I can’t really recall the specifics of my first time — but I do remember loving it. It happened in the middle of the day, around 1 p.m. I was perched on the edge of my couch, dazed with anticipation because it was finally, after all those years, happening.
My parents — in an attempt at “parenting” — never let me watch “Saturday Night Live” when I was a kid. I’m an only child and they had me at a rather ripe age, so while they were pretty lax about most things, they liked to crack down on my TV habits. Up until third or fourth grade, I almost exclusively watched TV Land — not because they made me, but because I genuinely and wholeheartedly loved it. My biggest only-child quirk is that I was basically raised to be someone who was born in 1955, which may also account for my typically grumpy disposition. At the age of six, I could give you a season-by-season account of “The Brady Bunch,” sing the theme song to “Green Acres” on cue and go on for hours about why Eddie Haskell was a real piece of shit.
The one show that trumped them all though was “I Love Lucy” — and I didn’t have to explicitly tell you that to make it clear. I watched it with an obsessive intensity and collected any and all paraphernalia I came across. I had books, ornaments that lit up and a VHS tape I took almost everywhere with me on the off chance there would be a VCR around (you know the ’90s). I even buried my pet goldfish Lucky in an “I Love Lucy” themed mint tin labeled “Lucy’s Predicamints.” He was two years old and up until that point in my life, his death was the biggest predicament I had faced, so it seemed like the right move.
“I Love Lucy” was my gateway drug into a dangerous addiction to comedy. I’m thankful to this day that I grew up admiring funny women because now I have a very who-gives-a-shit attitude toward the “are women funny” debate. There’s no question — just look at Lucille Ball. Also, this is 2014 — get it together.
I spent the next formative years of my life reveling in anything that made me laugh, even if I didn’t get it. I would watch movies like “Tommy Boy,” “Groundhog Day” and “Caddyshack” with my dad, echoing his cackles with added confusion.
As my love for comedy developed, “Saturday Night Live” was always in the back of my mind. My dad would constantly reference old skits from the ’70s and ’80s and mention names I’d be familiar with like Steve Martin and John Belushi. Yet every time I brought it up, he’d shut down my wishes to watch it, telling me it wasn’t appropriate for someone my age. There was no way around it. Our house was very open and I was afraid he’d hear the TV in the living room late at night. Also, I didn’t really know how to operate the remote. It was mainly the latter holding me back.
But then my parents got divorced and my dad had almost zero authority over me. OK, that’s not true at all, but it was definitely a lot easier to peruse NBC’s listings when I was only confronted with his television restrictions every other weekend, and my mom’s attitude toward my pop culture interests became increasingly blasé.
So then it happened. The first time I watched “Saturday Night Live” was directly after I got home from seventh grade camp, which was a winter hellscape I thought I’d never return from. My mom bought me lunch and I parked my butt squarely in front of a TV tray and the E! network. It was a rerun airing in the middle of the day — a shortened, hour-long version of an episode from the ’90s. I don’t remember the specifics; I don’t know who the host was or the musical guest, but I remember being completely engrossed by the cast. People like Will Ferrell, Rachel Dratch and Molly Shannon. From that point, I was all in. I watched every rerun on E! that I could, quoting sketches at every opportune (and inopportune) moment and citing Chris Kattan as my middle school crush — yes, the guy who played Mango.
I started staying up until 11:30 p.m. each Saturday night in order to finally watch episodes in real time. This was the era of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig — I undoubtedly picked the right time to get into it. I would record each episode and rewatch them as often as I could, memorizing lines and analyzing Weekend Update jokes — still not fully understanding all of them. I’d make friends reenact my favorite skits (which were recorded on home videos I’m afraid to revisit) and embark on what I assume were excruciatingly long discussions on the past week’s show.
I was in love and Lorne Michaels was cupid.
The affair accompanied me to college, where I would frequently opt out of healthy social interactions in order to stay in and watch TV on Saturday nights. I was miserable — as most bratty 18 year olds are — for the bulk of my freshman year, and would relish in the moments I got to be by myself and watch “SNL.”
The show has changed a lot since I started watching, and at times, I’m critical of it, but in the way a high school football coach from Texas is critical of his star quarterback. “SNL” is the reason I started writing and the reason I wasn’t a bigger pain in the ass as a teenager. It’s the reason I fell so deeply in love with comedy — a feeling I’ve yet to shake years and years after that one afternoon on my couch.
— Follow Erika Harwood on Twitter at @erikaharwood