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SNL Sketch Showdown: More Cowbell vs. James Brown Hot Tub Party


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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.


Two “SNL” legends are essentially facing off against one another: Eddie Murphy and Will Farrell. Does “More Cowbell” exhibit more comedic perfection than “James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party”? Some preliminaries: Murphy, of course, had a falling out over the years with the show as a result of David Spade’s brutal takedown of him on Weekend Update (“Look, a falling star”). Murphy, as a result, absented himself from reunions. Any friction between Murphy and the show essentially ended when, in 2011, the movie star came back to host the show to promote “Tower Heist.”

The Challenge

Bushwick-born Eddie Murphy, influenced by Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, goes up against Will Ferrell, master of the over-the-top impression (Janet Reno, James Lipton) and the sketch. Murphy is credited with providing fresh energy to the not-yet-ready-for-prime-time players in the 80s; Ferrell is credited for doing the same in the mid to late 90s. This is an epic match up; both skits are the stuff of legend.

Eddie Murphy sends up of James Brown’s ability to make anything, even something as mundane as relaxing in a hot tub, epic. Also: Murphy is making fun of the fact that as enormously entertaining as James Brown is, he is often — how does one put this precisely? — difficult to understand. The skit, essentially, is a vehicle for Murphy’s talents as an impersonator and singer. Ferrell is playing essentially a sweaty man-beast — furry beyond all measure, obsessed with his own disgusting percussions — all swagger and man-boobage. “More Cowbell,” now a term in the American lexicon, sends up VH1’s Behind the Music, more than ever, a significant pop-cultural artifact.

And the Winner is …

“Cowbell.” It could not have been otherwise. Will had me at the muffin top. Yes, Murphy’s gold mankini is spectacular, a shocking, tragic visual. But it is Will Ferrell’s arch, barely fitting split-pea soup colored top that arrests the viewer’s attention at the outset and that ultimately prevails. One of Ferrell’s strengths is the amount of emotional range — passive aggressive to, essentially, flat out aggro cowbell playing — that he brings to his performances. His way, way over-the-top act outshines even Christopher Walken, who is no stranger to over-the-top performances in his own career. Finally, the chemistry of all the players involved — Jimmy Fallon, Walken, Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz — adds to the allure of the skit. Ferrell was always a team player, and when he shined everybody in the skit shined — even Fallon, who, at about 3:42 into the skit, starts to crack up in one of his most legendary on air crack ups. Hot Tub is an excellent vehicle for Murphy; Cowbell is an excellent ensemble skit in which Will Ferrell shines. It is, in retrospect, hard to think of a more accurate metaphor for Will Ferrell than as a comedian who plays well with others but who beats to the tune of his own peculiar cowbell.

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

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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