Now in its 37th season, Saturday Night Live has surpassed 700 episodes and nearly 1,000 hours of programming. For a live show, this means countless unexpected, surprising and completely unwanted moments. Looking through the five decades of this groundbreaking comedy program, here are the 10 most shocking moments in Saturday Night Live history.
When Nirvana made their first appearance on Saturday Night Live during the seventeenth season, the rest of the crew went about with their usual end credit pleasantries. The cast hugged, waved to the audience at home, etc. However Krist Novoselik, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl went ahead and grabbed each other, and made out for a few seconds each. The moment was referenced in their album Incesticide and during re-runs, NBC replaced these final credits with the credits from the rehearsal.
In 1994, Martin Lawrence made his first and only appearance after his controversial opening monologue. He started off by talking about how the censors were coming down hard on him; but apparently they weren’t doing their jobs well enough. Lawrence discussed Lorena Bobbitt and women not being able to wash certain areas of their body properly. Subsequent showings of the episode featured a graphic that showed what Lawrence had been discussing and how he almost cost everyone at Saturday Night Live their jobs. Lawrence has been banned from being on the show ever since.
Controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay was scheduled to make his first appearance in the penultimate episode of the 15th season. This caused a rift in the cast, which lead Nora Dunn to protest his appearance on the show and refused to appear in the episode because of his jokes about women. Musical guest Sinead O’Connor also pulled out of the episode and was replaced by Spanic Boys and Julee Cruise. The next episode of the season would be Dunn’s last and O’Connor would return to perform on the next season’s premiere.
Mike Myers had many notable moments on SNL, but quite possibly the most memorable would be during one of his “Coffee Talk with Linda Richman” skits. Richman was joined by Madonna and Roseanne Barr as two guests, where they talked about The Prince of Tides and as always, their obsession with Barbara Streisand, comparing her to “buttah.” What the three didn’t know was that Streisand would join their show for a brief moment, as Streisand says hi to the three hosts and waves to the audience. The moments was a shock to all three and their reaction is just as genuine as it would be had the characters truly existed.
The 13th episode of the show’s second season featured the departure of Chevy Chase, but became more well known for another reason. In a skit called “Samurai Stockbroker,” John Belushi accidentally cut host Buck Henry with his samurai sword. Ten-time host Henry took it in stride, bandaged up his head and went on with the show. Throughout the show, cast members also appeared with bandaged heads, illustrating their ability to go with the flow, even if that involves samurai swords to the head.
One of Saturday Night Live’s first—and best—examples of groundbreaking comedy came in its seventh episode, when Chevy Chase interviewed Richard Pryor for a job. The skit, written by Paul Mooney, has Chase playing a word association game with Pryor, which became increasingly offensive. When Chase said “Negro”, Pryor responded with “Whitey,” and tensions increased as the words grew more terrible. The skit was a great early example of the lengths that SNL will go to both get a laugh and bring up hot issues of the time.
Saturday Night Live has had its fair share of controversial musical performances, but one of the first was when Elvis Costello and the Attractions were asked to perform their song “Less Than Zero” in 1977. Costello wanted to perform his song “Radio Radio”, however Columbia Records didn’t want him to since the song wasn’t as well known at the time. A few notes into “Less Than Zero”, Costello stopped his band, stated “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here,” and launched into “Radio Radio” instead. Costello was banned from performing on Saturday Night Live until 1989 due to the stunt.
Everyone has suspected that pop stars lip sync their live performances, but there are few examples as blatant as Ashlee Simpson’s performance on Saturday Night Live. Simpson’s first performance of the night for “Pieces of Me” went off without a hitch. However during her second song, Simpson was supposed to perform “Autobiography.” The vocals for “Pieces of Me” started playing before the microphone was even close to her mouth. Simpson did a little dance off stage and later apologized, saying the reason she lip-synced was acid reflux.
One of the biggest fears for the censors of a live television show is the dropping of the dreaded “F bomb.” Several bands over the years have said the word, including Michael Stipe, Morris Day, James Hetfield, Steven Tyler, Prince and Adam Horovitz of Beastie Boys. Paul Schaffer and Charles Rocket both said the word during sketches in the early ‘80s, while Norm MacDonald let the word slip while hosting “Weekend Update.” Most recently, Jenny Slate said the word in her 2009 debut, and only remained on the show for the rest of that season.
It’s hard to think of SNL controversy or even Sinead O’Connor without thinking about her performance of “War” in 1992. On O’Connor’s second song, she sang, “Fight the real enemy” before tearing up a picture on Pope John Paul II. In rehearsals, O’Connor had help up the picture of a starving African child instead. When the song ended, the director decided to not light up the “Applause” signs, leaving her in darkness and silence at the end of the performance. The cast was shaken up throughout the remainder of the show and even though O”Connor was invited to the goodbyes at the end of the show, host Tim Robbins did not acknowledge or thank her. O’Connor’s performance put her on that small list of performers banned from Saturday Night Live.