Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Meeting Your Own Impersonator: 10 Great SNL Meta-Moments

Some of the greatest moments in Saturday Night Live's history are celebrities coming on the show to confront their SNL doppelgangers. Whether they’re flattered, confused, or even pissed off by a cast member’s impression, nothing is quite as hilariously meta as seeing a star come face-to-face with their impersonator. It also says a lot about the celebrity’s persona and character, how well they react to imitation, and how open they are with being the butt of a joke. Here are ten of those moments.

Alec Baldwin and Tony Bennett

“My name is Phony Bennett.”
Frequent host Alec Baldwin brings many of his own impressions to SNL, like Neil Diamond, Saddam Hussein, and Charles Nelson Reilly. His take on Tony Bennett in his recurring sketch “The Tony Bennett Show” took the meta-moment into super-double-meta-reality when Tony Bennett made a cameo playing Anthony Bernadetto, satiric Tony Bennett impersonator. And when he tells Baldwin that he has a great nose job, it’s priceless to watch Baldwin squeeze Bennett’s arm and say “I appreciate that, I do.” It's just two great guys having a great, great time.

Will Ferrell and Alex Trebek

"And so this was our Final Jeopardy."
"Celebrity Jeopardy" was always one of the best outlets for SNL cast members' celebrity impressions, from Darrell Hammond's Sean Connery to Norm MacDonald's Burt Reynolds, along with Will Ferrell as impatient and frustrated host Alex Trebek. Ferrell's last episode as an SNL cast member featured the final installment of "Celebrity Jeopardy," and Alex Trebek's cameo at the very end was a great way to tie up the sketch's memorable history. Hammond as Connery says "Well well well, two Trebeks. I feel like I'm in a Raisin Bran commercial — two scoops of fruit." Trebek tells him he doesn't have to take that from him, but staying true to "Celebrity Jeopardy," he does.

Bill Hader and Dave Matthews

“What doesn’t scare Dave Matthews? I mean look at him, his stupid face and his stupid feet, and his voice makes me want to throw up in my hands.”
The ultimate thing the impersonated can do is not only appear with their impersonators and act cool about it, but also be able to make fun of themselves while they’re at it. Dave Matthews played Ozzy Osbourne on another sketch of “The Mellow Show” and sat next to Bill Hader, who plays Matthews alongside Andy Samberg as Jack Johnson. Not only was it great that Matthews was playfully self-deprecating, but he also did a hilarious Ozzy impression at the same time, giving the Mellow guys the scare they needed for too long.

Fred Armisen and David Paterson

“You know, working in Albany is a lot like watching Saturday Night Live –- there’s a lot of characters, it’s funny for ten minutes, and then you just want it to go away.”
If the celebrity being impersonated happens to have a disability, there’s no way to get around controversy, and Fred Armisen’s segments on Weekend Update as New York Governor David Paterson were no exception. When Paterson came on alongside Armisen to speak out against ridiculing the disabled, he also played along with some of the jokes like standing in front of the camera at the end, and of course, a trademark dig at New Jersey.

Amy Poehler and Hillary Clinton

“Do I really laugh like that?”
During the 2008 presidential election, SNL became a mandatory stop for candidates like Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Mike Huckabee, but it was Hillary whose charming run-in with Amy Poehler takes the cake as best election season meta-moment. Unlike Sarah Palin’s fleeting screen time with Tina Fey (and obviously, Fey’s Palin was brilliant), the Clinton-Poehler moment glowed with connection between the two women and showed not only that Hillary adored Poehler’s impression, but that she had a genuine appreciation for humor even during election season.

Eddie Murphy and Stevie Wonder

"People say I sound just like Stevie, with one exception: you can understand every single word!"
Some impersonations are so scary good that they're almost better than the real thing. Eddie Murphy lent his amazing Stevie Wonder impression to the sketch "Stevie Wonder Impersonator," where Wonder plays Alan, a Stevie Wonder impersonator. Wonder tries to impress Murphy with his take on several songs, but Murphy (the impersonator playing Wonder) thinks Wonder (Wonder playing the impersonator) does a crappy job. Watch the very end of the sketch above.

