A couple walks into a meeting with a man who seduces the wife, much to the husband’s chagrin.
Is this an original idea or a standard comedic trope?
If you present this scenario 50(!) years after another prominent group did so, does your work owe anything to the early one? Is it an homage? A remake? A ripoff? Or fair game because, come on, you’re allowed to present similar situations a half century apart?
These questions occurred to me as I watched the Parent-Teacher Conference sketch on Saturday Night Live over the weekend. It starts with the parents, played by Kyle Mooney and Ego Nwodim, chatting with their kid’s teacher, Jason Sudeikis, and it winds up with Sudeikis having the ineffectual Mooney hold his glasses as he makes out with Nwodim atop his desk.
That flashed me back to the Marriage Guidance Counsellor sketch that originally aired on Monty Python’s Flying Circus and was re-shot for Python’s 1971 movie And Now For Something Completely Different. This time Michael Palin and Carol Cleveland are the couple, and Eric Idle is the marriage counselor who has Palin hold his jacket as he goes behind a screen with a disrobing Cleveland.
There are differences between the sketches for sure. On SNL Nwodim’s character is driving the sexual tension as much as Sudeikis’s, and the premise builds relatively slowly. Both of them have sharp, funny line readings, such as Sudeikis’s clipped command, “Say it again.”
In the Python sketch, Cleveland has no lines. She’s there to look seductive and to play along in the seduction. The sketch feels its 50 years in that sense.
As for the cuckolded husbands, Mooney’s is more aware than Palin’s, but both turn out to be all-talk wimps.
I tweeted out the sketches Sunday morning with the note, “I noticed that SNL basically remade this Monty Python sketch last night.” Eric Idle quote-tweeted what I wrote and added, “Ha ha. I thought that too and I wrote the original… but hey it’s called homage.”
The good folks on Twitter subsequently debated whether SNL had committed any sort of comedy infraction. Was the new sketch unlicensed borrowing or a perfectly reasonable update?
What do you think?