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Saturday Night Live’s “Sneaker Uppers”

Posted At: April 3, 2013 6:15 P.M.
by Kaitlyn Honnold

Saturday Night Live has long been an outlet for upcoming talent to brush shoulders with some of the funniest and most prominent actors of the time. But, all too often, I’ve seen SNL appearances by celebrities interrupt the hilarity in an obvious attempt to mend their damaged reputations.

There are plenty examples of celebrities addressing the controversies of their personal lives on SNL. Some, like Miley Cyrus, are more successful  than others, such as Justin Beiber who was on SNL last month.

It seems as though now whenever a celebrity is the center of a controversy they go host SNL as if to say, “Hey! Look at me! I can make fun of myself — we’re all just having fun, right?”

Tina Fey, former SNL writer, discussed this concept in her book “Bossypants.” She identified these people as “Sneaker Uppers,” which she said is “a term that veteran SNL writer Jim Downey coined to describe that queer moment when a famous person ‘sneaks up’ behind the actor who plays them and pretends to be mad about it.”

Fey expanded Jim’s definition to “include any time someone [who] is being parodied volunteers to come on the show and prove they’re ‘in on the joke.’”

“Comedy writers hate Sneaker Uppers,” Fey wrote. “On a pure writing level, it’s just lame. But like other lame things — sorbet, line dancing and New Year’s Eve — people seem to love it.”

As a dedicated SNL fan, I find these “Sneaker Uppers” painful to watch — but I just can’t look away. People love sneaker uppers in the same way people love watching a train wreck.

From a PR perspective, however, it’s not always the best idea. This technique only works if your client is actually funny.

Take Justin Timberlake as the perfect example. On his fifth, and most recent, SNL appearance, Timberlake took a subtle, yet tasteful, jab at Kanye West. It’s JT’s easygoing attitude and charisma that make him an ideal SNL host candidate.

So ask yourself if your client is high maintenance. If the answer is yes, then don’t even think about letting him appear on SNL. Your client needs to be able to roll with the punches and hold his own without getting his feelings hurt.

If your client can’t take the heat, he needs to stay off the stage — Saturday Night Live spares no one.

“Some weeks [on SNL] you got to produce a pure little comedy piece that was dear to your heart and had a great host like Alec Baldwin or Julia Louis-Dreyfus in it,” Fey noted in her book. “Some weeks you had to sit and take notes from the smallest Hanson brother about what jokes he didn’t care for.”


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    What a humorous and frank read, Kaitlyn! I often find myself thinking the same thing when watching Saturday Night Live, and it is nice to have someone put it in words. You also make an accurate point for upcoming PR graduates. The spotlight can be wonderful for clients, but they must be sure it is the right spotlight. I think your post will help PR majors see what is important, truly knowing your client.


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