Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels does not look fondly upon cast members breaking character and succumbing to uncontrollable fits of laughter during sketches. While this behavior, which is known as “corpsing” in theatrical circles, is generally not rewarded by Michaels, there is no denying that some of the most indelible moments in the show’s history have come when performers have cracked themselves and their fellow cast members up during the middle of a sketch. In fact, one of those moments occurred just this past weekend when featured player Bill Hader couldn’t stop giggling while portraying a character called Stefon during Weekend Update.
So, as a means of honoring these rare moments of spontaneous levity on the program, we’ve put together the following Top Ten list of moments when cast members lost their composure and burst into laughter during a sketch. Enjoy!
10. “Hot Tub Lovers” with Will Ferrell, Rachel Dratch, Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore
“Does anyone care for spiced lamb shanks?” Mere seconds into this recurring sketch that starred Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch as pretentiously libidinous professors at a liberal arts college, notorious SNL corpser Jimmy Fallon begins losing it. The cast does their best to keep the sketch together, but when Dratch begins feeding Ferrell lamb meat while soaking in the hot tub around the three minute mark, the bit goes off the rails.
9. “More Cowbell” starring Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, Chris Parnell and Christopher Walken
If one were to judge the entire roster of Saturday Night Live cast members solely on their ability to keep a straight face in a sketch, Jimmy Fallon would be the worst featured player in the show’s history by a country mile. About 3:45 into this legendary sketch, Fallon begins cracking up while delivering a line about Will Ferrell’s potbellied cowbell antics, causing a chain reaction of giggles that almost tanked the bit.
8. “Casino – The American Indian Version” starring Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider and Harvey Keitel
It’s always a joy when actors best known for their serious, dramatic chops show up to Studio 8H to guest host. In this example, renowned Serious Actor Harvey Keitel finds it nearly impossible to make his way through a Casino parody in which he’s dressed up as an American Indian. Good thing for him that this crackup happened during dress rehearsals and not on the live show.
7. “Extremely Stupid” starring Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen
The madcap schedule in which sketches on SNL are written and (barely) rehearsed has resulted in many a fine actor tripping over a line. In this case, Candice Bergen mistakenly calls Gilda Radner’s character the wrong name, which causes her to begin laughing uncontrollably for the duration of the entire sketch. Ever the pro, Radner manages to keep it together … for the most part.
6. “Aquarium Guys” with Horatio Sanz and Jimmy Fallon
Fact: At least two people found SNL‘s Aquarium Guys (“We got [INSERT POP CULTURE REFERENCE] over here!”) to be hilarious.
Fact: Sadly, those two people were Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz.
5. “Grandma” starring Chris Farley, Adam Sandler and Michael Keaton
As funny as it is to see Michael Keaton wearing a leopard-print banana hammock/codpiece, it was Chris Farley’s wig-related wardrobe malfunction that caused Adam Sandler to crack up during the middle of this skit. Bonus points for being able to hear Farley’s singular giggle at the 0:48 mark of this priceless early nineties video.
4. “Stefon” starring Bill Hader
The most recent example of a Saturday Night Live cast member breaking character due to a giggle fit came during this past weekend’s Weekend Update segment. W.U. host Seth Meyers brought in the show’s anxious city correspondent, Stefon (as played by Bill Hader), to discuss some of New York City’s finer tourist attractions. Hader is normally an unflappable performer, but midway through the bit, he hilariously loses his composure while sniffing his hands and explaining to Midwesterners about the allure of Teddy Graham people and high-waisted midgets.
3. “Jeffrey’s” starring Sean Hayes, Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrell
As employees at a snobby, high-end retail store, Jimmy Fallon and guest star Sean Hayes had a difficult time keeping a straight face from the moment that the sketch began. But when Will Ferrell rolled out on a Rascal scooter and whipped out the world’s tiniest cellphone at this sketch’s 4:10 mark, everyone in the building experienced a simultaneous laugh attack.
2. “Van Down By The River” starring Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Julia Sweeney David Spade and Christina Appelgate
Inspirational speaker Matt Foley’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live was, clearly, one for the ages. As the sketch progresses, you can watch Chris Farley continuously amp his performance up to rarely seen comedic heights in an attempt to get David Spade and Christina Appelgate to laugh. Obviously, it worked.
1. “Debbie Downer” starring Rachel Dratch, Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Kenan Thompson, Fred Armisen, Amy Poehler and Lindsay Lohan
Putting Rachel Dratch, Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz all in the same skit at the same time resulted in the Perfect Storm of corpsing. For whatever reason, when Kenan Thompson introduces himself to a vacationing family as a waiter named “Billiam” about 15 seconds into the sketch, Dratch and Fallon begin shooting each other glances as they struggle to maintain their composure. The next six minutes are some of the sloppiest, yet most hilarious, minutes in the program’s 35 year history, topped off by Debbie Downer’s admission that she cannot have children. Fertility issues aren’t normally recognized as being fertile comedic ground, but on the night of May 1, 2004, nothing could’ve been more hilarious.