Andy Samberg and Mark Wahlberg

“Well I gotta be honest with you buddy, I’ve been thinking about breaking that big beautiful nose of yours.”
The week after Andy Samberg’s first “Mark Wahlberg Talks To Animals” sketch aired, Mark Wahlberg told Jimmy Kimmel “You know what? When I see that kid I’m gonna crack that big fucking nose of his.” So maybe Wahlberg wasn’t a fan of Andy impersonating him while telling animals to say hi to their mothers for him, but his subsequent appearance on the show was inevitable unless Wahlberg wanted to look like that guy who can’t take a joke. What resulted wasn’t necessarily a sense of real forgiveness from Wahlberg, but at least he can tell people he almost got to punch Andy Samberg on live television. And say hi to a donkey.

Will Ferrell and Janet Reno

“I like your dress, Janet.”
If anyone on this list deserves an award for being the best sport, it's Janet Reno for her appearance in Will Ferrell's recurring sketch "Janet Reno's Dance Party." It's enough that she's cool with a man impersonating her, but the fact that Reno entered the sketch by busting through the wall and into the party makes her pretty awesome. Her term as Attorney General ended only a year before Will Ferrell left SNL for bigger things, and this union of big-shouldered leaders was a wonderful portrayal of Ferrell's hilariously absurd SNL characters.

SNL cast and Christopher Walken

“For a Walken, adolescence is a difficult time. You feel like you’re the only normal person in a school of nut jobs.”
Perhaps even better than watching one great impersonator is getting to watch eight of them at once, and nobody could be a better choice for an ensemble impersonation than Christopher Walken. Hader, Sudeikis, Poehler, Samberg, Armisen, Wiig, Hammond, and Thompson all lend their Walken impressions to the sketch “Meet The Family,” proving that Christopher Walken's amazing voice transcends all races, ages, genders, and sexual orientations. Early on into the sketch it's almost impossible to tell whether Walken is being normal or doing an impression of an impression of himself, and he remains the Christopher Walken we know best even with eight Walkens by his side.

Joe Cocker and John Belushi

“I can't escape, I guess I'm here to stay/’til someone comes along to take my place/with a different name and a different face”
No mention of SNL cast members going face-to-face with the celebrities they impersonate would be complete without the ultimate original SNL meta-moment between John Belushi and Joe Cocker. Belushi’s Cocker impression was not only pitch-perfect, but it’s obvious from watching the two share the same stage that Belushi’s impression comes from a deep love and respect for the singer. Cocker stays so in tune with singing while Belushi stays so true to character that it becomes a great meta-moment of two legends coexisting together in mutual admiration. It’s probably one of the most beautiful moments in meta SNL history.

What's your favorite Saturday Night Live meta-moment? Did I miss any?

Megh Wright is a writer, TV addict, and Harrisburg native. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and is a Gawker TV contributor.

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  • Mike Schuster

    While impersonating Danny Bonaduce, Michael J. Fox met David Spade doing an impression of him.

    Inspired me to write a comedy sketch in college of an acting class that trains celebrities how to milk the silence for bigger laughs while facing someone doing an impression of you in a comedy sketch.

    I was, uh, going through a meta phase.

  • EBone

    How about Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro showing up on the "Joe Pesci Show" and taking bats to Jim Brewer?

    • Dave

      That was my favorite moment on SNL in terms of celebrities confronting their impersonators. The one where Bob Dole encounters Bob Dole as played by Nor MacDonald or when George H. Bush denied Dana Carvey's impression of him were high up there for me too.

  • SUPER Chundy

    You missed Dana Carvey doing Dennis Miller, spot on.

    Also, your list seems to be confined to the videos you had access to i.e. the last 10 years

    • Megh Wright

      Yeah, it's not easy to go through all my seasons of SNL and record all the clips I like so I can get them online. I had to work with what was available, and trust me, there are tons more I wish were on here. That's why I was looking forward to the comments on this one. Thanks though!

  • http://youtube.com/user/joekcomedy Joe Kwaczala

    Back in '88, Robin Williams did a sketch where it was his 60th birthday, and his son was Dana Carvey doing a Robin Williams impression. Fallon did Seinfeld and Mick Jagger with them right there. Another Jagger impersonation had Mike Myers doing it, while Mick did Keith. I also recall Farley and Victoria Jackson doing Tom Arnold and Roseanne in front of them. Then there's the reverse: the host doing an impression of a cast member. Teri Hatcher did a David Spade, and Tom Hanks (along with Carvey) did Dennis Miller.

