Thursday, April 17, 2008

Maybe It's the Combover: A Night at the Roxbury Reduced to Commercial

Ever wonder how a great idea gets reduced to a 2008 Super Bowl commercial? I did last night as I watched the truncated version of Pepsi's "Wake Up People" campaign. All that seems to be left of this major motion picture production is the combover guy nodding off at a diner.

The original "Roxbury Guys" would have found a way to exploit that flying wisp of hair. Heck, they'd probably offer to make combover guy an honorable Butabi.

Not familiar with the classic Saturday Night Live "Roxbury Guys" sketch created by cast members Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan? The running gag of shiny suited brothers, Steve and Doug Butabi out on the town, bobbing their heads in syncopated rhythm to Haddaway's Don't Hurt Me? At clubs, high school dances, etc., the boys stand together, a sea of dancers splitting, revealing two bobbleheads at the bar. Always mistakenly exchanging dance requests with prospective partners, it wasn't unusual for one of them to suddenly grab some unsuspecting female. The punchline, if you will, has the poor woman bouncing back and forth between both men. The bopping of heads and ravaging of dance partners made the skit an instant hilarious classic which, I suppose, is the reason Pepsi decided to tweak the idea into a commercial for soft drinks.

In 1998, Ferrell and Kattan earnestly attempted to stretch this ten minute gag into an hour and twenty minute movie. A Night at the Roxbury is the reference point for most people making a connection between the Pepsi commercial and the Butabis. The film wasn't well received, but then again, Ferrell and Kattan have always resonated more with their fans than the critics.

If these are the best out takes from the movie, this is one time I'm on the side of the critics. But I disagree with people who suggest the sketch was too flimsy for a feature film. "Roxbury Guys" had all the right elements for a feature film if it had stuck with the original punchline. Even in this short movie compilation, the essential elements of the gag -- losers who knock around women wanting nothing to do with them -- are nowhere to be found.

For some reason, mostly all that remains of the Roxbury sketches on the Internet are videos featuring SNL guest host Jim Carrey as Mark Butabi, third brother of Doug and Steve.

The episode aired in Season 21 on May 18, 1996, catapulting "Roxbury Guys" into a stratosphere reserved for SNL legends, much like Gilda Radner's Lisa Lubener, Eddie Murphy's Mr. Robinson, and Billy Crystal's Ricardo Montalban. Perhaps Carrey's edge was the impetus needed to propel the skit into a movie, but it was not the first, nor the last time "Roxbury Guys" had staked a claim at SNL.

The brothers Butabi appear to have made their debut in Season 21 on March 23, 1996. Phil Hartman, a former cast member later murdered by or with his wife, guest hosted. The boys bopped their heads to the beat of Haddaway, hanging out in a bar to harass fellow cast member Cheri Oteri. Obscure cast member David Koechner may have played the bartender. Ferrell says the characters were based upon an actual club guy in Santa Monica. No known video footage of the original sketch could be found at the time of this article.

On September 18, 1996, celebrated actor Tom Hanks hosted the show, joining the "Roxbury Guys" for another skewer of Cheri Oteri and a taste of their own medicine.

Tom Hanks with Roxbury Guys. sélectionné dans N.C.

Why Kattan stayed behind bars with those gang bangers when the cell door remained open is a mystery of live sketch comedy. When Don Pardo announces, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night" for each show, he really means "live."

On December 7, 1996, former cast member Martin Short guest hosted episode 414. Some of that footage is mixed in with the Helen Hunt episode below. Short played a foreign relative of the Butabis out for a night on the town and a peep show. If memory serves me correctly, the gag involved a somewhat naked woman with pasties shaking her stuff as the door to the peep opened and closed at the sexiest moment. Each time it reopened, the girl was gone or someone unexpected had taken her place. Short stood there with a glazed look in his eyes grabbing for the girl, but the episode was largely forgettable. I think it ended with him being revived with heart paddles on the operating table, but, baby, don't quote me (no more).

Martin Short, Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell visit strip club in another Night at the Roxbury, the Roxbury Guys sketch from Saturday Night Live

On February 22, 1997, Season 22, episode 420 aired with Alec Baldwin as guest host. Baldwin's Butabi looked like a younger version of himself in outtakes and photos. Unfortunately, I can't find anything online other than what's mingled with Helen Hunt. Gold chains, big hair, and shiny suit. Judging from the out takes, Baldwin is the lucky friend who nabs the girls in the sketch described as "Doug and Steve get flustered."

Alec Baldwin, Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell visit strip club in another Night at the Roxbury, the Roxbury Guys sketch from Saturday Night Live

Tina Turner performed Proud Mary live as the evening's musical guest. Now that was something spectacular. Baldwin hosted the show so many times with so many other memorable performances, it's difficult to recall exactly how he held up as a bobblehead. As with the premiere sketch, at the time of this article, other than what may be mixed into the Helen Hunt video below, no known footage of his appearance exists online.

Episode 424, Season 22, aired on April 19, 1997. Pamela Anderson had a series of mad encounters with the boys throughout the night that ended, as usual, with the Butabis leaving the scene empty handed.

Pamela Anderson with Roxbury guys. sélectionné dans N.C.

Sylvester Stallone guest hosted the show, playing "Roxbury Rocky" in Season 23. The sketch aired on September 27, 1997.

Roxbury guys with Sylvester Stallone sélectionné dans N.C.

I never sat through all the Rocky sequels, but I assume the kids running around Sly have something to do with a plot line from one of them. Yawn.

On December 13, 1997, in episode 435, Helen Hunt guest hosted, appearing as a psychoanalyst for the Guys after her Best Actress Oscar win for As Good As It Gets. Co-star Jack Nicholson made a riveting cameo appearance that nearly brought down the house. Unfortunately, this compilation video is the best I could find. Apparently, many of the "Roxbury Guy" videos have been removed from YouTube for copyright violations. Somehow, they missed this one. Let's hope they don't find and unembed it before you finish this article.

What may be the final Roxbury sketch first aired on September 26, 1998. Cameron Diaz guest hosted, appearing as the mysterious woman who finally lets the Guys take her home.

When the episode aired again on Comedy Central around 9/11, I remember the country, for the most part, still being in a state of shock, workers tearing up Ground Zero digging for survivors, and later for recovery of human remains, at least what hadn't been completely incinerated. It's almost seven years later, yet I haven't quite fully recovered.

Yes, it served as an awful reminder of a horrendous American tragedy. Fellow Americans need your help. Donate. Give blood. The mood of the country? Fairly morose would be an understatement.

And then, Dan Ackroyd and Steve Martin made it all disappear. For a moment, I know I was -- perhaps anybody watching the episode who had been a fan since SNL's inception was -- transported back to a kinder, gentler, happier time. Not that the late 70's weren't turbulent. They were. And like today, gas prices were bringing down the economy.

But back then, watching the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, I could always count on a lift in my spirit. So many classic sketches and characters. The Fenstruk Brothers -- plaid clad clashing barfly foreign imbeciles, never got the girl, always acted inappropriately -- made me burst out laughing each time they gyrated their hips and pointed those fingers. "We are two wild and crazy guys," uttered in the foreign accent of people barely able to speak English was a catch phrase back then. Kind of in the nature of "You bet your sweet bippy," or "Mom always liked you best."

SNL has evolved a lot since then and still makes me chuckle, just not like the guffaw days of the late 1970's. The moment the Fenstruks revealed themselves at the bar, a cloud lifted. I felt happy again. And life slowly moved on.

Like the Haddaway song that started the saga, "Roxbury Guys" will live on.