In many respects, the Winter Olympics seem to exist in the shadow of the Summer Olympics. The prestige always seems to be more pronounced with summer sports, with the stars of track and field, swimming, gymnastics, and basketball becoming national icons. The Winter Olympics have featured a lot of figure skating drama and at least one miraculous hockey result, but otherwise, they're the lesser Olympics. One area where the Winter Games do hold an advantage over their Summer cousins, however, is that they happen during the network TV season and are thus able to capitalize on their brief moment in the spotlight to, for example, get featured in Saturday Night Live sketches. Especially in the years since the games started being broadcast on NBC, SNL seems to have made it a point to feature at least one Winter Olympics-themed sketch every four years. We've gathered some of the most memorable for this walk down snowy memory lane.
For the Canadian-hosted Olympics in 1988, Weekend Update host Dennis Miller welcomed Kevin Nealon — in his first season as a full-fledged cast member — to recap the games. Nealon's gag here is that he can't remember certain words and ends up substituting other (often off-color) terms for words like "bobsled."
Four years later, the Olympics took to France, and SNL marked the occasion with a cold-open sketch featuring Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey as Olympic commentators Verne Lundquist and Scott Hamilton as they call the men's figure skating competition and in particular the hapless performance of Brian Demming. The sole gag here is that Demming fails every jump and ends up sliding helplessly across the ice, but it's worth it for a) Priestley, who was a red-hot teen idol as the star of Beverly Hills, 90210 at the time, doing most of his own skating, and b) the great Melanie Hutsell playing Demming's intense mom.
25 Years Ago Today: A Nancy Kerrigan hosted “Saturday Night Live,” with Aretha Franklin as the musical guest, generates ratings that won’t be topped for 14 years. The highlight? Chris Farley’s performance & @DavidSpade’s commentary of Olympic ice skating pic.twitter.com/Vhd5sH8wVr— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 12, 2019
The Lillehammer games were of course dominated by the Tonya Harding scandal, and all eyes were on American figure skating hopeful and assault victim Nancy Kerrigan, who ended up hosting the show on March 12, 1994, and in her monologue, she joked about her infamous DisneyWorld "this is so corny" crack, and answered questions from "Tonya Harding" (Hutsell).
But the most famous Olympics-influenced moment of the 1994 Olympics was Chris Farley's figure skating sketch where he played a champion pairs skater who'd gained weight before the Olympics. The sketch put all of Farley's formidable physicality on display, and ended up being among his most iconic SNL performances.
The Salt Lake City Olympics marked an Occasion for the United States to prove we were back on our feet after 9/11, and the mood of determined positivity was felt throughout. Champion American skiier Jonny Moseley got so much positive coverage from the games that he was invited to host the show on March 2nd. The episode wasn't eaxactly a classic, but Moseley did get a chance to pal around with Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch as the Boston Teens.
As for the games themselves, Saturday Night Live was feeling the love, too, with only the gentlest of ribbing from Will Ferrell and guest Dan Aykroyd as Mormon prosthelytizers on the slopes of SLC, annoying a downhill skier played by Amy Poehler who ends up being met at the finish line by another aggressive Mormon, this time played by a baby-faced Seth Meyers.
Jennifer Lopez hosted the Saturday Night Live episode closest to the 2010 games in Vancouver, and she and Fred Armisen tag-teamed on a sketch where they played studio hosts for Telemundo's Olympics coverage who were constantly flummoxed by the details and popularity of winter sports. They kind of had a point. It all looks cold and not fun!
The 2014 winter games were held in Sochi, Russia, amid controversy over the host country's mistreatment of its LGBTQ citizens. SNL decided to capitalize on this with a sketch depicting a men's figure skating competition sans boycotting gays, leaving an all-heterosexual skating event that was devoid of artistry, grace, or talent of any kind, but with plenty of homophobia and creepy male behavior.
In real life, Leslie Jones's enthusiasm for watching the Olympics on social media led NBC to send her to cover the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and again in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the winter games. Jones appeared on Weekend Update to recap the games, as well as intimidate/flirt with Colin Jost, as was her wont. She brought win her gold-medal-winning ice hockey player Hillary Knight and instructed her to call him a bitch, so that was a good time had by all
Most recently Bowen Yang brought back his Chinese trade minister character Chen Biao to Weekend Update to answer Michael Che's questions about NBC declining to send their commentators to Beijing amid COVID concerns. As usual, Yang's "trade daddy" character came armed with a basket full of rapid-fire references, most of which fly over Michael Che's head, but it's hard to resist his infectious confidence when speaking about everything from the games' panda-at-a-rave mascot to anal-swab COVID tests (they're accurate … and fun).
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Winter Olympics, Saturday Night Live, Amy Poehler, Bowen Yang, Chris Farley, Colin Jost, Dana Carvey, Fred Armisen, Jason Priestley, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Nealon, Leslie Jones, Michael Che, Nancy Kerrigan, Will Ferrell