    • Megh Wright

      I LOVED when Seinfeld and Fallon were side-by-side and spent forever trying to find that clip! Thanks for reminding me about all those other moments – all great ones!!

    • http://twitter.com/heyscottie heyscottie

      Oh yeah, Teri Hatcher and David Spade insulting each other with their own "self"-depreciating humor…too funny.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    Great list! I wouldn't call this a favorite, but I saw this episode recently and it was pretty funny. Jimmy Fallon does a Robert Deniro impression and gives a bad review of Meet the Parents on Weekend Update and in the next show, Robert Deniro shows up and makes Fallon do the impression in front of him and then does a Jimmy Fallon impression. Good stuff.

  • Kevin Y.

    Jim Carrey as Jimmy Stewart doing an impression of Jim Carrey: "Look at me! I need attention 24 hours a day." Then braying like a donkey. "This fella mugs so much you should put a handle on the side of his head."

  • http://mattpayton.tumblr.com/ BobSacamano

    Are they the greatest moments or masturbatory moments of self-congratulation on the parts of both the show and the celebrities themselves?

    • Megh Wright

      Your entire commenting history on this website consists of you dissing SNL (with one exception where you diss Running Wilde) so, you know, grain of salt :)

      • http://mattpayton.tumblr.com/ BobSacamano

        That's true, why am I leaving comments in the first place? I'm not a comments guy.

      • http://mattpayton.tumblr.com/ BobSacamano
        • Megh Wright

          I understand where you're coming from, but complaining about SNL not being funny is a tired topic for me. Have you read this? (http://splitsider.com/2010/11/enough-is-enough-with-the-snl-isnt-funny-anymore/)

          I do agree that SNL isn't always funny, and having a bunch of Harvard grads with entitlement issues certainly isn't always helpful, but the generalization is tiring and honestly, not productive at all. SNL is a 35 year old show and it has its ups and downs, and if you take such an issue with it being humorless then why not create things that you find humorous? Will Ferrell was of course a legend – but there were legends on SNL before him, and there will be more legends to come.

          • http://mattpayton.tumblr.com/ BobSacamano

            My complaint isn't so much about it not being funny anymore as much as it is not being at least interesting anymore. I did read the article about the consistency being up-and-down from the get go and that is absolutely true as I've been watching the first five years lately, but I think what makes a lot of people groan these days is just how corporate they seem to be trying to be and running repeated sketches into the ground on an unprecedented level.

            The writers on that show have got to be so frustrated that all their original ideas piling up in their drawers just go to waste all while having the luxurious real estate of an hour and a half of network time going to walk-on cameos by celebrities that are in no way surprising anymore or yet another "What Up With That" scene which has now become the new cheerleaders.

            Maybe instead of chasing ratings, SNL should realize they have no competition in that time slot and try and take the audience somewhere they might not have gone on their own. This could be done with perhaps a point of view, more unique premises or what do you call it? Humor.

          • Megh Wright

            That's a legitimate point, and I'm sure that even fans of the show (myself included) would agree with you that these days it heavily relies on catchphrases and repeated characters ("Oh we don't have any ideas?? Who cares, throw in another Gilly sketch!") to the point where it can be a little insulting to the part of their audience that watches every week. It's funny to me how when you watch SNL from the first season until now, as time passes they get away with less and less on the show — shouldn't it be the opposite? I don't think you can blame it on the show 100% when they have NBC execs breathing down their necks and censoring/critiquing/cutting anything that might be too offensive or "edgy" or whatever you want to call it – but we don't know the reality of who is to blame, maybe it's both, maybe the show wants to play it safe, we just don't know. I do think that ultimately another house cleaning might solve all the things you find wrong with the show, it's just history repeating itself over and over SNL-style. But I'd never disagree with someone who thinks that SNL needs to push it a little further.

            I do agree that the 10th Justin Timberlake cameo is more frustrating than entertaining, but come on! John Belushi and Joe Cocker? Janet Reno and Will Ferrell? When done right, I absolutely love it. It's cool if you don't though. I'm just glad we got to have this chat.

          • http://mattpayton.tumblr.com/ BobSacamano

            Those particular two cameos were pretty entertaining and genuinely surprising at the time, but when it was Mark Wahlberg it took all the fun out of the absurdity of the first sketch.

            Now we can cuddle and make snide comments during SNL.