For the most part, round two held serve with only a few glaring exceptions. As maiden “not ready for primetime players”, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase were bounced before the Sweet Sixteen.
(1) Eddie Murphy vs. (5) Tracy Morgan
Tracy delivers Eddie his first real test of the tournament. Tracy, a legit draw during his SNL career, found success with multiple characters that murdered every time. Eddie, the headliner of his cast, allowed the show to continue, following Lorne Michaels brief reprieve. It probably would have been easy to cancel the show after five season and losing stars, Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd, John Belushi and Gilda Radner but the nineteen-year-old prodigy made SNL a ‘must watch’. Tracy’s break out came when Jamie Foxx hosted. The sketch, set back stage, had Jamie and Tracy talking about being the only two black guys on the show, and how they could take it over, when Lorne strolled up to hurry them along, and Tracy replied, “Get me a soda, Bitch.” Tracy followed that with Brian Fellows, the umm, slow, animal enthusiast and Astronaut Jones, the space traveler with one thing on his mind. Here’s the thing though, everything Tracy did had traces of Eddie’s DNA. A live action Gumby, an urban Mr. Rogers and an adult Buckwheat, he played off pop culture, off racial tension and totally destroyed.
ADVANCE: Eddie Murphy
(3) Dan Akroyd vs. (7) Darrell Hammond
Hammond, the most prolific impersonator in SNL history, dispatched Chevy Chase last round and now has another mountain standing in his way. Akroyd never got the adulation of Chevy or Belushi, but could deliver laughs at the same pace. Akroyd played Jimmy Carter (with a mustache) opposite Chevy, and while Chevy got the fanfare, I enjoyed Akroyd’s portrayal more. Akroyd also deployed fan favorite characters, as one half of the Blues Brothers and the Festrunk Brothers. He could carry a sketch too, displayed by Irwin Mainway, his businessman alter ego, trying to hawk unsafe products to consumers. Hammond’s wheelhouse was political impersonation, especially SNL whipping boy Bill Clinton, but he got this far thanks to his eccentric Sean Connery on the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches. Hammond was a specialist, but Akroyd was plain special.
ADVANCE: Dan Akroyd
(1) Will Ferrell vs. (4) Adam Sandler
Here is a true heavyweight matchup, the primetime game in the Sweet Sixteen. Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, two of the biggest comedy stars of the last twenty years, both paid their dues at SNL before moving on to the big screen where they serve up $100 million movies like an IHOP waitress serves pancakes. Sandler began in stand up, explaining his strength at delivering his best bits directly into the camera at the Update desk (Opera Man and Cajun Man). Ferrell came from improv, allowing him to hone strong characters (the Lovers and the Cheerleaders) and impressions (Neil Diamond and George W. Bush). Ferrell and Sandler could both be described as sophomoric; Sandler even got fired from SNL. The biggest difference between the two, Farrell’s dexterity, Sandler seemed too one note.
ADVANCE: Will Ferrell
(3) Mike Myers vs. (2) Dana Carvey
How serendipitous, Wayne versus Garth. Two of the most dynamic performers in the show’s history, each had such a unique flexibility and talent to disappear in their subjects. Let’s throw Wayne’s World out, calling it a draw. Myers tees up Sprockets, the German talk show host, Linda Richman of Coffee Talk, and was one part of the Super Fans. So to recap, that’s German, Jewish and Chicago (not much overlap there). Carvey’s forte, impressions; he assassinated with some niche ones, like George F. Will, some old school ones, like Jimmy Stewart and some political ones, like George Bush. His George Bush alone made the show a must watch, as he coined phrases like “Not gonna-do-it” and “Viet-NAM”. This one comes really close to a draw, but Dana received an unprecedented five Emmy noms for his performance on the show, showing his overall importance to the franchise.
ADVCANCE: Dana Carvey
The Killer Bees
(1) John Belushi vs. (4) Jimmy Fallon
Belushi, the first “Bad Boy” of SNL versus Jimmy Fallon, the boy next-door. Belushi got a lot of love; Fallon seemed to establish a legion of haters. On perception alone the two appear opposites. Cast members adored how Belushi committed to a sketch, while co-stars grumbled that Fallon broke during sketches. That said, they both functioned as integral parts of their respective casts. Here is something no one says, Belushi was the most overrated cast member of all time, whereas Fallon was ridiculously underappreciated. Belushi had the Blues Brothers, a solid effort, but his Kissinger was ‘eh’, and I just never got the Samurai, too monotonous. However, he did thrive in ensemble sketches, and his Joe Cocker deserves a spot among the great SNL moments. Now to make the case for Jimmy, let’s start by pointing out he anchored Weekend Update, which usually cuts into performers screen time, not his. He killed it with recurring characters like Jarrett, the stoner with the web cam show, Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy and led the Boston teen sketches. Throw in, his insane talent for impressions, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Barry Gibb, just to name a few and you have a tremendously well rounded talent. Impressions, characters, Update and oh yea, like Belushi, he destroys with musical parodies. Fallon brings down Belushi, the first one seed to fall.
ADVANCE: Jimmy Fallon
(11) Jane Curtin vs. (2) Bill Murray
Jane charges into the sweet sixteen fresh off upsetting her female compadres, Kristen Wiig and Gilda Radner. Murray waltzes into the sweet sixteen without too much friction from his brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Rachel Dratch. For a time Curtin and Murray co-anchored Weekend Update but Bill just couldn’t hang. Murray succeeds more in the sketch format, with acts like Nick the Lounge Singer. As I have already made it known, I think Jane played an extremely important role on the early shows. Murray always had tons of charisma and personality, and while that translated on the big screen he struggled a bit in the format of the show. Jane continues her improbable run.
ADVANCE: Jane Curtin
(1) Chris Farley vs. (4) Andy Samburg
Andy Samburg versus Chris Farley matches two completely different styles of humor. Andy depends on music parodies and the anti-joke. Farley hangs his hat purely on physicality. I would like to write a strong argument for Andy because his Digital Shorts are so hilarious and inventive but Farley is a force of nature (el nino pun here). It sounds dumb but watching Farley fall through tables, gyrate shirtless or just shout nonsense is comedy in its simplest form, you think you would grow out of it but you don’t. Farley never relied on wit, he relied on uncontrolled energy, he never tried to be cutting edge, he just tried to be funny.
ADVANCE: Chris Farley
(2) Billy Crystal vs. (3) Phil Hartman
Billy Crystal had established himself in one short season at SNL as a bona fide star, performing his wacky Fernando Lamas and Sammy Davis Jr. impersonations. Phil Hartman put in eight seasons at SNL and seemed perfectly compatible with the system. Crystal left for great success after his one season, but to be honest I don’t think he had much in the tank for a long term SNL run anyway (did you see the Oscars he’s still doing Sammy Davis Jr.). Lorne Michaels may well have created Hartman in a lab somewhere. He so easily slid from sketch to sketch like a faultless utility man. Impressions, he had a Sinatra, a Clinton, and a Reagan, characters, he had the Anal Retentive Chef, the Caveman Lawyer and Frankenstein, just to name a few. Hartman’s lengthy credits put him ahead of the much celebrated Crystal.
ADVANCE: Billy Crystal
Swan Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygs-4GfqPcM