Becoming a writer for Saturday Night Live is often the pinnacle of a sketch writer’s career, but when it comes to receiving credit, the writers at SNL tend to remain anonymous, while the fame goes to the performers. Let’s take a look at five writers who wrote iconic SNL sketches that we all know and love.
5. “Stefon” By John Mulaney SNL writer from: 2008-12
Along with cast member Bill Hader, John Mulaney created the Weekend Update city correspondent, and has said one of his favorite things to do on set was replace the jokes they had rehearsed all week with new ones at the last second, to make Hader break on camera. Since leaving SNL, Mulaney has had much success as a stand-up comedian, and has his own titular sitcom debuting this fall on FOX.
4. “Celebrity Jeopardy” By Adam McKay SNL writer from: 1995-99
In writing the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, future writing partners Adam McKay and Will Ferrell honed their penchant for taking every day mundane characters (newscasters in Anchorman, and in this case the host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek) and flipping them on their heads by placing them a midst over the top ensemble casts. McKay and Ferrell started the comedy video site Funny or Die in 2007, and continue to work with one another.
3. “Chippendales Tryouts” By Jim Downey SNL writer from: 1976-80, 1984-98, 2000-05, 06-Current
Jim Downey is regarded by many as perhaps the greatest sketch writer of all time, and during his tenure at SNL (he worked on the show for 27 of the first 32 seasons and served as head writer for 8 of them) wrote much of the Obama-centric political sketches and late ’90s Weekend Update segments. Add to that, creating Late Show with David Letterman’s Top Ten List and it’s no wonder he penned this sketch, wherein a then new to SNL Chris Farley auditioned alongside Patrick Swayze to become a Chippendales dancer.
2. “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” By Robert Smigel SNL writer from: 1985-92
Known for the SNL sketches The Ambiguously Gay Duo and TV Funhouse as well as Late Night with Conan O’Brien’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog — Robert Smigel is highly respected in the comedy writing world. While at SNL, he wrote tons of successful sketches, namely, “Da Bears,” and even a movie based off of the sketches, which never came to fruition.
In the book Live From New York, NBC chairman and CEO Robert Wright recalled Smigel and former cast member Chris Farley developing the characters: “I told Farley and Smigel, who wrote a lot of that material. They’d sit there at the table with heaps of meat, just heaps of meat– it was just so stereotypical– and say ‘Da Bears.’ It was what made SNL. It just brought tears to your eyes how stupid it was but how real it was.”
1. “Down By The River” By Bob Odenkirk SNL writer from: 1992-95
Take Chris Farley, and give him the role of a down on his luck motivational speaker who spent the last four hours in a basement drinking coffee, and what you get is comedy gold. Just ask Rolling Stone, who ranked the sketch number one on the The 50 Greatest Saturday Night Live sketches of All Time. The now infamous 35-year-old, divorcee, living in a van down by the river Matt Foley character was written by Bob Odenkirk and the brought to life by Chris Farley.
The sketch debuted on the Second City stage in Chicago, almost three years prior to airing on SNL. Since then, Odenkirk has gone on to a very successful career in comedy as well as drama, which includes creating the sketch series Mr. Show with fellow comedian David Cross, starring as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, and producing the IFC sketch show The Birthday Boys. He will reprise the character of Saul Goodman in a Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul in early 2015.