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Quick Hits

Six Times Saturday Night Live Did The Hulk

From John Belushi to The Rock, SNL has had an awful lot of fun Hulking out over the years.
  • Photos: NBC
    Photos: NBC

    Marvel's She-Hulk; Attorney At Law premieres today on Disney+, proving yet again that comic book universes are endlessly expandable and malleable into any number of stories or spinoffs. Like, for instance, a gamma-ray-infused attorney played by Tatiana Maslany who works in the (one would imagine quite lucrative) post-Avengers era of superhero law.

    Pop culture has been playing around with the concept of The Incredible Hulk for decades, ever since the comic book character and later the Lou Ferrigno TV show made The Hulk one of the most easily recognizable superheroes in the world. His iconography — he's big, green, monosyllabic, and he makes his clothes-ripping transformation whenever Dr. Bruce Banner gets angry — is both simple and instantly identifiable, making him, among other things, ripe for parody.

    Enter Saturday Night Live, which has been riffing on the Incredible Hulk since the 1970s. Here are six times SNL has done The Hulk.

    John Belushi
    "Superhero Party"
    March 17, 1979

    All the original "Not Ready for Primetime Players" were on hand for this lengthy (ten-minute!) sketch about an engagement party for Superman (Bill Murray) and Lois Lane (guest host Margot Kidder). In addition to the Flash (Dan Aykroyd), as well as Jane Curtin playing an unwelcome Lana Lang, we got John Belushi as an uncouth Incredible Hulk. Belushi's Hulk shows up with a tin of almond bark that he pretends is kryptonite, he gives Ant Man (Garrett Morris) a hard time, and he walks in on the Invisible Girl in the bathroom. In other words, he's a John Belushi character.

    Chris Farley
    "Superman's Funeral"
    November 21, 1992

    Thirteen years after the above sketch, SNL took the same basic concept — a bunch of superheroes gather and mingle and generally act like regular people in a regular-person scenario — only this time it's builtaround Superman's funeral. Between a weepy Batman (Dana Carvey), a surprisingly also weepy Penguin, Rob Schneider's Jimmy Olson working the door, and an uninvited Black Lightning (guest host Sinbad), there were a lot of superhero bits to go around. The best was saved for the end when the Hulk gets up to speak, flanked by Mr. Fantastic and Spider-Man. While it's initially the same barely-verbal Hulk we always get, after Farley pulls out the prepared remarks, Hulk is suddenly quite erudite. Of course, by the end he's overcome with emotion and starts smashing. Farley carrying on Belushi's legacy will always be a throughline of SNL history, so it's no surprise that they're bound by this impersonation as well.

    Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
    "The Rock Obama"
    March 7, 2009

    While this sketch — which recurred a few times during the Obama precedency — isn't strictly speaking the Hulk, it's very clearly playing on the usual Hulk tropes and visual indicators in service of a concept that asks what would happen if Barack Obama got really, really angry. Everything was there from the closeups on the ripped shirt, the shoes bursting open, and then The Rock emerging as the president's rageful id. (This was three years before Key & Peele would play this same angle with the Obama's Anger Translator sketches.) That this first such sketch happened only three months into Obama's first term says a lot about how his placid demeanor was a story early on. Of note in the first sketch is that this was back when they still had Fred Armisen playing Obama because the show didn't have any Black actors in the cast. Also of note: Andy Samberg's seething hothead Rahm Emmanuel.

    Bobby Moynihan
    "Weekend Update"
    May 12, 2012

    With The Avengers having just taken the box office by storm, it made sense to comment on the film from the Weekend Update desk, so out came Bobby Moynihan as mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner to discuss the film's success. Only Seth Meyers — in primo jerk mode, it should be noted — doesn't want boring old Bruce Banner. He wants the Hulk, so he antagonizes Bruce into a transformation. Only it's a really sad transformation. The joke here is that you can't do the Hulk transformation without either a billion edits or a bunch of CGI, so Moynihan going low-fi, smearing green paint on his face and putting on a pair of novelty Hulk fists, is just really sad. And that's before we even get into Hulk's body-image issues when it comes to taking off his shirt.

    Bobby Moynihan
    "Black Widow: Age of Me"
    May 2, 2015

    After Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel began catching flack for the fact that all of their superheroes got standalone movies except for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. So SNL capitalized on that with this fake trailer for Marvel's big Black Widow movie… as a cheesy romantic comedy. Black Widow is in a relationship with Ultron throughout most of the trailer, but at the end we see a hint of a rebound relationship with sweet, green The Hulk, played again by Bobby Moynihan, although not so neurotic this time.

    Idris Elba
    "The Impossible Hulk"
    March 9, 2019

    Here's another one that isn't exactly the Marvel superhero character but plays on the usual Hulk tropes to comedic effect. In this case, host Idris Elba plays a man whose anger in retail situations gets bottled up until he finally transformas… into an entitled white lady (Cecily Strong) who will demand to speak to your manager. This sketch premiered just before the whole "Karen" thing began to pervade pop culture (three whole years ago!), so they don't use the K-word here, but that's basically the concept: what if a frustrated Black guy could get what he wanted by being as unhinged as this inner white lady. The sociopolitical and racial implications of this sketch were muddled at best, but Cecily Strong is funny in her depiction of a very different kind of "Hulking out."

    Saturday Night Live returns for its 48th season this fall on NBC.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer 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: Saturday Night Live, She-Hulk, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Farley, Dwayne Johnson, Fred Armisen, Idris Elba, John Belushi, Scarlett Johansson, Seth Meyers