snlmurphy1

Brittany Murphy: Thoughts on the Saturday Night Live, December 5, 2009 Sketch

In response to Brittany Murphy’s recent death, NBC has pulled a clip from Hulu depicting Brittany Murphy (as played by Abby Elliott), appearing on the Weekend Update section of the December 5, 2009 broadcast of Saturday Night Live. What follows is the sketch presented in a manner that transforms it from its original medium (video) and therefore permits this to fall under the fair use principle. I have appended commentary near the end of this post to ensure that it will not be confused as a replica of the original material and I invite readers to cut and paste this transformative representation to any and all blogs and news organizations, so that people can be informed of what NBC is attempting to hide from the public. This representation is presented for noncommercial and educational purposes.

snlmurphy1TITLE CARD: BRITTANY MURPHY

SETH MEYERS: It was reported this week that actress Brittany Murphy was fired from her upcoming film, The Collar, from being a detriment to production and…oh no.

BRITTANY MURPHY: Seeeeeeeeeth.

SETH MEYERS: Brittany Murphy.

snlmurphy2BRITTANY MURPHY: Seth, I’m really honored to be here, hosting Saturday Night Live.

[It is worth observing that Abby Elliott’s performance of Murphy involves keeping her lower jaw down and moving her head left to right, as if Brittany Murphy is mentally handicapped. Her two palms remain flat against the newsdesk.]

SETH MEYERS: No, no, Brittany, you’re not hosting.

BRITTANY MURPHY: [idiotic laugh] Yeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.

SETH MEYERS: I thought you were shooting a movie right now.

BRITTANY MURPHY: Yeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh. They fired me. [idiotic laugh] Yeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.

snlmurphy3[More head bobbing left and right from Slate. This is, as one would expect, your typically stupid one-note SNL sketch.]

SETH MEYERS: Brittany, that’s really too bad.

BRITTANY MURPHY: It’s not bad, Seth. I got a plan. When the movie comes out, I’m going to go to the theater and say, “Booooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!” (small idiotic laugh) And then the audience will join in and say, “Booooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!” And the director will say, “Awwwwwwwwww dag!” And then I’ll be all, “Told you!” Best plan ever. (idiotic laugh) Yeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.

SETH MEYERS: I wouldn’t call that the best plan ever.

BRITTANY MURPHY: (shouting) Ladies and gentlemen, Blink 182.

SETH MEYERS: (slamming his desk) You are not the host, Brittany Murphy.

BRITTANY MURPHY: Yeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.

SETH MEYERS: (sarcastically) Yeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.

BRITTANY MURPHY: I’ll never tell.

snlmurphy4[Elliott then slides on her chair stage right and off camera.]

SETH MEYERS: Brittany Murphy everybody! (raises eyebrow in dubious belief)

* * *

COMMENTARY: Aside from the sketch’s bad timing, there are numerous problems with the concept. Beyond the sketch’s failure to establish a legitimate reason as to why Brittany Murphy should be the target of satire (presumably the sketch writer simply believed Murphy to be idiotic), and beyond the sophomoric reliance upon “Yeaaaaaaaaahhh!” and the news that she gets kicked off of film sets, it is simply not funny. If the audience is presented with a character and the character exists solely to be offered for an audience’s scorn, then we are not dealing with a character, but a flat and one-dimensional archetype. We certainly need more than junior high school verbal tics in order to either (a) relate to the character or (b) have some reason to scorn the character. We must understand the character’s motivations. And those motivations need to be presented without judgment. (In this case, Meyers exists to confirm the audience response, leaving no room for thought on the part of the audience member.) These qualities are what makes memorable comedy. What are the motivations here? Confusion and apparent stupidity. Nothing more. Not even stupidity combined with arrogance, which makes for a ripe satirical target. What made Tina Fey’s performance as Sarah Palin so memorable was that she presented us with merely a replica of the genuine article. This may say more about the failure of SNL writers to come up with original material or it may demonstrate the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.

Aside from these conceptual logistics, the sketch is poorly executed. Abby Elliott’s performance of Murphy is exceptionally poor. Bobbing your head left and right and keeping your palms flat upon the table is the stuff of forgettable community theater. It is not the stuff of major television comedy. Granted, Elliott has been given some pretty terrible material to work from. But this does not excuse her staggering incompetence as a performer in relation to this sketch.

Finally, NBC needs to be taken to task for failing to preserve this sketch on Hulu, which will surely increase interest in the base material. The idea that NBC is above making a mistake (uh, Jay Leno?), and the failure of NBC to issue a public apology while presenting the sketch or the episode in its original form, demonstrates that it is not interested in preserving history, much less letting the people determine whether the sketch is funny. NBC’s instant and avaricious decision, together with its draconian attempt to prevent the clip from surfacing upon YouTube, shares distressing similarities to Stalinist revisionism and should be roundly rejected by anybody who values civil liberties and the freedom of expression.

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19 Comments

  1. Have you ever seen footage of Brittany Murphy? The impersonation was spot-on, right down to the head bobbing. I’m sure SNL removed it out of respect for Brittany’s grieving family, but doing celebrity impersonations has been their schtick for years – not sure why this one is any different.

