Now in its 40th season, “Saturday Night Live” is no stranger to controversy. But most of those controversies stem from racy content or a lack of diversity, not accusations of plagiarism. Yet that’s the issue facing the sketch show today, after two members of the legendary LA sketch group the Groundlings posted a video clip of their sketch “Rollin’,” noting its similarity to an SNL sketch from this past weekend called “River Sisters.”
“Noting its similarity” is putting it lightly. On first look, these two sketches are almost identical. Unfortunately, licensing issues for the use of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” means Hulu didn’t post the River Sisters sketch online, but here’s a link to part of the sketch. In the meantime, let’s do a side-by-side comparison of the sketches.
“Saturday Night Live:”
Sasheer Zamata, Cecily Strong, and host Sarah Silverman play down-on-their-luck Tina Turner impersonators doing a variety show on a river cruise. Each of the three performers, bewigged and wearing slinky red dresses, take turns doing crowd work that reveal how desperate their lives have become in between harmoniously crooning “Proud Mary’s” chorus.
Vanessa Ragland and Kimberly Condict play down-on-their-luck Tina Turner impersonators doing a variety show on a river cruise. Each of the– yeah, it’s the same damn thing, down to the use of “Proud Mary.”
— Vanessa Ragland (@vanessaragland) October 5, 2014
To say that this seemingly open-and-shut case of plagiarism makes no sense would be putting it lightly. Other than Chicago’s Second City, no other theater has provided “Saturday Night Live” with more cast members than Groundlings. Beyond legendary members like Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, and Kristen Wiig, current cast member Taran Killam and staff writer Mikey Day are Groundlings alumni. Why would the show steal wholesale from such a well-known sketch school, one that has provided the show with so much of its talent?
If this is a case of parallel thinking — which is actually quite common in comedy — it’s the strangest, most specific one we’ve ever seen. This isn’t like when “SNL” faced accusations of stealing a sketch from “Tim & Eric, Awesome Show, Great Job!” because both sketches featured absurdist comedy based around tiny hats. This is two sketches with the same characters, same conceit, and even the same classic rock radio staple as a musical cue.
“Saturday Night Live” has not commented on the controversy, but we will update this story if and when they do.
[h/t AV Club]