Twitter thread of the day: Why is SNL's 'More Cowbell' skit funny?

Okay, this is a weird thing to write about but someone did an epic thread about it on Twitter and, well, I’ve always loved this skit so we’re going to talk about it. This all started with a writer named Noah Smith who writes opinion pieces for Bloomberg. Smith argued that the famous “More Cowbell” skit from Saturday Night Live (in 2000) wasn’t funny at all and was actually proof that “gaslighting has benign uses”:

That was news to a lot of people who’ve seen the skit and thought it was funny. One of those was film critic William Bibbiani who went on a long rant attempting to explain why:

There’s more but you get the gist. There’s a lot going on under the hood of this seemingly simple skit. According to Wikipedia, it was written by Will Ferrell and submitted to SNL for production 7 times before they actually used it. He rewrote it the final time for Christopher Walken and they placed it near the end of the show. So maybe you could say the producers didn’t fully get it at first.

But the skit definitely had a huge impact. It instantly became one of the most memorable skits of the season and people were quoting the lines everywhere after it aired. I’m actually a fan of the band and the song and I remember thinking it was hilarious immediately. No one had to gaslight me. I got the joke. Allahpundit still turns lines from this skit into headlines decades later so I guess he thought it was funny too. More to the point, everyone gets the reference. It’s part of our culture because it was so funny.

The skit itself is a takeoff on a style of cable TV show that was popular in the 90s, i.e. VH1’s Classic Albums. It’s presented as a chance for fans to learn more about the production of records they love. That’s mixed with an observation about cowbell in a classic BOC song and an absurdist story about a fictional producer who just needed “more cowbell.” That’s the structure.

The humor comes from the reversal in the skit where it’s clear the cowbell is odd and a bit annoying and yet when the top producer is called in for his opinion, it turns out to be his favorite thing about the song. If you actually watch the skit, that’s where the big laughs start and they continue every time he doubles-down and demands more cowbell. It’s just absurd. And the straighter Walken plays it the funnier it gets.

In fact, one of the things that’s great about the skit is that both Walken and Ferrell are so funny that Chris Kattan and Jimmy Fallon are struggling to stay in character. Watching them try not to break-up as Ferrell dances and Walken delivers his lines is hilarious by itself.

Is there a big point to all of this? Yes. People need to lighten up a little. Dear god, does everything need to become a political fable for the Trump era? Can’t we just have some areas of life where we can laugh without having to explain why? To be fair, I don’t know if that was Noah Smith’s point but it’s hard to talk about “gaslighting” these days without the political reverberations surrounding the word. It’s bad enough that we are spoiling comedy in the present, let’s not reach back nearly 20 years and try to spoil it in the past as well.