The 10 Best ‘SNL’ Digital Shorts
If the rumors are true, this Saturday’s episode of ‘Saturday Night Live‘ will be the last for cast member Andy Samberg. And when Samberg leaves, common wisdom has it that he’ll take the Digital Shorts with them. At least the Digital Shorts as we’ve known them.
Samberg’s fellow Lonely Island members Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone formally left ‘SNL’ years ago (though informally, they’re still kicking around and contribute occasionally) and with Samberg gone, the trio behind one of the most revolutionary jumps in ‘SNL’ history will likely come to an end. It’s likely that producer Lorne Michaels will attempt to keep the format continuing (it’s too lucrative to give up on outright) but it will never be the same.
With the Digital Short era of ‘SNL’ coming to a close (that 100th Digital Short this past weekend sure seemed like a goodbye), we thought we’d take a look back at the seven year history of the Digital Shorts to pick the best of the bunch.
Honorable Mention – “People Getting Punched Right Before Eating”
Sorry but this clip is just funny. It’s not particularly smart or clever, it’s just Andy Samberg punching people right before they eat something. It’s a premise that gets more and more ridiculous as it goes along (watch for Andy’s dance after killing someone) until what could probably be the most absurd ending in Digital Short history.
#10 – “Lettuce”
“Lettuce” is perhaps best known for being the first ever Digital Short, this Akiva Schaffer directed clip was originally intended to air in November of 2005 but was cut after dress rehearsal and only later made air in December. It’s a sharp contrast to later Digital Shorts, which would become increasingly large in scope.
#9 – “United Way”
Notable for being the only Digital Short in this list that doesn’t feature any of the Lonely Island trio. Though not billed on-air as a Digital Short, it was designed as such and directed by Schaffer. It’s probably the best skit ever by an athlete host in ‘SNL’ history and a reminder of Peyton Manning’s comedic chops.
#8 – “Two Worlds Collide”
Not as catchy as song as some of the other Digital Shorts, but every bit as hilarious. Not all cast members meshed well with the Lonely Island boys but here Kenan Thompson gamely plays a homeless man masquerading as Reba McEntire. It also features the best use of “30 Rock” in a rhyme you’ll ever hear.
#7 – “Like a Boss”
While other Digital Shorts might be memorable for its guest stars, awards or hundreds of millions of views, “Like a Boss” will go down in internet history for spawning the popular “Like a Boss” meme. Two years after the clip debuted on ‘SNL’ (with cameo from Seth Rogen), search results for “Like a Boss” are still trending at the same level. It’s a rap that’s some of the darkest comedy in the Digital Shorts (the main character puts a gun in his mouth but cries when he’s too scared to pull the trigger) but still wildly hilarious.
#6 – “Andy’s Dad”
One of only two shorts on the list that doesn’t revolve around an original song, “Andy’s Dad” features a guest turn from Jonah Hill, playing himself, who falls in love with Andy’s dad (played by ‘SNL’ writer James Downey). Hill, one of the few hosts to help write the Digital Short, underplays the role perfectly and Samberg is a perfect straight man (one of the few times he gets to play that part).
#5 – “J— in My Pants”
After the success of “D— in a Box,” Lonely Island signed a record deal for their first comedy album. “J— in My Pants” was the first single off that album (“Incredibad”) and because of their contract, Lonely Island was able to post the clip to YouTube for the first time (‘SNL’ has an agreement with Hulu and NBC for their online content). To date, “J—” has been viewed over 150 million times and the 38th highest-viewed YouTube video of all-time.
#4 – “I’m on a Boat”
While we can’t be sure of this, “I’m on a Boat” is probably the most expensive Digital Short to date, but the expense paid off. “I’m on a Boat” – which features perhaps our favorite Lonely Island lyric to-date (“I’m on a boat man / It’s goin’ fast man / I’ve got a nautical-themed pashmina afghan”) – received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Collaboration (they lost to Kanye West and Jay-Z) and was #1 on iTunes. It was the first real sign that the Digital Shorts could crossover to pop music and be a mainstream hit.
“Boat” takes what could be a one-note premise – a send-up of hip-hop videos like “Big Pimpin’” that exist solely to show off giant yacht parties – and elevates it with classic Lonely Island (suburban white boys acting hardcore) style.
#3 – “I Just Had Sex”
Probably the catchiest of all the Digital Shorts songs, “Sex” features cameos from Jessica Alba, Blake Lively, John McEnroe and Jorma’s parents as they sing an ode to joys and shock of actually getting laid. The song sold 250,000 copies in two weeks after the Digital Short aired, charted at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and currently ranks as one of the most viewed videos in YouTube history (169 million and counting). It’s both infantile and charming; the kind of song every teenage boy would sing in their head after their first time.
#2 – “D— in a Box”
If “Lazy Sunday” would prove that the Digital Short could spawn a successful video, almost one-year to the day later, “D— in a Box” would prove that with a little help from an A-list star, the Digital Shorts could be blockbusters.
As the story goes, Lorne Michaels asked the Lonely Island trio to write another “Lazy Sunday” style song that would take advantage of Timberlake’s skills. Together with the singer, they wrote the song in one night, recorded it the next day, and shot the video the day after that.
Like “Lazy Sunday” before it, “D— in a Box” was an overnight sensation with people buzzing about the clip on Sunday morning. The clip entered the cultural zeitgeist and the characters from the clip became Halloween costumes and the parody quickly became the subject of parody (when Ellen DeGeneres sings your song to an audience full of housewives on her daytime talk show, you’ve crossed over). Justin Timberlake performed the song live in concert after they won an Emmy. It spawned two sequels (“Motherlover” and “3-Way,” neither of which were good enough to make this list) and proved that the Digital Shorts were no one-hit wonder.
#1 – “Lazy Sunday”
The Digital Short that started it all, “Lazy Sunday” was just the second short aired and cobbled together on an old laptop with a borrowed video camera. Samberg had yet to find his groove in the show and Schafer and Taccone were still just writers, so they recruited Chris Parnell to fill the other rap slot. By the next morning, “Lazy Sunday” was a true viral sensation (back when the words “viral video” still meant something); a phenomenon that took all of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and NBC by surprise.
It was one of the last real “watercooler” moments (forget for the moment that no one is standing at a watercooler on Sunday morning) of the internet age. If you saw it, you immediately found your friends who also did and laughed about it. If your friends hadn’t seen it yet, you immediately showed it to them.
Bootleg copies of the clip quickly appeared on YouTube as NBC scrambled to have them removed. It became one of the Top 20 YouTube videos of all-time within one day of posting (one day!). Eventually, they realized “Lazy Sunday” was bigger than anything they could’ve imagined and they released the video as a download on iTunes.
“Lazy Sunday” is remarkable not just for it’s content (go ahead, watch it again – it’s as funny now as it was way back when) but for how it revolutionized the Web 1.0 thinking at ‘SNL’ and pushing the idea of viral funny videos into the mainstream. Remember, this was a good year before Funny or Die even existed and ‘SNL’ was caught with their pants down not knowing how to handle something this popular online.
‘SNL’ briefly flirted with a YouTube channel before later shutting that down and moving all their content to Hulu, which is part-owned by NBC. Seven years later, online video is as important to ‘SNL’ as people tuning in on Saturday nights. It’s something Lorne Michaels would’ve figured out eventually but “Lazy Sunday” forced that change literally overnight and ‘Saturday Night Live’ will never be the same because of it.