Paul and Al

Paul and Al

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"SNL's" Heidi Gardner Gets a Pass For Breaking in Beavis & Butthead Sketch

Los Angeles Premiere Of Netflix's "Quarterback"

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 11: Heidi Gardner attends the Los Angeles Premiere Of Netflix's "Quarterback" at TUDUM Theater on July 11, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images)Photo: JC Olivera / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" "Beavis and Butthead" Town Hall sketch with Ryan Gosling has gone viral. While a funny concept that was well-executed (a rarity on "SNL" these days), what has launched it into the viral stratosphere was the usually unbreakable cast member Heidi Gardner TOTALLY losing and breaking character with a fit of laughter she simply could not stop. As a decades-long fan of "SNL", I have generally HATED when cast members break character and started laughing and mugging in a sketch (Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz, anyone?). I often view it as a cheap crutch to try to get laughs from the studio audience to try to salvage a sketch that is NOT getting laughs for the right reasons.

There have been a few notable exceptions where I could give passes for breaking character on "SNL" over the decades. I mean, David Spade and Christina Applegate unsuccessfully trying to stifle laughter while staring down Chris Farley's HILARIOUS motivational speaker Matt Foley character? Who could blame them for not being able to keep a straight face?! Somehow, the legendary late Phil Hartman was able to keep it under control in that sketch but, even as unbreakable as HE was, he once had an hilarious character break as his character Frankenstein as he departed the scene punching through a wall.

Unplanned cast laughter in Rachel Dratch's recurring "Debbie Downer" sketches? I get it. It was an infectious premise both for the audience and the cast, and you could tell none of them were breaking intentionally as a cheap ploy to get laughs. The audience was already laughing hard. Dratch and the cast couldn't help but get sucked in.

Bill Hader as "Stefon" could never get through a "Weekend Update" segment without breaking character and losing it. Largely because the co-writer of those appearances was the now very successful stand-up comedian John Mulaney, who would frequently add jokes at the last minute while Hader, in character, was waiting in the wings to roll his chair up to the Update desk. Again, I never saw Hader's laughing as pandering or desperate. It was always genuine, his character and the writing were genuinely funny, and Hader has proven throughout his career that he is a mega-talented, consummate pro.

Which brings us back to Heidi Gardner, who played the moderator in the now-viral "Beavis and Butthead" sketch. The moment she initially totally loses it when she turns to see her castmate Mikey Day expertly made-up as Butt-head (primarily those infamous "exposed gums"), I would challenge any of us, myself included, to not react the exact same way if we were to turn and see our co-workers or friends in full "Butt-head mode". Rather than Gardner's laughing fit being annoying like a Jimmy Fallon "SNL" character break, Gardner's was endearing. Perhaps because it's never happened before on her 7 seasons on "SNL", perhaps because all of us who grew up watching "Beavis and Butt-head" could appreciate how truly spot-on Gosling's Beavis and Day's Butt-head were physically, with their normal, understated, aloof behavior about who they looked like only adding to the comedy. And a HUGE hats-off to the extras in the studio audience in that sketch for somehow keeping it together.

In closing, the irony is that, for all off her determination not to break character, the fact that Gardner did is certainly behind what has made this sketch explode. Yes, it would have been very funny without the breakdown, but this is one of those rare times I'm glad things went off the rails (as I'm sure Lorne Michaels' is too as it's getting "SNL" LOTS of press and clicks). I too found myself wanting to offer applause of encouragement, acknowledgement, and understanding to Garner as the live studio audience did. And it has made me a bigger fan of Gardner.


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