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‘Saturday Night Live’ brought out comedy’s big guns for its 40th anniversary special

People brought their A-game and the laughs followed.


Michelle Jaworski


Posted on Feb 16, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 12:59 pm CDT

Live from New York, it was a night of of nostalgia and laughter.

Saturday Night Live cast members, hosts, and guests spanning several generations gathered for the show’s 40th anniversary special Sunday night, and for three and a half hours, the montages, tributes, performances, and new takes on classic bits kept people tuning in. Even when the show went off the rails, it did so in a way that only SNL could manage.

The 40th anniversary special took shots at the show itself, disgraced news anchor Brian Williams, NBC, and even showrunner Lorne Michaels. People made fun of some of the hosts—like Charles Barkley, who couldn’t act—continually mourned Jon Lovitz while he was in the audience (even during the In Memoriam segment), and remembered Tracy Morgan, who wasn’t able to attend. The energy of the audience, filled with players and guests from SNL‘s 40 years, was palpable.

Not everything hit the wall, though. What was supposed to be a tribute to Eddie Murphy came off as awkward, as the former cast member returned to the show for the first time in decades—and was cut off by a commercial break. 

SNL’s Weekend Update montage forgot to include Cecily Strong, who anchored the desk for two seasons before turning over her chair to former SNL writer Michael Che earlier this season.

At times, it felt like there was too much star power, as celebrities like Christopher Walken were reduced to bit parts introducing other acts. After Miley Cyrus covered a Paul Simon song, some people felt that the show missed the mark by not having Simon cover a Cyrus song.

Whether you still think SNL’s got it or you think the show stopped being funny years ago, you have to admit that it’s still got some spark, whether it be the humor of “Celebrity Jeopardy” or the chemistry of Betty White and Bradley Cooper locking lips. The show has gone 40 years and shows no signs of stopping.

We can only imagine what the show will have up its sleeve when it hits the big 5-0.

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake recapped the show’s history

The show began by simultaneously looking back and forward—to Monday night. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake brought the energy to the stage, and we had seen enough of their collaborations on Late Night and The Tonight Show to know that something magical was going to happen.

Sure enough, they presented a spinoff of their recurring “History of Rap” segment to recap the highs and lows of SNL’s history—despite Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch) appearing to remind them that starting the show off with a musical number often resulted in lower ratings. Fallon and Timberlake pressed on anyway, because NBC doesn’t care about ratings.

The ladies take back “Weekend Update” in a big way

We really hope that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler never get sick of working with each other, because it always results in comedy gold. The former castmates and “Weekend Update” co-anchors were joined by original cast member Jane Curtin for a mostly self-referential edition of the fake newscast. Curtin fit right in with the duo, shooting out zingers like she’d never left the desk.

After the main newscast, the anchors had guests come on to pay tribute to their favorite characters. The cameos were worth it if only for Melissa McCarthy’s impression of motivational speaker Matt Foley, one of Chris Farley’s most iconic characters, right down to breaking the desk.

Sarah Palin teased a 2016 run

Jerry Seinfeld’s audience Q&A had its highs and lows, as he referenced Rolling Stone’s cast member ranking, the show’s criticism that it didn’t have enough black women on the show, and its decision to cut the writers’ tribute to give Randy Quaid time to rant about something for four minutes. But the most buzz in this segment comes around the 6:15 mark, after a question from one of Fey’s best characters, Sarah Palin—or rather, the real thing.

“Just curious, Jerry,” Palin asked, “how much do you think Lorne Michaels would pay me if I were to run in 2016?”

Palin mentioned picking Donald Trump as her running mate, at which point dollar signs likely appeared in Michaels’ eyes. But although Palin was a good sport this time around, she’s not a fan of the Fey impression. Palin felt that Fey made her look like an idiot (but scoffs at the idea that SNL has an effect on real-life politics) and wants the actress to pay for her kids’ braces in return for capitalizing on her back in 2008.

SNL acknowledges its history of cast members breaking character

It’s been the elephant in the room for years, and on Sunday night, it finally got a fitting tribute from Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler. Their latest digital short went out to everyone who found themselves unable to keep it together in the heat of a hilarious moment, thus “breaking” and said moment even funnier. But let’s be real, it’s mostly been Fallon and Horatio Sanz.

“Wayne’s World” gets revived

Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar’s return to SNL brought our favorite public access show back on the air, and how it landed depended on how you felt about it during its original run (and subsequent films). Mike Myers and Dana Carvey brought a top-10 list about SNL to demonstrate their routine, and it was one-third inside jokes, one-third Kanye West swipes, and one-third catchphrases.

Schwing, we’re not worthy!

Screengrab via NBC

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*First Published: Feb 16, 2015, 12:13 pm CST