I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live regularly since the Phil Hartman days of the early ‘90s, and not even my borderline unhealthy obsession with Tina Fey could change that. (It was an obsession born from 30 Rock, not SNL, though I did Google some of her Sarah Palin bits just because.) But nevertheless I marvel at this program's longevity. Admit it—none of you who watched SNL in its fifth year, as the last pieces of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players were crumbling and the show was about to make its first (disastrous) cast change, ever would have thought it would last this long. Despite its insistence on never going away (SNL has become, for some of us, the network television version of the character John Belushi immortalized during his tenure, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave), it seems to have been in a constant state of vacillation between watchable and culturally irrelevant ever since the passing of its first five seasons.
But apparently even this venerable 35-year-old institution is still capable of pulling a rabbit out of its tattered top hat, and this past weekend it did so with the help of a spirited actress who has been around about 50 years longer than the program itself. On Saturday, May 8, octogenarian Betty White hosted the program, boosted by a campaign originating on Facebook to land her on the program. The campaign worked—over 515,000 people signed the petition site, compelling NBC and Lorne Michaels to take the bait, and White apparently spurred the SNL stable of writers and actors to come up with some of their best material in years, much of it built around her natural exuberance and the old-school tension between her twinkly demeanor and her tendency toward, shall we say, inappropriate language and unexpected behavior. Of course, this is a card she’s played brilliantly ever since the halcyon days of Sue Ann Nivens, right on up through The Golden Girls and recent supporting roles in movies like The Proposal. This year she even made a splash with football fans (albeit in a mud puddle) in a hilarious Snickers ad which saw her and Abe Vigoda both take some vicious hits (with the help of CGI, one certainly hopes) during a pickup scrimmage. (Those of us who remember her appearances on Password already knew she was a firecracker.)
Despite all the love she has received throughout her career, it’s nice to see White not only get her due from the current generation of comedians while she’s still active and funny, but also to get a showcase like SNL on which to strut her stuff. I wish I could have seen it myself, but in the age of Hulu and TiVo and YouTube and all the other sites that have turned summer reruns into the stuff of cathode ray legend something like the Betty White Phenomenon is never too far away. And so, assuming that like me you may have missed the big water cooler event of the weekend, here’s one or two moments from Betty White’s triumphant turn on Saturday Night Live (without having to sit through all those annoying commercials or Jay-Z!). Wouldn’t it be lovely if all this attention could get this fine and funny actress, at 85 years old, a real movie or two where she wouldn’t have to play Sandra Bullock’s feisty grandmother-in-law? (No Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot Too! jokes, please.) Betty White, the self-effacing, spirited, impishly self-aware comedienne who has mastered the tension between the housewife’s twinkle and the impudent hussy’s suggestion like few others, is the real deal. Enjoy!
Betty White and Kristen Wiig promote White's upcoming Saturday Night Live appearance
The Betty White SNL Monologue
Betty makes an NPR radio appearance with cooking show hosts Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer—double entendre alert!
Tina Fey’s census worker meets her match when Betty answers the door.