A favorite pasttime of ours when watching Saturday Night Live is anticipating the crack-ups, those moments when the comedy is too great even for the cast members to deliver their lines. Bill Hader’s Stefan character is the most popular recent example of a crack-up as he laughed through nearly every instance. Although crack-ups happened throughout the entire series, they are definitely more recent phenomenons, almost uniquely thanks to Jimmy Fallon.
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Widely considered the perfect example of a cast crack-up, this “Debbie Downer” outing from 2004 starred Rachel Dratch as the title character accompanied by Jimmy Fallon (natch), Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, guest-host Lindsey Lohan, and Horatio Sanz as a family on a trip to Walt Disney World. We may have discussed this on our SNL podcast, but discussing/listening to the crack-ups cannot compare to seeing the real thing.
It’s the mark of a great comic when a crack-up enhances an otherwise average skit. Gilda Radner plays the titular “extremely stupid” woman, but it’s guest-host Candice Bergen who flubs her lines, mistakenly calling Radner her own character’s name. Bergen spends the remainder of the episode watching Radner and laughing while Radner spins comic gold.
Jeffrey’s / More Cowbell / Lovers in the Hot Tub
I’m lumping three videos together as they all feature the apparent perfect ingredients for an SNL crack-up: Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrell. Fallon was notorious for breaking character, erupting into laughter along with the audience. When filming the infamous Will Ferrell “Cow Bell” sketch, Fallon can be seen in the background barely holding it together. Apparently, Ferrell wore a different shirt during dress rehearsal, but on the live show, he wore a shirt about 3 sizes too small, hairy gut protruding just below. Ferrell’s dedication to comedy and Fallon’s inability to ever hold it together are two reasons we continue to love SNL.
This skit – a take-off on The Price Is Right‘s showcase showdown – had almost nothing going for it on paper. It’s not particularly witty nor does it have any seriously funny written jokes. What it does have, however, are Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph clearly having an amazing time with these silly characters and their near-indesciperable accents. Toss in a golf cart, and host Bill Hader can barely hold it together. This skit is another perfect example of a crack-up that fully elevates the material, wringing laughs from a bad joke.