The Bestest News: Jim Carrey to Return to ‘SNL’! And a Look Back at His Last Go ‘Round

To this day we consider Jim Carrey’s May 1996 hosting turn as the best SNL of our generation (with perhaps Alec Baldwin’s November 2006 hosting appearance as the strongest since, but certainly not better), so it was with great excitement that we learned that Carrey will be returning after  almost 15 years to host the first SNL of 2011.  Set your DVRs for 11:30pm on January 8, kids.  If anyone could pull SNL out of its doldrums, it might be Carrey (although, the NBC website might want to get his name spelled name right).

The circumstances have certainly changed since 1996.  Then Carrey was a white-hot comedy superstar.  Only years before he had been the token white guy on the other sketch comedy show on network TV.  But by ’98 he had broken out big time with a Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and the Ace Ventura sequel.  Although he was about to stumble for the first time since he went on his hot streak – the mixed critical reception and tepid box office performance of The Cable Guy was just around the corner – at this point getting Carrey on SNL was as big as it got (at least that’s how it felt to a 13-year-old).  And the In Living Color veteran didn’t disappoint, delivering a start to finish stellar episode (topping “Comedy Central’s 50 Greatest SNL Episodes”).  In fact, if we remember correctly, it was this episode that inspired us to start taping SNL on VHS, which we continued to do for the later episodes hosted by Mike Myers and Rob Lowe (for some reason), as well as the Best of Chris Farley special (single tear).  But we always recall the Carrey episode as the standout from that era, featuring a string of memorable sketches.  And thankfully, with the miracle of the Internet, we don’t need to pop our dusty VHS into our dusty VCR to relive those classics.

First, of course, you have the “Spartan Cheerleaders”, who were as ubiquitous in those days as the Digital Short is now.  But we don’t recall any Spartans sketch that so deftly integrated the host as this iteration with Carrey as foreign exchange student Lochmiel (save for maybe that one with Rosie O’Donnell).  Carrey took what was already a hit sketch and elevated it to new heights.

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Then, of course, there was the “Night at the Roxbury Guys:”

In fact, while there had been a Roxbury Guys before this sketch, this is the first one we remember, and as far as we concerned it was this version with Carrey that was responsible for the sketch’s success, and eventually its film version (and then we can go ahead and credit Carrey for Will Ferrell’s successful film career and for Chris Kattan getting to star in Corky Romano).

And who can forget “Jacuzzi Lifeguard,” one of Ferrell’s best early SNL moments?:

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At that point we hadn’t quite yet warmed to Ferrell, but that sketch helped along our appreciation for the future star, and showed how terrific he could be as the straight man.

We can’t find video for it, but “I‘ll See You in Hell” is an example of a sketch that shouldn’t have worked but did, buoyed by Carrey’s manic, committed performance.  And, wouldn’t you know it (spoiler alert!), he does see them in hell after all.

Even “The Joe Pesci Show,” which at that time was their version of” The Miley Cyrus Show,” turned in a particularly strong effort, with Carrey channeling Jimmy Stewart:

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And then there was the just before 1am sketch “Ride the Snake,” which, at the time, we were unsure about.  But, just like today, that slot is reserved the for ambitious, often truly bizarre sketches, and while we might not have appreciated this sketch as a pubescent teen, we certainly appreciate it now.

And this was a milestone episode for other reasons: it was the season finale; it was Nancy Walls and Dave Koechner’s last episode; it was the last show for stage manager Joe Disco, who had been with the series since it’s inception; it had the at the time extremely popular Soundgarden as musical guest; Norm McDonald was still doing “Weekend Update”; and it was the swan song for longtime cast member David Spade, who delivered a memorable “Spade in America” retrospective.  We remember watching that final segment and thinking we that while we didnt’ recall seeing “Spade in America” before it certainly seemed to have a real nice run.

So, for any of those reasons, we’re excited about Jim Carrey’s return.  But for all those reasons we’ve developed lofty expectations that almost certainly will not be met.  But, for now at least, we can hope that the current cast and crew members look back at Carrey’s landmark episode and strive to, if not exceed it, at least approximate it.  Don’t listen to what your parents told you, there’s nothing wrong with aiming high.

See you in 2011, Jim!

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Filed under Freak Out Control, Good Humor, Nostalgia Corner, Saturday Night Live

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