While the Groundlings and Saturday Night Live have enjoyed a long, symbiotic relationship, with the show often recruiting writing and performing talent from the legendary L.A. improv group, two Groundlings members say SNL may have skipped the middleman and taken one of their sketches directly. The latest episode’s “River Sisters” sketch featured host Sarah Silverman and cast members Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata playing a trio of Tina Turner impersonators in a riverboat casino. As they sing their rendition of “Proud Mary,” each takes turns reflecting on the hard road that’s led them to this ignoble gig amid cracks about the shrimp buffet. Their reverie is interrupted by the emcee, who demands that they get back on track.
Likely due to copyright issues with Turner’s song, Hulu isn’t hosting “River Sisters,” nor is it part of the full episode stream. But here’s a partial recording of the sketch. [UPDATED: Now with the full video below.]
As pointed out by Groundlings members Kimberly Condict and Vanessa Ragland, “River Sisters” bears a significant resemblance to their own “Rollin’,” which they’ve performed for several weeks as part of the Sunday Company. The sketch features a similarly styled Condict and Ragland as Tina Turner impersonators in a similarly trashy casino. As they sing their rendition of “Proud Mary,” each takes turns reflecting on the hard road that’s led them to this ignoble gig amid cracks about the crab buffet. Their reverie is interrupted by the emcee, who demands that they pick it up. (Oddly enough, they even mention a gig they were offered on a “riverboat casino.”)
Both Condict and Ragland called attention to the suspicious similarities on Twitter, using it as an opportunity to promote their own version while also denouncing SNL’s take.
— Vanessa Ragland (@vanessaragland) October 5, 2014
It’s certainly not the first time SNL has been accused of lifting from others: A 2010 episode came under fire from fans of Tim And Eric, who pointed out similarities between sketches premised on “Tiny Hats;” at the time, Tim Heidecker dismissed it as the result of “influence,” not outright plagiarism. Others that year suggested a Brett Favre ad parody for “Open Fly Jeans” was just a rip-off of Funny Or Die’s “Dickhole Jeans,” which even starred a Brett Favre impersonator.
In those sketches, the concept was perhaps basic enough that their similarities could be dismissed as parallel thinking. Still, the resemblance here is so close that, if “River Sisters” was somehow not directly lifted from the Groundlings, any “parallel thinking” seems downright telepathic.
We’ve reached out to Saturday Night Live for comment. We will update if and when they do.
UPDATE: A source close to the show has replied via email, saying, “It’s a common idea since Tina Turner is such an iconic figure. The similarities represent parallel thinking in the comedy world.” (That the sketch is not really about Tina Turner—but rather about Tina Turner impersonators using her song to lament their lives of performing in a shoddy casino while also making jokes about seafood buffets and Nebraskan riverboats—is also a common idea, apparently.)
Meanwhile, Defamer alerts to us a Facebook post from Groundlings teacher Ian Gary, where he suggests that the show has a history of lifting material from the troupe—and everyone else just dismissing it.
Alright. So this is weird. And a delicate subject… I, like many of my friends, do sketch comedy. I have a lot of influences, especially SNL to thank for that. Over the years, I, and many of my friends have performed in front of Lorne Michaels and his staff. And this is not an attack on SNL or anyone that has ever been a part, will be a part, or was a part of it… I have very dear friends who have written and performed or still do, on that show. The respect that I have for those people, for the countless others I don’t know and the television INSTITUTION that is SNL is off the charts…And I’m sure that goes without saying for most everyone reading this.
But, over the years I have seen MANY, MANY sketches flat out stolen from my friends by Saturday Night Live. Nearly verbatim. Word for word… And everyone in our community goes “Oh man. That sucks.” and nobody says anything because I guess SNL is still some dream for some people or they don’t want to get involved, or a million other reasonable things that stop people from standing up for each other when things are blatantly wrong.
Well, enough of that. This is fucked up. This is stupid. And we have the means to make people aware of blatant rip offs of other peoples material. It doesn’t need to be a witch hunt. It doesn’t need to be pointing fingers, assigning blame, or taking sides. But a simple case of what’s right and wrong.