“I mean, look at me – I’m a mandingo!”
That seemed to be the tipping point in an appearance on Saturday Night Live’s most recent “Weekend Update” by Leslie Jones, a new writer on the show.
Her riff, titled “No. 1 Slave Draft Pick,” started with her congratulating actress Lupita Nyong’o, PEOPLE magazine’s 2014 choice for World’s Most Beautiful, then exploded all over the place as she suggested she’d have more luck landing a man if she were a strong, baby-producing slave in the Old South.
The sketch quickly fired up controversy, as media pundits weighed in and public outcry erupted on Twitter and social media. Was Jones, recently hired after the show had been criticized for its lack of black talent, out of line?
That’s debatable, depending on whether you think Jones’s joke was that she’d do better as a slave than as a single black woman, or that black history is so emotionally charged that what could have been a standard gag about not having a boyfriend could be turned into something so unsettling.
Whatever your verdict, this was a fresh reminder that SNL, which is wrapping up its 39th season even if it sometimes feels like it’s about to celebrate its centennial, can still kick up some scandal.
Here are five other classic controversial moments.
Djesus Uncrossed (2013)
Christoph Waltz stars as Jesus in a parody of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained that’s possibly also a parody of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. “No more Mr. Nice Jesus,” says Waltz, resurrected from the dead, still wearing a crown of thorns and cocking a rifle. At the least, profoundly irreverent.
Nude Beach (1988)
Host Matthew Broderick, shirtless and pantless, stands behind a bamboo fence while he, Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon and Dennis Miller talk – and then sing! – about penis size on a nude beach. This sketch, co-written by Conan O’Brien, actually has a punch line, but it’s mostly about saying “penis.”
Canteen Boy and the Scoutmaster (1994)
Adam Sandler’s recurring character, a weirdly boyish assistant scoutmaster, spends a night by the campfire with Alec Baldwin’s sexually aroused scoutmaster (“My beard is scratchy, Canteen Boy, but it gives good back rubs”). Even though Canteen Boy is 27, Baldwin’s attempted seduction of him is somehow pedophilic.
Word Association (1975)
One of the show’s most notorious skits, from the very first season. Chevy Chase, interviewing Richard Pryor for a job, engages him in a word-association test that grows increasingly racist – and makes Pryor increasingly furious. (“Spear-chucker ” “White trash!”) Then the joke is brilliantly inverted, and Pryor is not only awarded the job, but gets two weeks’ vacation before even starting.
Sinead O’Connor (1992)
This remains SNL’s biggest shocker. Sinead O’Connor, with that beautiful voice, sings Bob Marley’s “War” a cappella, then rips up a picture of Pope John Paul II and denounces him as “the real enemy.” Her career never really recovered. If, like everyone else mentioned here, she’d been able to claim that she was being satirical instead of unsmilingly serious, she’d have been in the clear in six months, tops.