TV URBAN LEGEND: Does every Saturday Night Live sketch set backstage since Seth Meyers became head writer feature a llama, a showgirl and Abraham Lincoln?
A few months ago, in the penultimate episode of Saturday Night Live's 38th season, former cast member Kristen Wiig returned to host. In her opening monologue, she sang a version of The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" about how thrilled she was to be back at her old stomping grounds. The joke behind the song is that she’s singing about how everything is really familiar to her, but as we follow her backstage, she clearly has forgotten everything about her time on the show, including where her dressing room was and the names of all of her former castmates. When she goes to her old dressing room (really a janitor's closet, where guest stars Maya Rudolph and Jonah Hill are seen making out), there’s a llama right next to her. Later, she runs into an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln talking to a pair of showgirls (she confuses him for Daniel Day-Lewis). Pretty weird, right? However, earlier that season, during the Christmas episode, host (and SNL alum) Martin Short also went backstage during a musical routine where he too encountered showgirls (oddly enough while talking to Wiig, who was making a cameo), a llama and an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln. So is it somehow true that every time a sketch is set backstage on SNL that Lincoln, a llama and showgirls are present?
No, it is not true.
There have been many backstage sketches over the years without the trio present. However, the in-joke seems to have originated with current SNL head writer Seth Meyers. The Lincoln, llama and showgirl routine first appeared together in the premiere to SNL's 31st season in 2005 (Meyers was serving as head writer in place of Tina Fey, who was on maternity leave). That episode had a sketch set backstage where SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels is concerned about whether that week's musical guest Kanye West would say something unscripted before his performance, as he did earlier that year in NBC’s live Hurricane Katrina fundraiser. (Paired with another SNL alum Mike Myers, West went off-script, saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people.) Myers appears in the sketch as himself, nervously bumping into West. In the background, we see first a llama and then an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln talking to two showgirls.
So has the trio been seen in every backstage sketch since then?
No, but they have appeared in nearly all of them. Really, it reminds me a lot of a recent TV Legend about South Park sneaking aliens into the backgrounds of episodes. In both cases, the legend is blurred from "you often see X" to "you see X every single time."
In a Season 37 episode, host and SNL alum Maya Rudolph performs a musical routine about how she had fooled around with all of her former co-workers. She goes backstage but there’s no Lincoln, llama or showgirl present.
Perhaps the most famous example (and likely when people first started to notice it) was during an October 2008 episode where then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin made a cameo appearance backstage while Tina Fey was doing a Palin impression. Actor Alec Baldiwn runs into Palin and Lorne Michaels, and confuses Palin for Fey. In the background are, of course, an actor dressed as Lincoln walking with a llama and then a pair of showgirls pass by.
As far as I can tell, the origin of the sketch comes from two separate Eric Idle hosting appearances in 1978 and 1979. In the 1978 episode, Idle goes backstage looking for the writers when he discovers he hasn’t been given a script for the monologue. He runs into Gilda Radner talking to an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln. A year later, in the Season 5 premiere, Michaels is talking to a doctor (played by Harry Shearer) about how Idle is too sick to do the show (while frequent SNL host Buck Henry insists he'll just go on instead). While backstage, we see a llama and we see showgirls. Often, when people went backstage in SNL sketches, there have been odd characters behind the scenes, all part of the idea of "Who else would you expect to see behind the scenes of a comedy show but clowns, actors dressed as weird people or all sorts of animals?" but I don't know why the Lincoln, llama and showgirl trio has been decided on specifically to become a recurring in-joke. Actually, it might not even be a Meyers idea, as Lincoln and the showgirls both appeared in a backstage sketch in the finale of the 2004-05 season, hosted by Will Ferrell (another SNL alum) sans llama. Meyers was a writer on the show at the time, though. I really don't know whose idea it is.
In any event, while it is a recurring gag that you should now make a point of looking for, it is not in every backstage sketch, so the legend is ...
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