In April 1991, the solid and crew of NBC’s seminal late evening establishment Saturday Night Live had been rehearsing for his or her upcoming present, and its host was seething.
The sketch in query was to function actor and martial artist Steven Seagal alongside Hans and Franz, the Austrian bodybuilding duo performed by Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon, respectively. As written, the two would insult Seagal, intimating that their idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, would “flick you with his little baby finger and you would fly across the room and land in baby poop.”
Carvey seen Seagal’s stern expression and requested him if the whole lot was OK. It was, in any case, only a skit—one which was presupposed to be ridiculous. But Seagal didn’t discover it humorous. The very thought of Schwarzenegger getting the higher of him was an excessive amount of for the actor to bear. Seagal refused to do the sketch as deliberate, so it needed to shortly be rewritten to color the host in a extra flattering mild.
It was one in every of many causes that solid members have usually cited Seagal as the worst host SNL has ever had—an ignoble distinction for a present that’s been on the air for practically 50 years.
Thanks to its sheer quantity of episodes (880 and counting), SNL has generally had to deal with hosts ill-equipped for the job. Listless or charisma-deprived athletes have to be propped up; Andrew “Dice” Clay prompted solid member Nora Dunn to stroll off the present in 1990 in protest of the sexism current in his stage act; Nick Nolte didn’t present up in any respect, forcing his 48 Hours co-star Eddie Murphy to turn into the solely SNL solid member to host the present whereas nonetheless a part of it.
Seagal was in a category by himself. The actor, who had been found by agent Michael Ovitz a number of years prior, was a grasp of aikido, a Japanese martial artwork. With his swarthy appears and imposing stature, Ovitz thought Seagal could possibly be a film star.
Executives at Warner Bros. agreed. Seagal had hits with Above the Law (1988), Hard to Kill, and Marked for Death (each 1990), amongst his many three-word programmers. Press flocked to Seagal’s stoicism and his claims—which some thought-about outlandish—about being concerned in CIA operations.
“You can say that I lived in Asia for a long time and in Japan I became close to several CIA agents,” Seagal instructed the Los Angeles Times in 1988. “And you could say that I became an adviser to several CIA agents in the field and, through my friends in the CIA, met many powerful people and did special works and special favors.” (The CIA, being the CIA, neither confirms nor denies such claims—regardless of who they’re coming from.)
Unlike Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, who usually despatched up their macho pictures with jokes, Seagal appeared comparatively humorless. The solid of SNL realized this lesson comparatively shortly, as the actor’s tenure throughout the present’s weeklong gestation interval bought off to a foul begin. (Hosts usually work with the solid and writers the week previous to air.) According to actor Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), who was a author on SNL at the time, Seagal professed to haven’t any data of the present or its cultural cachet regardless of its line-up together with Carvey, Nealon, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Victoria Jackson, Chris Rock, Dennis Miller, Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Rob Schneider.
“One of the most famous, nightmare, can’t re-show that show ever [episodes],” Odenkirk instructed Howard Stern in 2022. “Seagal read [Hans and Franz] and said, ‘If I do this sketch, if I do it—and they want to fight him—if I do it, I have to beat them up.’ It’s like a John Wayne thing. It’s the most ludicrous scenario … no one is thinking anyone beat anyone up here.
“He kept saying, ‘I’ve never seen your show. I don’t know what you do here.’ Really? You’ve never seen Saturday Night Live?”
Odenkirk added that whereas Seagal discovered fault in the writers’ sketches, the motion star was joyful to supply his personal concepts. One of them featured a the board of administrators at Exxon planning an oil spill whereas Seagal tossed them round. The message was meant to be pro-environment in the wake of the firm’s notorious 1989 oil spill catastrophe. It was successfully a lecture, however removed from the worst thought Seagal would provide up.
The Seagal-led SNL with musical visitor Michael Bolton went stay on April 20, 1991. Like some misplaced media, it may be troublesome to establish precisely what occurred until you enterprise to extra obscure corners of the web. SNL doesn’t make the full episode obtainable for public viewing—which might be the solely clue it is advisable to know that it wasn’t good.
Seagal began the present with a extra agreeable encounter with Hans and Franz. After insisting Schwarzenegger may rip Seagal’s “tiny arms off,” the two flip bashful when Seagal seems and begins speaking a couple of Zen mentality earlier than utilizing some aikido to shove the each of them round.
After the chilly open, Seagal seems on stage to sing “Kung-Fu Fighting” in earnest, adopted by an look as “Tenelli, One Man Army,” a trope-filled loner cop with Phil Hartman as his fed-up supervisor. (Relegated to desk obligation, Tenelli is pressured to cope with Rob Schneider’s Copy Guy by throwing him by the copier.) Seagal additionally does an impression of Andrew “Dice” Clay reverse Rock’s Nat X, smashes the set of the aforementioned Exxon sketch as a violent Greenpeace photographer, and glowers at Farley, his daughter’s potential boyfriend. In half the sketches, Seagal is seen throwing solid members by breakaway units. One YouTube commenter, reacting to the episode’s “highlights,” declared it “The Room of SNL episodes,” a reference to Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-still-bad-but-somehow-immensely-watchable cult film.
Reflecting on Seagal’s internet hosting duties, solid member Tim Meadows mentioned in the 2008 guide Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live that the drawback was Seagal’s incapability to be self-effacing. “The biggest problem with Steven Seagal was that he would complain about jokes he didn’t get, so it was like—you can’t explain something to somebody in German if they don’t speak German,” Meadows mentioned. “He just wasn’t funny and he was very critical of the cast and the writing staff. He didn’t realize you can’t tell somebody they’re stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday.”
This was not the final time an SNL solid member would encounter Seagal. Rob Schneider spoke a couple of time a author buddy of his was assembly Seagal for a dialogue a couple of sequel to 1992’s Under Siege. The buddy encountered Seagal on a movie set. “I just read the greatest script I’ve ever read in my life,” Seagal mentioned.
“Really?” Schneider’s buddy mentioned. “Who wrote it?”
“I did,” Seagal mentioned.
According to David Spade, Seagal’s abrasiveness had the manufacturing speaking about merely doing the present with no host in any respect. Stern posed the similar query to Odenkirk. If it wasn’t working, why do it? “By the time you get to Wednesday,” Odenkirk mentioned, “what are you gonna do?”