Funniest SNL skit ever… to me… at least on paper…


I say “to me” because it was inside humor; it could not possibly have been as funny to someone who has not sat through thousands of news meetings just like the one portrayed, and suffered just the way Phil Hartman’s character suffers in the skit. (I’d love to know who wrote it. It had to be a fellow sufferer, because only someone who has been there and listened to such nonsense could possibly have come up with some of the touches in the dialogue.)ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

And I say “at least on paper” because, to my disappointment in going back and watching it again, I see that the actors were a bit off. There were stumbles by Rob Schneider, and even Phil Hartman, who otherwise is brilliant as the one sane man in the room. I wish in retrospect that they’d shot it as a short film in advance, as SNL sometimes does, to iron out those little problems with timing. I find myself wondering whether the actors just lacked energy because, having never been newspaper editors, they just did not understand how hilarious this was.

Unfortunately, the live audience hardly laughed at all, which probably persuaded Lorne Michaels that insider newspaper humor doesn’t sell.

Anyway, I’m sharing this because of a Twitter exchange I had Saturday night:

Perhaps so. I forget what the show did right after 9/11. But that reminded me that, ironically, one of the funniest things SNL ever did was about Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the skit ran 50 years to the day after the attacks, and that amount of time having passed gave the show license to make fun.

And it was just so, so real. How many times have I been in such meetings, trying to sell something important as the lede story, while my fellow editors oohed and aahed over minor crime news, or the fact that “the lady bulldogs have a chance of going to the state finals this year.” And as one who has always had little patience with other editors’ overreaction to the weather (my general guiding principle on that is that if I want to know what the weather is, I’ll step outside) this is a battle cry that resonates in my heart:

“I’ll tell you what’s happenin’ in the weather: IT’S RAININ’ BOMBS IN HAWAII; that’s what’s happening…”

There’s just one brilliant line after another, such as “Do we have one Japanese person in Turrell?” and “Now Bill, that is something that affects our readers — they’re going to have to pay for those typewriters!” Someone had to have been taking notes during real newsroom budget meetings to come up with dialogue such as that.

But the very best touch of all is when you see the paper roll off the press, and the Pearl Harbor story is played at the bottom of page 7, under the news that Phil Hartman’s character has, understandably, shot himself. It appears under this savagely brilliant, one-column headline:


… because, you know, you can’t be too careful. Do we KNOW that they were Japanese? And we’d better put “base” in quotes rather than step out on a limb…

4 thoughts on “Funniest SNL skit ever… to me… at least on paper…

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    There were a couple of tiny flaws in the writing, too. For instance, Hartman’s character quotes FDR saying something that he didn’t say until a day later.

    And he’s identified as a “reporter,” although the role he’s playing in the meeting is that of an editor. Reporters generally do not attend such meetings; they are spared such frustration. But hey, this is supposed to be a small-town paper, and maybe reporters at really small papers sit in on such discussions. I wouldn’t know.

    Speaking of which — you’d never see this many people sitting down for a budget meeting on a Sunday at a small-time paper. Even at larger papers, the decisions about play are generally made less formally on the weekends…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, a “budget meeting” in a newsroom is not a gathering at which financial matters are discussed. A “budget” is the running list of stories that you expect for the next day’s paper. The resource being allocated is space, rather than money — in particular, the prime space on the front page. The front is about all that gets discussed in any detail.

      For a realistic depiction of a budget meeting at a large newspaper in the heyday of print, see “All the President’s Men.” Those scenes are pretty true to life, although most such meetings I attended over the years had more people in the room. But maybe at The Post in 1972, they limited it to only the most senior people; I don’t know…

  2. Bart

    Now that was funny. Phil Hartman was perfect and the entire exchange between the team at the table was exactly what I would imagine going on when deciding which news story to use as the lede.

    Maybe it is because of my exposure to a local newspaper which will not be named and some of the inane headlines over the past several years. Kinda reminds me of the days when Channel 13 was Channel 8 and before Ed Young was elected to congress had a 30 minute live program on Fridays about farming, hogs, cattle, corn, and other agriculture news of the day. Now that would have been something to listen to while the staff tried to decide what the show would open with.


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