  2. I have seen footage of Brittany Murphy. Lots of “you knows,” forced enthusiasm, not always the most articulate (but then again not altogether different from other actors), someone who liked to use her hands, as seen in this Letterman clip.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtyrIQO5Vic

    But none of that in this sketch. NBC removed it only because it didn’t serve its corporate interests. An impersonation is one thing, but it needs to have some motivation, some deeper purpose or understanding, some appreciation of the subject being sent up.

  3. Interesting commentary.

    The imitation isn’t quite that bad. Looking at a SNL promo with her on You Tube, she does have that head bob thing going. The voice is workable. If you look at the DL clip in the last comment, her hands on firmly on the chair rather noticeably.

    It isn’t that funny though the “revenge” she plans is sorta amusing by SNL standards. Removing the clip from Hulu because of her death is pretty stupid — she seems to have a sense of humor about herself (on Letterman, she cited goofball things she did) and it doesn’t somehow poison her memory to leave it up.

    It would be different if it was in this week’s show or something.

  4. NBC and others ridiculing and harassing people a la high school bullying tactics is disgusting. What is even more disgusting is that there is no thought given to the idea that people might be seriously damaged or kill themselves. Disgusting.

  5. I saw this Dec 12 airing and thought it was cheap and uninspired before the tragedy. Abby Elliot guest voiced on “King of the Hill” where Murphy was a regular. Who knows what their correspondence was? Classless nonetheless. But what else can we expect from 21st century forms of “entertainment”. Suck it SNL. RIP Brit.

  6. Get over it. It was funny and a dead-on impression. Yeah I said it. So what. People die. Life goes on. Everyone is so touchy about death. Well, let me tell ya, it comes for all of us. If you can’t laugh in the face of it, you are pathetic. Glad I have this on DVR.

  7. Your complaint that the SNL sketch was repetitive, awkward and poorly written puzzles me; that describes almost every SNL sketch of the last 20 years. If you don’t like that, why do you bother watching the show?

  8. Ed, I think you gave this more thought than did anyone at SNL involved in that skit. Most of their skits are one-joke ideas stretched out to infinity, and most of the impersonations are so rudimentary that describing them as simplistic would be to overrate them.

  9. thanks for your post — you’re spot-on re: taking NBC to task on cleansing the web of this clip.

    And no, Kristen, NBC didn’t remove the video “out of respect for Brittany grieving family.” More like out of respect for their legal team…an over zealous attempt to avoid defamation lawsuits.

  10. SNL has been doing stuff like this forever. Goofy/silly celebrity impressions are not a new thing for this show, or pretty much any other comedy or sketch sow on television today. Look at Mad TV. Look at the Dave Chappelle Show. Yeah, the comedy value of this sketch is in question, but this one sketch alone should NOT be a launch pad for philosophical discussions on the merit of comedy in the 21st Century, and especially not an indication of the overall quality of the show or this season. This is one 2-minute segment from more than 10 hours of other material the show has produced this season. It’s like taking one bad performance on American Idol, then the singer dies, and everyone suddenly rips apart the American Idol producers and FOX as a network. To rip apart SNL and NBC for one (completely innocuous and cute) skit is mostly insulting to poor Abby Elliot more than anyone else. NO ONE COULD HAVE REASONABLY KNOWN Brittany Murphy was going to die some time after this. If we should be overly sensitive to how celebrity impersonations will make said celebrity feel, then you may as well stop watching any tonight show / news commentary show / sketch show on television. I am completely ad utterly convinced that SNL, its writers, and Abby Elliot did *not* do anything wrong with this sketch. Anyone who thinks they did should familiarize themselves with the privacy and parody laws surrounding public figures.

  11. You know what is hilarious? Comparing NBC pulling a clip off Hulu to a governmental breech of civil liberties. Hope you didn’t pull a muscle making that ridiculous reach.

  12. Okay,after reading the “transcript” of this skit and actually watching it(thanks to one of the links set up here),I have come to the conclusion that Hulu and NBC’s decision to take it down from their site was a good one.

    The skit itself isn’t that memorable and if not for the tragic death of Brittany Murphy,no one would bother much to look for it. Acting like this is some grand conspiracy on Hulu or NBC’s part is actually funnier than the bit was. I think that out of respect for Brittany’s loved ones,we should focus our attention on her work as an actress rather than someone else’s parody of her-just my two cents on this.

  13. I saw this when it aired. Having no idea who Brittany Murphy was, I thought “well, that’s weird.” Then she turned up dead a few weeks later and I thought, “what!?”

    I am still thinking, “what!?

  14. I had the same reaction as Mary when I saw the skit on SNL. Now that I understand what it was about, I want to see “8 Mile” again.

  15. I had the same reaction as Mary when I saw the skit on SNL. Now that I understand what it was about, I want to see “8 Mile” again.

  16. I thought BM looked like crap when she hosted. She looked like she was coming off of a binge. I don’t think I was wrong

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