Saturday Night Live has an uncanny ability to stay in the news, even when there hasn’t been a new episode in months and won’t be back until the fall. This summer break alone, Cecily Strong has a lead role in the Apple TV+ musical Schmigadoon!; Pete Davidson is a member of Task Force X in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad; Kate McKinnon is filming a Joe Exotic show; Kenan Thompson and Aidy Bryant were nominated for Emmys; Ego Nwodim joined HBO Max’s Love Life anthology series; Colin Jost has stayed in the headlines because of his Disney-suing wife, Scarlett Johansson; and his Weekend Update co-anchor shared remarkably tone-deaf jokes on social media.
The other cast members and writers (and creator Lorne Michaels) have had a busy off-season, too, but this post isn’t about that — it’s about what an SNL viewer does when there’s no new episodes. If you’re this viewer (me, I’m the viewer), you spend too much time on the show’s YouTube page and sort every video on the channel by views.
I went in thinking a classic like “More Cowbell” (17 million) or “Schweddy Balls” (6.3 million) would be near the top, but I didn’t consider the recency bias. The 20 most popular videos are nearly all from the last six years, when more and more people started consuming the Saturday night show on Sunday morning through viral clips instead of staying up until midnight. So once I got over the shock of “Papyrus” only having 16 million views, I noticed that SNL‘s 10 most-watched videos, all with over 32 million views, can be separated into three categories — with one exception.
The categories: Politics, Pop Culture, and Horniness. Let’s break them down.
“Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks” (#3 with 63 million views)
“Black Jeopardy” first aired in 2014 with guest host Louis C.K., but it didn’t become a sensation until its third appearance with Tom Hanks. Both sketches have the same premise — a white person appears on an otherwise all-Black Jeopardy! hosted by Kenan Thompson’s Darnell Hayes, except instead of “Potent Potables,” the categories are “Had That Been Me” and “Aw Hell Naw” — but the Hanks “Black Jeopardy!” debuted in 2016 and things were… different. He even wears a “Make America Great Again” hat in case you didn’t pick up the implication of the dot dot dot. The twist of the sketch is, Hanks’ MAGA guy has more in common with the Black contestants than anyone expected. It’s very good, and the quality plus the timing plus Hanks in Trump apparel make it the third most-viewed SNL sketch. In eighth place is Melissa McCarthy as then-press secretary Sean Spicer. It’s hard to explain why Sookie from Gilmore Girls on a motorized podium took the world by storm in 2017, but it’s hard to explain a lot of things that happened in 2017. It just did. But why these specific political sketches?
“Sean Spicer Press Conference” (#8 with 38 million views)
For “Sean Spicer Press Conference,” it’s in no small part due to Trump-hating the sketch, reportedly because Spicer was played by a woman; it’s a Streisand Effect of the former president not wanting anyone to watch the clip, which of course means everyone will watch the clip. Meanwhile, “Black Jeopardy” appeals to Democrats, Republicans, Jeopardy! viewers, and Tom Hanks fans, which is to say, 99 percent of Americans (“It’s the sketch that always plays hot, even at the read-through,” co-writer Che told Vulture. “It’s very rare that we have a sketch that does that”). The connection to another famous SNL recurring sketch, which I’ll get to in a minute, probably didn’t hurt, either.
“Spider-Man Kiss” (#4 with 59 million views)
“Star Wars Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base” (#5 with 57 million views)
“SNL40: Celebrity Jeopardy” (#7 with 43 million views)
“New Disney Movie” (#9 with 37 million views)
“Celebrity Jeopardy!” (#10 with 32 million views)
Much of the top-10 is pop culture riffs.
There’s Adam Driver as Star Wars baddie Kylo Ren on Undercover Boss; two Celebrity Jeopardys, one with Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald), Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond), Justin Bieber (Kate McKinnon), Christoph Waltz (Taran Killam), Tony Bennett (Alec Baldwin), Matthew McConaughey (Jim Carrey), and Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson), and another with Kathie Lee Gifford (Kristen Wiig), Tom Hanks (as himself), Sean Connery (Hammond), and Burt Reynolds (Macdonald); The Rock in a gritty reboot of Disney’s Bambi; and a surprising number one (and fourth overall), Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone kissing in character as Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy.
Pop culture parodies have long been SNL‘s bread and butter, but it’s odd that “Spider-Man Kiss” is so popular considering The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are no one’s favorite Spider-Man movies. The sketch doesn’t have an instantly quotable line and it didn’t inspire Halloween costumes, like David S. Pumpkins (20 million views) or Driver’s Matt the radar technician. I guess people just like to see Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone smooch? Which brings me to the final category…
“Porn Teacher” (#1 with 79 million)
“Harry Potter: Hermione Growth Spurt” (#2 with 65 million)
It should come as no surprise that the two most-watched videos on SNL‘s official channel are for people who should be on a different website that begins with “You.”
“Porn Teacher” is a porn parody that, in a very 2015 headline, Deadline called a “slutty school teacher bit” with guest host Amy Schumer, while “Harry Potter: Hermione Growth Spurt” is an infamous sketch about Harry and Ron turning into a Tex Avery wolf in front of Hermione, portrayed by then-17-year-old Lindsay Lohan, who returns to Hogwarts from summer vacation with bigger breasts. That’s the joke. It’s one saving grace is Rachel Dratch’s Harry Potter; she should reprise the role in the reboot. Neither sketch is particularly funny and it’s obvious why they’re the most popular videos, but it is funny (or unbearably sad, I don’t know) to imagine a person looking for porn on YouTube.
It reminds me of this tweet:
— Dean Norris (@deanjnorris) May 23, 2018
I hope Hank from Breaking Bad found the “sex gifs” he was looking for. Anyway, these being the most-watched SNL videos was not lost on the top reply for “Porn Teacher,” which reads, “It really says something that the 2 most popular snl videos are this and hermione’s growth spurt.” To quote another viral video (1.8 million views), the internet is for porn.
But wait, that’s only nine videos. Where’s the tenth? In sixth place, with 49 million views, is the one outlier: “Close Encounter,” better known as the Kate McKinnon alien sketch where Ryan Gosling loses it. This could be included in the horniness category, because Ryan Gosling (and McKinnon describing herself as going “full Porky Pig in a drafty dome”), but its success has a more wholesome explanation: it’s funny to watch famous people break. Lorne might hate it, but for everyone else, it’s a delight.