Corpsing—aka laughing inappropriately onstage—requires far less skill than soldiering on when the actor playing opposite loses control, an occurrence that almost always wins audience favor.
The recently released super cuts of Saturday Night Live cast members’ composure deserting them, above and below, suggest that the worst offenders are aware that viewers will lap up these lapses. Why strive to stay in character when blooper reel stardom awaits?
It’s a fact that these crack ups have the ability to loosen things up, recalling that freewheeling period before the show became the institution its cast members dreamed of auditioning for since childhood.
It’s unclear what—if any—meaning we should ascribe to the evidence that the most indulgent gigglers are all male.
Could it be that women are funny after all… enough to win the sort of punchlines that’ll make the boys lose it on camera?
If so, perhaps we can arrange for aliens to abduct the next commentator who suggests otherwise, probe him, then seat him opposite a bewigged Kate McKinnon. No offense to guest host Ryan Gosling, the embodiment of a good sport. His inability to stay in character was both understated and heartwarming, and he wasn’t pandering. SNL regulars Aidy Bryant and Bobby Moynihan struggled too. I still wager a lot of funny ladies watched that Close Encounters skit, and rooted for McKinnon to be given the opportunity to take down an old school chauvinist pig.
But not everyone delights in watching these guys run off the rails, as Slate’s Jessica Winter notes in a piece about SNL’s corpsing phenomenon:
Tracy Morgan excoriated his fellow cast member (Jimmy Fallon) for “laughing and all that dumb shit he used to do,” explaining, “That’s taking all the attention off of everybody else and putting it on you, like, ‘Oh, look at me, I’m the cute one.’
It’s true that the camera never could resist cast member Bill Hader’s elaborate, utterly unsuccessful attempts to bring his face to heel. Witness the dress rehearsal for the West Coast-flavored soap opera spoof, The Californians, below. Amazing how little it changed en route to performance.
The writers outdid themselves when they bestowed a signature gesture on another of Hader’s recurrent characters, New York City cultural commentator, Stefon. His newfound proclivity for hiding his face behind his hands could’ve helped the actor pull it together, but instead it turned into a bit. Wonder what Tracy Morgan thought when Hader attributed his inability to keep a straight face to his straight man / Weekend Update foil Seth Myers:
A person being patient with an insane person is my favorite thing in the world…. You were being so patient with this maniac who had the simplest job in the world.
Don Pardo (1918-2014), Voice of Saturday Night Live, Suggests Using Short Words
John Belushi’s Improvised Screen Test for Saturday Night Live (1975)
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her latest script, Fawnbook, is available in a digital edition from Indie Theater Now. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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