SNL’s ‘Snake Eyes’ Sketch Was Years in the Making

James Austin Johnson is sharing details on how the final sketch of SNL’s 49th season came to be—and the dance that viewers were robbed of.

Airing in the last slot of Saturday Night Live’s Jake Gyllenhaal-hosted finale, the sketch featured Johnson as a gentle-voiced biker named Snake Eyes who confronts Gyllenhaal’s character for flirting with his girlfriend (Sarah Sherman).

In a new interview with LateNighter’s podcast partners at the Saturday Night Network, Johnson discussed the origins of the 10-to-1 sketch, which he says had been years in the making.

“You hear a little bit of that voice in my Lindsey Graham [impression],” Johnson said. “But that voice basically is… an impression of my mom. My mom is always saying ‘Cool it’ and ‘knock it off’ and ‘can we not?’.”

“It was something that I auditioned for the show with,” he shared, explaining that the original incarnation was a “sweet Southern” tough guy with a “nonchalant, mom-ish way of [saying], ‘Uh, can we not kill a bunch of people?’”

Johnson repeatedly presented versions of the sketch at pitch meetings, looking for new ways to “take that guy who is so sensitive and caring and darling, and put him in a dark situation.”

“I’ve been pitching that character at the table ever since I got there,” he says, noting past iterations have included the Southern-twanged character as a Star Trek captain and a CIA terror analyst.

While none of those ideas made it to air, Johnson notes that the show’s cast and writing team always responded positively to the character.

“I tried it in so many different ways… The table really liked that character, and they were like, ‘One of these days, you’re going to find the way that it all comes together.’”

Ultimately, it was Sherman and Andrew Dismukes who helped him crack Snake Eyes on the Tuesday writing night ahead of the finale. “Sarah and Andrew had the idea, and they came to me and we jammed it out immediately,” Johnson explained. “Let’s take that little guy and make him look like Lemmy from Motörhead and try to see what it looks like if he is trying to kick Jake Gyllenhaal’s ass.”

“It came together really fast, because we all knew the character at that point,” he added.

However, not all of the sketch made it to air.

“It’s just a shame that America didn’t get to see his little dance,” Johnson teases. “Before we dueled, we had a little dance where Jake and I did a little Tin Pan Alley dance at each other before the fight began.”

Like many things at SNL, the bit fell victim to timing.

“It was a 10-to-1,” Johnson noted, referring to SNL’s slot for the final sketch of the night before the show ends at 1 a.m. “When you’re in that last spot, you gotta throw out two pages from the script to make sure that it gets on TV.”

But even without the dance, the sketch killed—performing even better at the live show than it did when they staged it at dress rehearsal. “That was the best final sketch of the season I could possibly ask for,” Johnson admitted.

Even so, Johnson notes it’s unlikely we’ll see Snake Eyes again, considering his fate in the sketch.

As for that dance TV audiences never saw? A letter-writing campaign to get SNL to release footage of Snake Eyes’ dance from dress rehearsal might do the trick.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *