The ‘Cut for Time’ Sketches of ‘SNL’ Season 40
With SNL‘s 40th season wrapped up, we’re taking a look back at the past year to recall the highs, lows, and other memorable moments as the show ended its fourth decade on the air. Here, we discuss a collection of some of the best sketches SNL made this season — the ones that were cut.
Despite the agenda we assume drives Saturday Night Live, its creative process is actually more chaotic than we realize. An episode really is created from scratch in six days: pitch meeting with the host on Monday; all-night writing sessions on Tuesday; table-read on Wednesday; rewrites, rehearsals, and shoots on Thursday and Friday; dress rehearsal and live show on Saturday. At no point in the process does Lorne Michaels declare: “There will be exactly three video sketches, one talk show sketch, one sketch that will offend people, and one dumb song about apples.” (Legend has it that late head writer Michael O’Donoghue did at one point spray paint the word “danger” on the wall, but that’s pretty vague as far as directives go.) We can watch an episode and infer that the writers wanted to push the envelope or pull punches, but they would claim no agenda other than to throw shit against the wall, see what sticks, and start over again on Monday.
Proof of this chaos are the “cut for time” sketches. These are the sketches that survive the Thunderdome of cuts to the 12-or-so finalists that run during the dress rehearsal, just to be mercilessly dropped last minute. Perhaps they didn’t get as big laughs as they did at table read, or they would create too complicated of a wardrobe transition, or the host didn’t feel comfortable in them, or “Peripheral Vision Man” ran too long and Lorne made the call halfway through the live broadcast. In the past, these comedy corpses could only reach the light of day via the tales of nostalgic staffers, bonus features on Best-Of DVDs, re-animation in the future by late night hosts, or adaptation into the best sitcom of all time. But now, thanks to the internet, SNL will routinely post online the cut sketches alongside the others (under the less victimizing header “digital exclusive”), immortalizing them for comedy nerds and sites like this one.
The cut sketches from season 40 are a mixed bag — some are brilliant videos that were too long for the lineup, while others are silly character sketches that their episodes were probably better off without. Taken together, these rejects make for an amazing fantasy episode of SNL, like a night of leftovers that tastes even better the second time around.
The Gossipy Coal Miner. For his first time hosting the show, Bill Hader mostly stuck to characters he played before. The exception was Levar, the gossipy coal minor with endless analogies for erectile dysfunction, who, like many of Hader’s lesser-known characters, broke down into a giggly mess.
Kids. Mike O’Brien’s video was less of a conventional “sketch” than a surreal short film that explored a boyfriend’s fear of commitment.
10,000 Tweets. The most elaborate and over-the-top live sketch didn’t even make it into its episode (though Woody Harrelson’s episode was stacked as it was). Not even a cameo by Edward Norton could save this sarcastic celebration of a relatively minor social media milestone.
Pentagon Presentation. Also cut from the Woody Harrelson episode (though arguably more deservedly so) was this weird premise about a government scientist who wasted $100 million on a dancing robot with huge hands that it does gross stuff with.
Def TED Talks. This clash-of-context between the thoughtful TED Talk presentations and broad Def Jam sets seemed like the kind of irony that works great on paper but, once on stage, sucked the fun out of both worlds.
100 Greatest Guys. As one of the more hit-or-miss nights this season, James Franco’s episode could have afforded swapping out some of its weaker moments with its omissions. Notably, this hilarious parody of VH1 talking-head countdowns, with the cast playing eclectic non-celebs gushing about boring, everyday dudes.
Morning News. SNL mostly avoided sketches about the protests in Ferguson, with the exception of this amusing setup about uncomfortable hosts of a St. Louis morning show. Luckily (or sadly, depending how you look at it), the writers were able to repackage this premise as commentators at an empty Orioles game when similar protests broke out in Baltimore months later.
Santa Traps. Martin Freeman’s episode worked largely because the Hobbit star’s commitment to weird setups, which was clear from this cut commercial for Santa traps that are much more useful for catching bears.
Christmas Romance. This parody of the famous Love Actually scene felt disconnected and random enough that it looked like Pete Davidson was just trying to use weird and crass cue cards to force a smile out of Golden Globe winner Amy Adams. (To be fair, it worked a few times.)
Bruce and Kevin. After two Weekend Update appearances last season, Kyle Mooney moved his hack comic Bruce Chandling to this pre-taped short with him failing to hit it off with Kevin Hart. Bruce’s weepy confession in the hall at the Gotham looked like a scene out of Louie or Maron — less about the big laughs than about the character study.
New Playroom. The crowd at dress rehearsal gave little love to this Fifty Shades-inspired premise about the indiscreet construction workers building Christian Grey’s new S&M playroom. But with a warmer audience, this sketch could have hit.
Inner White Girl. One of the more unfortunate cuts this season saw Reese Witherspoon as a white female guardian angel to Leslie Jones, talking her through a routine bank visit.
Bruce and Louie. Bruce Chandling might be the first SNL recurring character to live on solely in cut shorts. Shot for the season finale, Bruce merges even deeper into the Louie universe by bumping into the man himself.
Rooftop Party. Also cut from the season finale was this fun turn from Jay Pharoah — perhaps the only time this season we saw him in an original character piece — as Stereo, guy at a barbecue asking to borrow everything, even when it’s physically impossible.