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SNL Sketch Showdown: James Brown Hot Tub Party vs. Buckwheat Dead

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Welcome to the “Saturday Night Live” Sketch Showdown. Every weekday, an IFC writer will determine the winner of a matchup between two classic “SNL” sketches. You can check out the full bracket here.

Classic Eddie

“Saturday Night Live” has launched numerous actors into the mainstream, but none of them have flaunted the unholy trinity of cockiness, talent and popularity quite like Eddie Murphy did. Too many bad recent family comedies may have tarnished his reputation, but in the early ‘80s Murphy was a dangerous, wiry young guy whose big toothy grin barely hid his sometimes-antagonistic demeanor. At a time when racial inequality was still rampant, especially in regards to who we saw in movies and on television, Murphy came across on “SNL” as the embodiment of what undoubtedly some white viewers assumed African-Americans to be: intimidating, smooth-talking punks who were ready to upend the traditional power structure. Murphy’s genius was to both play into that impression but also to subvert it, delivering a funny, smart take on black life in America that melded Bill Cosby’s charm with Richard Pryor’s fearlessness. But beyond all that, he was just a hell of an entertainer — arguably the greatest pure showman of the program’s early years.

The Match Up

Where other “SNL” cast members were simply funny, Murphy was that and much more: a star. You don’t need to look any further than “James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party” to see him in his element. The sketch’s concept isn’t much, Murphy playing James Brown and milking the singer’s Hardest Working Man In Show Business bluster — complete with call-and-response backing band. But at just over two minutes, “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” is bliss perfected, combining the pleasure of Brown’s ecstatic funk with Murphy’s gleeful impersonation and kinetic charisma. It’s not that the sketch is all that hilarious — it’s just that Murphy absolutely nails the essence of a pop culture icon and then adds his own little indelible twist on top of it. As much as we love Steve Martin’s “King Tut,” we’ve always been surprised that this song parody didn’t take off as well.

But if you want the barbed, satiric Murphy, you should check out “Buckwheat Dead: America Mourns” from early 1983. A few years earlier, Murphy had introduced his spoof of the marble-mouthed “Our Gang” character — “Hi, I’m Buh-weet, remember me?!” — who had grown into an adult that sang contemporary pop hits, mangling them hysterically in the process. But in “America Mourns,” the bit went darker, imagining Ted Koppel (Joe Piscopo) doing a special report on the man who shot the beloved entertainer, a loner named John David Stutts (also played by Murphy). A timely takeoff on the assassination attempts (some successful, some not) of John Lennon, President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, “America Mourns” is an incredibly biting attack on the way the media covers (and capitalizes on) horrible tragedies, turning psychopaths into celebrities and sensationalizing every tawdry element imaginable. (For extra sting, the segment is sponsored by Mutual Life, whose recurring ads keeps reminding us, “Because you could die tomorrow.”) These are laughs that keep getting stuck in your throat — as Stutts, Murphy plays the loopiest version of these lone gunmen, the humor cruelly undercut by the shock that such people actually exist in our world.

And The Winner Is…

These two are so evenly matched it goes into overtime. But, eventually, “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” squeaks out the win in a nail-biter. True, “America Mourns” is the sharper, more ambitious piece, but it’s also got some dull, dated spots. By comparison, Eddie Murphy strutting around and singing like James Brown will simply never get old. You can see “Celebrity Hot Tub Party” as one of the true precursors to Andy Samberg’s musical Digital Shorts, which equally owned the styles/genres they were aping. Too hot in the hot tub — and so much fun that even Murphy has to keep from cracking up a couple different times during the bit.

Did the right sketch win? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

SNL Sketch Showdown: Schweddy Balls vs. Nude Beach

Schweddy-Balls-vs-Nude-Beach

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Welcome to the “Saturday Night Live” Sketch Showdown. Every weekday, an IFC writer will determine the winner of a matchup between two classic “SNL” sketches. You can check out the full bracket here.

Risqué Business

By definition, over the years “Saturday Night Live” has become known for a wide variety of things. Any show that’s been on the air for 38 seasons can’t afford to sit still and be predictable. That’s how you lose ratings and audience members — the moment you start to become dependable. “SNL,” then, has the unenviable task of trying to be controversial (when it’s called for) but also observing the standards and practices’ rules and regulations (always). So, how does a late-night comedy show intended for adults (and comedy-enamored teens) stay relevant and surprising while also able to be safely discussed around the proverbial water cooler or playground without incurring the wrath of HR reps or eavesdropping adults? These two sketches, airing a decade apart, explore two very different ways of honoring a time-tested comedy favorite: dick jokes.

