NBC brought together some 60 or so big-name alums of iconic sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” for its 40th anniversary special, as well as big-name past hosts, guest stars and celebrity fans.
It served as an exhaustive look at how the show has helped define the last four decades of American pop culture, from music to politics.
Here are the best moments from the three-and-a-half hour event…
1.) Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake kick off the night
The special opened with a retrospective song and dance number reuniting Jimmy Fallon — its kid wonder of the late-’90s/Early-2000s, and current host of “The Tonight Show” — and Justin Timberlake — a member of the show’s Five-Timers Club, several of which as both host and musical guest — in which they did a quick series of “SNL” character impersonations.
Rachel Dratch and Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher also dropped in on the number.
2.) Steve Martin is our master of tomfoolery
Steve Martin was given the incredible job of the “SNL 40” monologue. Surprisingly, he was never an actual “SNL” cast member, although he has guest-starred about 30 times since the 1970s, having hosted 15 times. Martin compared the special to a high school reunion for a school “that is almost all white.” He also paid tribute to the cast members who are no longer with us — John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Jon Lovitz, whose death came as a surprise to the show’s ’80s alum as he sat in the front row.
American treasure Tom Hanks interrupted the monologue after taking offense to Martin’s proclamation that comedians have been the backbone of the show. Then Alec Baldwin wondered why Martin was given the job of the opening monologue, despite the fact that he has hosted the most times of anyone. Melissa McCarthy dropped in to bring attention to “hosts who aren’t men over 80.” And Chris Rock added, “What about hosts who were part of the cast?” And then, Peyton Manning for sports figures? Miley Cyrus for singers? Billy Crystal for those who have excelled on the Broadway stage? And Paul McCartney and Paul Simon for men named “Paul”?
OK, we get it NBC, “SNL” has not only featured, but launched many big stars.
3.) Before they were players
The show then offered an amazing look at its cast members (and those who probably should’ve been cast) in a reel of “SNL” audition tapes. It was an impressive list: Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Amy Poehler, Dana Carvey, Cheri Oteri, Bill Hader, Dana Carvey, Andy Samberg, Seth Meyers, Phil Hartmann, among many others — they had to start somewhere, right? It’s seriously amazing to see these huge stars in the beginning, hungry and hilarious.
4.) Betty White and Bradley Cooper make out
As a Californian who went to school in New York City, I have a good sense of what New Yorkers think of those of us from California. All that was captured in the special’s soap opera spoof “The Californians.” In addition to several alums, Bradley Cooper, Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift and Betty White joined in on the valley-talking, directions-spouting, bleached blonde of it all. Spoiler alert: Cooper’s pool boy is always the guilty one.
5.) A “Weekend Update” power play
Wow. We’re then served up a power “Weekend Update” with former anchors Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin, the last of whom got a jab in at Fox News. Within the segment was was a star-studded revolving chair of stars doing their favorite Weekend Update guests: Emma Stone as Roseanne Roseannadanna, and an epic tribute to Stefon by Edward Norton with tips from Hader and a tiff with his “husband,” Seth Meyers. We were also treated to Melissa McCarthy’s take on Chris Farley’s motivational speaker Matt Foley — perfection.
6.) “SNL’s” musical stylings
Martin Short and Maya Rudolph’s Beyonce played the MCs of the sketch show’s numerous musical acts. Everyone from Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig’s “Garth and Kat” to Nick the Lounge Singer’s (Bill Murray) “Jaws” theme song, Steve Martin’s King Tut, and Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers.
7.) Chris Rock pays tribute to Eddie Murphy
Rock explained how seeing Murphy on “SNL” showed him that comedy wasn’t just something that would net you a trip to the principal’s office, it could also be a career. He recounted some of Murphy’s greatest moments, including a night when the show was running short and Murphy was asked to stretch for time. He did that with a simple “yo’ mama” joke.
“Eddie hosted the show while he was still a cast member,” Rock pointed out. “I’m sure the rest of the cast loved that.”
Murphy was very gracious and expressed how happy he was to be there, not only to celebrate what he had done three decades before. Marred by a little timing issue at the end, Murphy proved Rock right by improvving until the producers caught up.
8.) Miley Cyrus honors Paul Simon, makes Fred Armisen part of the band
In a surprisingly controlled performance of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Cyrus showed great respect to the singer who first served as “SNL’s” host and musical guest. Cyrus and many other musicians would follow with double duty on the show. Also, Armisen got into the action on the tambourine.
9.) Jerry Seinfeld rules the Audience Q&A
Aside from making John Goodman cry, zinging Brian Williams, confusing James Franco, dashing Sarah Palin’s future election plans and defending “SNL’s” and “Seinfeld’s” records in hiring black women, we got to see him and Larry David pat themselves on the back for their hit comedy — before TV went to pot.
10.) WTF was that Kanye West performance?
The rapper started with a performance of “Jesus Walks” while lying on the floor. He then got up to do a sliver of “Only One.” And finally, he got on all fours to perform “Wolves” with rapper Vic Mensa and, yes, Sia under that crazy white wig. Um, kay.
11.) Lorne likes a break
Sometimes, they’re just too funny and they’re only human. Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg united to create a new short film celebrating those times when the cast members just couldn’t help but laugh — called the “break.” You know the giggles are contagious — no matter how unfunny a sketch is. And, by the way, creator Lorne Michaels loves a good break.
12.) Jon Lovitz is still dead
There were a lot of reasons to love “SNL’s” tribute to those who have died over its four decades. First, it recognized production crew, the unsung legions who get very little attention for what they do to get entertainment to us. What was touching were the reactions from the audience as they saw the late crew members who were family to them while they were on the show. And, of course, it was great to see them tie back into Steve Martin’s monologue by including Jon Lovitz in the memoriam.
13.) “Wayne’s World” is still schwing-ing
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprised the roles that propelled them to their own film franchise, never having forgotten their Aurora, Illinois roots. The most awesome part was how they continued to taunt Kanye West in the audience. Who couldn’t get behind irritating Kanye?