Saturday Night Live’s Cast Members Whose Careers Weren’t Wrecked by Their Politics, Part 2
Rob Schneider: A One Joke Comic Among One Joke Comics
In the 1993–1994, the talent on Saturday Night Live was still very high. Among its cast members were Adam Sandler, David Spade and Chris Farley. Promoted to recurring player was Norm MacDonald. That talent would be added to by such wondrous comics as Michael McKean, Mark McKinney and Janeane Garofolo, all veterans of sketch comedy, the often underestimated Chris Elliott and a talent named Jay Mohr. And yet, somehow SNL was probably never closer to being canceled than it was over that two year period, generally considered the most disconnected and utterly unfunny period in the show’s history to that point.
I don’t know enough about what was going on behind to scenes to comprehend why everything was going so terribly for the show to be this messy and humorless. And that trend was fundamentally clear for that entire two year period: there would occasional highlights — John Travolta and Bob Newhart would do gold-medal jobs hosting the show, and McDonald’s work at Weekend Update was the best the show had done since the early 1980s — but funny moments were few and very far between.
By the beginning of the 1995–96 season, most of the cast members were gone. One of the members to depart was Rob Schneider, who seems to have departed quietly or maybe was less noticed when Phil Hartman, the anchor of the show for eight seasons, had also left. A larger number of the former cast members of SNL from that period would go on to considerable success at either the movies or on television. Schneider would fail miserably at both.
Not long after he departed SNL, Schneider landed the co-lead on ‘Must-See-TV’ comedy called Men Behaving Badly. Like so many terrible comedies that were basically built up to shore up gaps on Tuesday and Thursday nights, it was loathed by the critics but had a following that comes when you inevitably follow Seinfeld or Friends. Schneider was basically a buffoon playing alongside Ron Eldard (in a disastrous career left turn after a stint on ER that took a very long time to recover from) and Justine Bateman. Inexplicably (or maybe not because it averaged thirteen to fifteen million viewers its first season) the comedy was renewed for a second season, even though Eldard and co-star Justine Bateman were gone by the end of the first. The series then performed, well, badly and met a natural end in the fall of 1997.
In describing Rob Schneider’s subsequent film career, the best you can say is, it was the nineties. By which I mean almost every Saturday Night Live alumni of that era would get his or her own movie deal and some truly stupid and moronic comedies were formed that gave Roger Ebert fits around that time. (I’m beginning to think he created the book ‘I Hated, Hated, Hated Your Movie almost entire to deal with what he was facing.) And to be clear, none of these movies were art; few even had the ability to move beyond the level of one-joke and they were particularly good jokes.
But there is a fundamental difference between Schneider’s movie and those that the rest of the SNL crew were making: they were successful stupid movies. No one will ever claim that The Waterboy or The Wedding Singer or Tommy Boy were works of art the equivalent of Some Like it Hot, but they were box office hits. And in the cases of some of the alumni, you have a feeling that they were making these films because that’s what the public wanted of them. Given Sandler’s range and power in films such as Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems and the level of subtleties in his comedy when someone decent like Judd Apatow was writing it (Funny People) there is very much a possibility that Ebert was right when he regarded so many of these movies as ‘holding a captive prisoner’. David Spade, similarly, was better suited for television than film and as a supporting character rather than a lead: his work in Just Shoot Me was frankly superb and worthy of the Emmy nominations he got. It’s harder to make judgments on Chris Farley, for tragic reasons, but it is not inconceivable he could have followed the career path of Will Ferrell, making dumb movies but the occasional intelligent one as well.
Schneider’s movies, by contrast, were stupid one-joke movies. And there’s a reason for that: for almost his entire stint on SNL 1990–94, Schneider was famous for playing one character: the Richmeister who appeared in countless sketches with just one note: making fun of everybody’s names. This barely passed muster in SNL of that time period, and to be clear, while Farley and Sandler often did one-note recurring characters, they did many recurring characters. Many of the sketches in that era were gross-out humor, but in many of them the characters were doing other things. Schneider was basically doing one character in one-sketch, and I think that it’s a testament as to how the wheels were starting to come of the bus that he stayed around as long as he did.
Similarly almost all the characters he did in movies before and after were one note in forgettable films like Surf Ninjas, The Beverly Hillbillies and Judge Dredd (Stallone’s version) Given the chance to play the lead, he actually got worse. I don’t know what’s worse about Deuce Bigalow the fact that it was greenlit or that it got it a sequel. And that’s the high point of Schneider’s work as a lead: ever hear of The Animal or The Hot Chick? Consider yourself blessed. There’s a reason that Joss Whedon wrote a line referring to evil movies as ‘the Rob Schneider oeuvre.”
Schneider has managed to work constantly because Sandler is his friend, and Sandler is loyal to his friends like Spade and Tim Meadows. That said, it’s hard to find much more redeeming about The Ridiculous 6 or The Benchwarmers save to say their Adam Sandler comedy’s which, sad to say, has its own level of awfulness. Schneider has not been the lead of his own movie since Big Stan, a 2007 film, he wrote, directed and starred in. Tells you what it takes to get a movie of his made.
Now I can see why some might say its fitting Schneider has conservative politics: he was once big in the 1990s, he had early success because of his closeness to his more successful colleagues, and he only has any work now due to the charity of his friends. Because he sure as hell never had any natural ability of his own. He might complain his politics have scuttled him from getting work in the industry, but as someone who has seen some of his work (while randomly channel chasing) I would say that in Schneider’s case, his work speaks for itself.
Addendum: For those of you who have read my columns on Jeopardy with anticipation, I thought I might well close this article with an anecdote about Rob Schneider and Jeopardy.
As I mentioned in an article about my problems with so many of the contestants who appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy when I grew up, I modified it by saying many of the best celebrities to appear on the show were SNL veterans, such as Michael McKean and Jane Curtin.
Rob Schneider appeared on the celebrity tournament in 1997, appearing against Mark McEwen and Robin Quivers. Identifying himself as ‘Air Rob’, he finished a distant third. To be fair, Quivers and McEwan are among the very best celebrities to ever play the game, both would be invited back on multiple occasions after this initial appearance. That said I’m not sure how seriously Schneider was taking things given his response to this Daily Double in CLASSIC BOOKS AND AUTHORS:
“In this Charlotte Bronte novel, Edward Rochester is the moody master of Thornfield Hall”
Rob: “Who is my good friend Kent Osborne?
Then again, he did get a Daily Double about Vincent Van Gogh right not long after. And it’s not like all SNL performers showed off their best skills on Celebrity Jeopardy; Jon Lovitz, who I always thought was rather clever, did miserably. Playing dumb or actually dumb? On Schneider and Celebrity Jeopardy, I’ll leave it open to interpretation.