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SNL Sketch Showdown: Wayne’s World vs. More Cowbell

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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.

The Finals

The championship matchup of our “Saturday Night Live” bracket features a contrast in styles. On one side, you’ve got the premier sketch of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that gave birth to a comedy franchise. On the other, you’ve got the best sketch of the 21st century, which, surprisingly (and happily), the show didn’t decide to spin off into a recurring bit. But they also have much in common. Both highlight their respective era’s biggest “SNL” star displaying everything that made them so beloved. Additionally, each sketch gave birth to ubiquitous catchphrases that have become so ingrained in the culture that some people might not even know where they originated anymore. Either one would be a worthy victor. But there can only be one winner…

The Matchup

Over the span of about five years, “Wayne’s World” appeared almost 20 times on “Saturday Night Live.” Developed from a character Mike Myers had honed on Canadian television, Wayne was a dorky, lovable suburban metal-head who hosts a cable-access show with his punching-bag buddy Garth (Dana Carvey). Each sketch found Wayne and Garth giddily mimicking the talk-show format — there were Top 10 lists and interview guests — and amusing each other with their litany of invented slang: “No way!”/“Way!”; “Schwing!”; “We’re not worthy!”

Especially in hindsight, you can see that these guys really were the satirical poster children for a fading, clichéd hard rock scene that was about to be swept aside by Nirvana. But don’t feel too bad for Wayne: Along the way, he got to make out with Madonna and jam with Aerosmith while Garth mostly tried to keep from hurling in excitement. Adding to the sketches’ legacy, they birthed two movies, including 1992’s “Wayne’s World,” still the highest-grossing “SNL” film ever. And it transitioned Myers into his film career, showcasing his boyish love for playing very silly, very quotable characters. (Austin Powers was just around the corner.)

While “Wayne’s World” became a long-running cultural institution, “More Cowbell” built its legend entirely on one skit. Clocking in at just less than six minutes, the sketch aired on April 8, 2000. Constructed like a “Behind the Music” segment, the sketch purports to show unearthed footage of the recording process for Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” On its surface, it’s not a very funny idea: The band’s legendary, cocky producer (Christopher Walken) encourages the guys, especially fictional member Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell), to go crazy on the cowbell, even though the rest of the group finds it annoying. But “More Cowbell” may be the most perfectly executed sketch in “SNL” history, satirizing ‘70s rock, hotshot producers, artistic pretension (“Really explore the studio space this time”), unconventional instruments in rock songs, and fat guys with tight shirts. It’s also the single-best thing frequent host Walken ever did on “SNL,” with all due respect to the comparably nutso “The Continental” and “The Census” — which, by the way, were both part of that April 8 broadcast as well.

Ferrell reprised the character a couple times over the years, sitting in on the show’s live performances, but Frenkle never appeared in another sketch. (Maybe Ferrell knew he could never top it.) And yet look how, more than a decade later, “more cowbell” is still an incredibly recognizable catchphrase, synonymous with an entire era of rock-star bloat. Ferrell has gone on to movie stardom portraying other self-important, hopelessly ridiculous bozos, but the pure commitment Frenkle brings to pounding away at that damn cowbell may be his crowning comedic achievement.

And The Winner Is…

As great as these two contenders are, neither is flawless. “Wayne’s World” lost steam the more Myers and Carvey kept rehashing the sketch, resulting in quickly diminishing returns. (And that second “Wayne’s World” movie sure stunk.) As for “More Cowbell,” the comedy purist in us wishes that the cast members could have kept from breaking during the bit. (This was a constant annoyance during the Horatio Sanz/Jimmy Fallon era of “SNL,” and it’s especially irksome in a skit that requires deadpan sincerity for its humor.)

Ultimately, though, this really isn’t a showdown between sketches as it is a question of what aspect of “Saturday Night Live” you love the most: a long-running, much-quotable franchise or that one impeccable sketch. After much hemming and hawing, we’re going with the one impeccable sketch. Beyond all its other merits, “More Cowbell” is so fantastic because of the way it makes you think initially that it’s going to be about the Walken character, suddenly flipping the script and making Frenkle the brilliant, clueless focal point. Before that sketch, people remembered “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” for its guitar riff or its chorus. After that sketch, you can’t not hear the cowbell — and laugh every time.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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