The Matchup

“Nude Beach,” a 1988 Conan O’Brien-penned sketch was a scene that couldn’t be held back. It has a fairly interesting history (it was originally written for a Carl Weathers-hosted episode but then later quashed), and has a lot of significance for the show — fan favorites like “Schweddy Balls” (which this is up against) and “Dick in a Box” couldn’t have existed without this: The show’s first sketch where the word penis is said on air. It’s spoken a total of 48 times, and in a lesser troupe’s hands, the humor could have been lost. In the sketch, Matthew Broderick is unwinding at a nude beach with some friends of his. There’s a fence obscuring their phalluses, but that doesn’t matter: They are talking about each other’s penises. For the whole scene. Nobody is making fun of anyone’s penises. It’s just a couple of guys talking guy-talk: “Jack, what have you done with your penis? It looks super!” “Oh, I go to this place on Long Island. They do great work.” “Wow. You got the address?” Sure.” “Great. I’ll write it on my penis so I won’t forget.” It’s all done completely straight-faced, which amplifies the joke exponentially. There’s probably a joke in here to make about how long Jimmy Fallon would have lasted in a sketch about penises, but now I just have penises on the brain so I’ll figure that out later after I penis.

1998’s “Schweddy Balls,” on the other hand, is no slouch. It featured Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon reprising their popular “Delicious Dish” NPR hosts for another sketch mocking the stuffiness that station often ladles out ample portions of. Alec Baldwin plays Pete Schweddy, who is guesting on their show to explain how his holiday-treat balls are made — and boy oh boy do those ladies love those Schweddy balls. This scene trades more heavily in double entendres and is extremely silly, and somehow never lapses into just being juvenile — even though there’s no mistaking this scene for high satire.

And The Winner Is…

“Nude Beach.” In some respects, it might seem like this comes down to dick jokes against balls jokes, but I disagree. Both sketches are funny, no doubt about it, but “Schweddy Balls” is more of a joke (“So, there’s this NPR guy whose last name is Schweddy. He’s a cook who makes delicious balls…”), whereas “Nude Beach” is a stronger scene, structurally. There is a problem that’s dealt with (Kevin Nealon is worried his penis is too small, a woman tells him it doesn’t really matter), the stakes are raised, and all that good stuff sketches should have. But, as mentioned above, it’s also historically more significant for the show’s history. “Penis” was said 43 times and the sketch provoked 46,000 letters. You can’t argue with those numbers — it got a big reaction. Contrast this with Baldwin later reprising his role again, this time unleashing his Schweddy wieners onto the world. But by then, the whole gag was getting a little sweaty.

Did the right sketch win? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

SNL Sketch Showdown: More Cowbell vs. Celebrity Jeopardy

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Welcome to the “Saturday Night Live” Sketch Showdown. Every weekday, an IFC writer will determine the winner of a matchup between two classic “SNL” sketches. You can check out the full bracket here.

Ferrell’s Finest

Before Will Ferrell was one of the biggest comedic movie stars in Hollywood, the “Anchorman” actor earned his name on “Saturday Night Live.” A producer scouted him when he was a troupe member at Groundlings in Los Angeles, and Ferrell ended up being brought on board “SNL” in 1995. For the next seven years, Ferrell became known for his impersonations of people like President George W. Bush and Robert Goulet, and the hilarious characters he created like nightclub aficionado Steve Butabi. But of all his contributions to “Saturday Night Live,” the two sketches that remain his most recognized are “Celebrity Jeopardy” and “More Cowbell.”

The Matchup

There have been a total of 14 “Celebrity Jeopardy” skits during “Saturday Night Live’s” run, the first being introduced on December 7, 1996. But it’s the sketch’s seventh appearance on October 23, 1999 that is its most famous. Featuring Ferrell as host Alex Trebek, Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery, Jimmy Fallon as French Stewart and host — and returning “SNL” player — Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds, the sketch brings together “Celebrity Jeopardy’s” three best guests from its short run. It’s Connery’s response to the Final Jeopardy! question, “SucK it, Trebek,” that is likely what makes the skit so beloved, but everything from Stewart’s certainty that onions are condiments made out of mustard seeds to Reynolds’ distraction when he finds a massive sombrero backstage make this a standout sketch.

The “More Cowbell” sketch is the most recognized one from Christopher Walken’s fourth time hosting “Saturday Night Live” on April 8, 2000. The skit features him as famed producer Bruce Dickinson as he helps Blue Oyster Cult create “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Interestingly, Dickinson is not the producer of the song in real life, nor was Ferrell’s cowbell-playing character Gene Frenkle an actual member of the band. The sketch turned “more cowbell” into a pop culture catchphrase and even spawned an aqua-colored Hot Topic t-shirt with the words, “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell” featured prominently on it. If that’s not a sign of success, we don’t know what is.

And The Winner Is…

This is a tough one. Both “More Cowbell” and “Celebrity Jeopardy” are classic Ferrell skits in their own right, but when it comes down to it, it’s “More Cowbell” that is best known specifically for Ferrell’s involvement. Ferrell is funny in “Celebrity Jeopardy” as Alex Trebek, but it’s Hammond who steals the show as Sean Connery. Likewise, it’s host Christopher Walken as Bruce Dickinson who utters the famous words, “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell” in “More Cowbell,” but the overall skit is Ferrell’s through and through. After seeing that sketch for the first time, we never looked at a cowbell the same way again.

Did the right sketch win? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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