It’s one of the most influential comedy series of all time, but Saturday Night Live hasn’t been without controversies over the years.
The celebrated sketch show has had its fair share of problematic moments, with the latest coming on the eve of the 2023 Oscars.
Certain moments have sparked apologies from famous figures who once acted as cast members whole decades later, while others sparked rage among viewers at the time but seem tame by today’s standards.
From modern day misfires to historic episodes, these are the 5 most controversial SNL sketches ever.
Controversial Irish accents sketch
The latest episode of SNL began with a cold open sketch set on the Oscars red carpet ahead of the ceremony.
Presenters Mario Lopez and “Maria Menounos or Kit Hoover” (Marcello Hernandez and Heidi Gardner) interviewed various “celebrities” – and the stars of The Banshees of Inisherin were asked about their movie.
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Mikey Day and Molly Kearny appear as co-stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the sketch, speaking in a near-unintelligible dialect.
“Wow, and they haven’t even started drinking yet!” Hernandez responds, as Lopez.
The sketch was criticised for being “offensive” and “mean-spirited” in its portrayal of Irish stereotypes on social media, marking the most contentious sketch of recent times.
Jimmy Fallon impersonating Chris Rock in blackface
😳 Jimmy Fallon BlackFace? -Impersonating Chris Rock on NBC in 2000. **Update Jimmy Has apologizedwww.youtube.com
Fallon apologised in 2020 for a sketch he filmed in 2020, which saw him impersonate Chris Rock in blackface. The sketch was posted online, and prompted the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty to trend on Twitter.
Fallon wrote: "In 2000, while on SNL, I made a terrible decision to do an impersonation of Chris Rock while in blackface. There is no excuse for this. I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable."
Rock, who was a cast member on SNL in the 90s, later appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Fallon said to him: "I'm learning, I'm always learning man, you know I love you buddy."
Jesus as an NFL coach
Jesus Visits Tim Tebow and The Denver Broncos - SNLwww.youtube.com
Another moment that sparked a big backlash, this time among Christian communities in the US, came in 2011 when Jason Sudeikis played Jesus reimagined as an NFL coach.
Taran Killam plays Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow in the sketch, with Sudeikis’s Jesus explaining that he had been helping Killam win due to his praying. He then urged Tebow to do less Bible reading and instead practise more on his game.
"I could throw better, and I'm 2010 years old,” he said, before adding: "Oh, by the way. Mormonism. All true, every single word."
Fox News commentator Bob Beckel was one of the people to hit out at the sketch, saying: “First of all, it’s despicable to display Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, like that on Saturday Night Live and they should be ashamed of themselves. And the fact that this keeps drawing attention to Tebow and Christianity and faith and Jesus and they make it into some sort of commercial operation… there’s nothing funny about that.”
Televangelist Pat Robertson also accused the skit and called it "anti-Christian bigotry that is just disgusting”.
Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor do “word association”
Word Association - Saturday Night Livewww.youtube.com
A sketch that has divided opinion for decades, Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor starred in the “word association” sketch in 1975 that saw Chase say the N-word live on air.
The sketch is set up as a job interview, with Chase interviewing Prior for a janitor role. They begin with a game of word association, which ends up going over into racial slurs, and with Chase eventually saying the N-word.
It was celebrated at the time, but has since been revisited in the years since and is seen by many as being problematic to say the least.
Nude Beach - SNLwww.youtube.com
Back in 1988, just the mention of the word “penis” was enough to spark a public backlash on SNL.
Host Mathew Broderick featured in the “nude beach” sketch, which saw a bunch of men hat while supposedly wearing nothing, covered by a bar made of bamboo. The word “penis” was used 40 times, and it sparked 46,000 letters of complaint - a reaction which feels over the top by today’s standards.
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