viewers can do wild things with a remote.

    wait… you mean the Wii?

  18. A) I doubt Lou Reed ever listened to MMM all the way through. I’d go with Meat Beat Manifesto’s Armed Audio Warfare if you want something similar, but listenable.

    B) The driving instructor skit remind me a lof to Monty Pythons sex ed. skit from Meaning of Life where Cleese brings in his wife and has sex in front of the class.

  19. The depressing thing is that all of those ideas are way better than the stuff they come up with now. Today it seems to be all TV shows whether they’re boring new ideas or spoofs. I miss the days when SNL did funny situations.

Comments are closed.