Internet Nostalgia

Let’s Revisit “Lazy Sunday”

The future of content was … “Saturday Night Live?”

Welcome to part 14 of our Internet Nostalgia series, which looks back at phenomena that captured the internet’s imagination and attention for a fleeting moment and then vanished as everyone moved on to something else. This series looks back at those olden times and what they told us about the internet and ourselves. If you have a suggested topic, email me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com. Last week, Chuck Norris Facts. This week: Lazy Sunday.

Date: December 17, 2005.

The story: The first-ever Lonely Island sketch filmed for “Saturday Night Live” was about lettuce. It was called “Lettuce.” It wasn’t really a Lonely Island bit; it was written by cast member Will Forte. It was very strange. It was so strange it made no splash at all when it aired, and it’s oddly difficult to find online today. Its quiet launch was another SNL bummer for the Lonely Island trio, three fellows named Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaeffer and Jorma Taccone, three buddies from middle school in Berkeley, California. They’d been making funny online videos for years, including a wild one where they pretended to be mugging someone only to have Kiefer Sutherland — the actual Kiefer Sutherland, who happened to be driving by — intervene because he thought it was real.

They ended up writing for the 2005 MTV Video Awards, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, which got them a gig doing videos for SNL (and Samberg, who was 27 at the time, a role in the cast). But they still couldn’t get anything big on the air. Then, during the week of December 17, 2005’s show, they ignored rehearsal and made something called “Lazy Sunday,” with Chris Parnell.

It aired the next Saturday. And nothing was ever the same. Samberg and the Lonely Island were instantly known everywhere. And the platform of YouTube, it became obvious, was about to take over the world. In the three days after the video hit YouTube, traffic to the site nearly doubled. And off we went.

Pop culture crossover: I mean, take your pick. But you can never go wrong with Michael Scott.

What we’ve learned: The joke of “Lazy Sunday” is a variation on many of the Lonely Island’s jokes: Look at these dopey white boys trying to rap. (The irony is that the Lonely Island actually has some pretty great songs! My favorite remains “Finest Girl.”) It’s fair to say this joke would land differently today, something the members of the Lonely Island have acknowledged themselves. But as Vulture pointed out in a terrific piece a few years ago, the Lonely Island figured out how to take a nascent medium — the online comedy video — and make it mainstream. They deserve a ton of credit.

But their timing was impeccable. As Taccone pointed out in the seminal SNL text “Live From New York,” he didn’t even know you could watch “Lazy Sunday” online until someone sent him a YouTube link the next day. The ease of YouTube combined with a novelty tune made a perfect combination: If you didn’t watch “SNL” last night, don’t worry: You can watch a clip of it right here.

That, immediately, changed everything, not just in the online video space, but in the entertainment one. Suddenly, late night comedy hosts weren’t doing a show anymore; they were doing a series of clipable, sharable sketches that people could pass around. (Almost instantly, David Letterman and his goofy showmanship felt old. Still brilliant! But old.) And before you knew it, all entertainment consumption had changed. Why would you make an appointment to watch “The Office” when you could just watch it whenever you wanted? “Lazy Sunday” helped usher us into a world where we switched from “here’s what you missed last night” to “this clip may have aired on television last night, or maybe it didn’t, who cares?” Appointment television was gone before we realized it was ever any trouble at all.

I remember that week of “Lazy Sunday.” A quick search of my email at that time shows me sending the YouTube clip around at least 10 times. I didn’t think it was that funny. But it was stunning how easy it was, in a second, to make everyone see it. We had spend decades saying, “Did you see what SNL did last night?” Suddenly, just like that, it was “click here to see what SNL did last night.” The change was overwhelming. Nothing has been the same since. Pretty amazing for a dopey rap video made in two days that references freaking Yahoo! Maps.

Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the novel How Lucky, now out from Harper Books. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of five books, including “How Lucky,” in bookstores now. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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