The long-running comedy series will receive a regionally specific version in Italy and it joins a long line of international takes on the classic format
How do you say “more cowbell” in Italian? Last week, NBCUniversal signed a transatlantic deal with European media titan Sky to produce a regionally specific version of Saturday Night Live in Italy, expanding an already global network of sister shows. Though the past few years have seen the stateside SNL steep itself in the particulars of national politics more aggressively than ever before, the show’s format has proven malleable and lucrative in lands abroad.
From Asia to Africa and beyond, the appeal of short-form scenes featuring celebrities and musical guests has struck a universal chord with viewers. This new Italian spinoff won’t even be the first to grace the country’s airwaves – an earlier effort titled Saturday Night Live From Milan ran for four seasons to roundly positive notices.
In anticipation of the upcoming Sabato Notte Vivo (or whatever they end up deciding to call it), take a tour around the world with SNL’s international nephews and nieces, from Spain’s short-lived non-starter to the surreal celebrity cameos of Korea.
Germany may not be known for its zany sense of humor, but during the better part of the 90s, RTL Samstag Nacht brought a dose of levity to the national television climate. However, the jokes were often dry to grim: the show’s breakout character was Karl Ranseier, an unlucky fellow whose increasingly improbable death scenarios would often be announced via a faux news report as an end-of-show gag. The Ranseier joke grew into a phenomenon all of its own, the German response to the proliferation of “that’s what she said” from the American remake of The Office.
You can’t spell “Español” without SNL, and yet this explicit remake failed to gain a foothold in its market. That the show only lasted through a brief 12-episode run in 2009 could be attributed to several factors, most glaring among them the show’s title of Saturday Night Live, despite running during primetime on Thursdays. Moreover, audiences bristled at the lazy recycling of well-known sketches and dearth of original, culturally customized material. (The Spanish-language rework of the beloved Behind the Music bit does not pack the original’s comedic wallop.)
South Korea has forged one of the strongest successes, a popular direct adaptation of the American program complete with Weekend Update and Digital Short segments. The similarities have their limits, however, and what lies beyond is can be wondrous and bizarre. Never is the difference in styles and tastes between the US and Korea more pronounced than when a Hollywood star with overseas appeal stops by. Model Miranda Kerr, MMA fighter Bob Sapp, part-time Asgardian trickster Tom Hiddleston, and most memorably, Korean favorite Chloe Grace Moretz have all made appearances to try their hand at phonetic pronunciation. One sketch, in which Moretz plays a young woman whose understanding of Korea is based entirely on soap operas, plays like a fever dream of unlikely cultural interchange.
Middle East/North Africa
Saturday Night Live bil Arabi is recorded in Egypt – true to form, each program’s cold open concludes with an actor breaking the fourth wall to shout “From Cairo, it’s Saturday Night Live in Arabic!” – but caters to a massive area. Due to the diverse array of cultures within its reach, this ranks as perhaps the most anodyne iteration of the program, keeping the humor steeped in the silly and safe from taboos. Nevertheless, the censors of Egypt’s media board suspended the program in February of this year due to accusations of “sexual implications” in the writing.
A rich, detailed history of Japanese comedy made the nation a natural home for another SNLin 2011, drawing on the traditional kontostyle of slapstick rather than high-concept character-driven sketches. While the theme sequence uses identical music and the usual oh-I-didn’t-see-you-there cast introductions from the US version (along with the usual guest host/musical break format, including the Weekend Update segment), the content itself would be somewhat unfamiliar to the western humor palate. Kontoworks in shorter bursts, and bears a strong resemblance to standup as opposed to sketch comedy.
In France, the Big Mac is le Big Mac, and Saturday Night Live is Le Saturday Night Live. This spinoff has only been on the air for a little over a year, but has already made itself known to American audiences. Crossover comedian Gad Elmaleh hosted the series’ pilot episode and recently stopped by Conan O’Brien’s show to dish about his experiences, which included yet another parody of the “more cowbell!” sketch. Truly, nothing bridges the cultural gap quite like a paunchy man pelvic thrusting while banging on a cowbell at an ear-splitting volume. (Also in French: SNL Québec, a spinoff for Lorne Michaels’ compatriots.)
Nothing like a little laughter to warm up the forbidding cold of Scandinavia, and in 2016, this program tried to bring some heat to the Finnish comedy world. With an odd lineup of stars to host – A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master director Renny Harlin graced the show in 2016, this time in front of the camera — and a reliance on bits purloined wholesale from the American original, it lasted all of one season. (Brazil produced another one-season wonder back in 2012, similarly failing to gain a foothold due to an inability to develop its own identity.)
SNL Polska has been going strong since late 2017, bringing the energy of Warsaw – the New York City of Poland! – to a close adaptation of the original. Check the boxes: Weekend Update (complete with Drunk Uncle), political satire goofing on the prime minister, even the pop-culture parodies that mostly serve as an occasion for the cast to go around the horn with recognizable impressions. They even did the Star Wars Auditions sketch!
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