Saturday Night Controversial

A look at one of "Saturday Night Live's" most controversial sketches - "Nude Beach."
September 24, 2006
Greetings, Retro Junkies! It’s me, Allison Venezio, your faithful “Saturday Night Live” Guru.

Where I’ve Been

I know you’re probably wondering where I’ve been lately. Well, I’ve been unavailable as of lately, as
my family and I recently completed a move to another town, and we are in the process of setting everything up. As it was, my computer was out of use for a few days. This was, of course, much to my dismay, since I devote much of my free time to my articles.

I’ve also been working hard – my days off and shifts changed. I’m now off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and my shifts changed from one closing shift and four opening shifts to five closing shifts! I know it is extra money, but I loved those days off. But, weekdays off have an advantage – I can now devote some valuable time to my articles. Life isn’t all that bad.

I’ve been putting around some decent ideas in my head as of recently, but my favorite idea has been resting on my cranium since I before my four-parter came into fruition. I decided to crank out the bigger project first, and follow up with something light. I have about three lighter articles to come.

This is one of them. I hope you like it.


“Obscenity is whatever gives a judge an erection.”
-Anonymous (as printed in “William G. Clotworthy’s book Saturday Night Live: Equal Opportunity Offender)

What you are about to read is a true story. All the facts are real, and the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. However, in this sketch, no one is innocent.

Over the course of thirty-plus years, “Saturday Night Live” has seen its share of controversial moments. It has over-stepped its boundaries by making fun of a specific person or topic (Norm MacDonald is an expert on this), dropping the f-bomb in a few sketches (it resulted in the firing of Charles Rocket in 1981 – as if you even knew he was on “Saturday Night Live”), or exhibiting something that is just…well…downright obscene.

Hence, we have “Nude Beach.”

When “Nude Beach” aired, it wasn’t the first controversial moment “Saturday Night Live” displayed, and it wouldn’t be the last. However, its impact is long lasting and far-reaching, and those who have seen it will agree – it really was a funny joke. Dialogue discussing a certain male appendage was abundant. In fact, it was so blatantly obvious it was practically hitting viewers in the face. And no, the word they used wasn’t “phallus.” It was…

(Drum roll)


Ok, I know what you’re thinking (I’m in your head). “Penis” isn’t such a bad word. And no, it isn’t. It’s a term used in the English language to describe the male reproductive organ. Besides, do you think anyone would actually walk around saying “phallus”? I don’t think so. But, in 1988, it was taboo to say something like that on television. However, the severity of using the term is left to interpretation. At least, left to the interpretation of those who don’t have conniption fits over such a trivial concern.

So, how trivial is it? In this riveting installment, we’ll take a look at the controversy surrounding a male reproductive organ, the uproar it caused in the religious community, and the taboo nature of the sketch. In addition, I’ll also tell you the story of William Clotworthy, the former NBC Standards and Practices censor (who was a censor for “Saturday Night Live” during the time this sketch aired), and what he said about the sketch.

It’s all coming your way, in “Saturday Night Controversial!”

The Cast (Or Rather, The Offenders)

Matthew Broderick – Doug (10/15/1988 live sketch)
Jon Lovitz – Doug (10/8/1988 dress rehearsal sketch)/Bill (10/15/1988 live sketch)
Dana Carvey – Bob (10/8/1988 and 10/15/1988 sketches)
Nora Dunn – girl (10/8/1988 and 10/15/1988 sketches)
Victoria Jackson – girl (10/8/1988 and 10/15/1988 sketches)
Tom Hanks – Ted (10/8/1988 dress rehearsal sketch)
Dennis Miller – Ted (10/15/1988 live sketch)
Kevin Nealon – Jack (10/8/1988 and 10/15/1988 sketches)

Background on “Nude Beach”

“Nude Beach” first surfaced in early 1988, and would have aired on the episode hosted by Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers. It was knocked down quickly. It resurfaced for a second time, making it as fast as becoming a dress rehearsal sketch on October 8, 1988, during the show’s fourteenth season premiere, hosted by Tom Hanks. I’m fairly sure this sketch was a little edgy for the audience that attended the dress rehearsal, because it was cut from the final show (I should know – I infamously taped over the ninety-minute version of that show). However, someone must have believed in it (and the audience must have loved it), because it was revived in time for the October 15, 1988 episode, hosted by Matthew Broderick.


Broderick (and in the original sketch, Jon Lovitz) plays Doug, an insecure young man who is visiting a nude beach for the first time. He is accompanied by his friend Bob (played in both sketches by Dana Carvey), who is confident that Doug will not feel insecure once he meets his [Bob’s] friends, and realizes that he has nothing to worry about. Of course, we don’t know what they’re talking about at first.

The camera then pans back to four men behind a strategically placed bamboo wall. The two other men are Jack (played by Kevin Nealon both times) and Ted (played by Tom Hanks during the dress rehearsal version, and Dennis Miller in the live sketch). Bob introduces Doug, and the fun begins from there.

Jack: Hey, pretty small penis there, Doug.
Doug: Huh?
Ted: Yeah. You could pick a lock with that penis.

For the already insecure Doug, this isn’t helping much. It is also the first two uses of the word penis, with plenty more uses to come. Jack and Ted ask Doug where he is from, and Doug says he is from Montpelier, Vermont. Jack says that it must be tough on the penis. Bill says he is from Denver, which Jack says is a “good penis town.” The group then meets Victoria and Nora, who came to tell them about an unseen character’s sand penis sculpture, with “testicles and everything.” The sketch concludes with Bob telling Doug that he had nothing to worry about, and the group singing the club anthem. I’ll include the lyrics to the infamous song at the end of the article, along with the transcript of the sketch.

So, What’s the Problem?

For the answer to what was really wrong with “Nude Beach,” let’s turn to the censor who happened to be in the control room the night of October 15, 1988. This is the account of William Clotworthy, as written in his 2001 semi-autobiography, Saturday Night Live: Equal Opportunity Offender.

“We knew we’d hear from the public, and did we! The sketch generated 46 thousand letters of complaint. 45,999 were form letters sent to Reverend Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association, the other was from A.S.S., the Association of Stripped Sunbathers, complaining that we hadn’t shown enough flesh! Just kidding.

In retrospect, doesn’t the whole thing seem innocent and trivial in the light of the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Lorena Bobbitt trial and the Starr Report? At the time, editorialists and columnists throughout the nation were unanimous in their approval of the use of ‘penis’ in coverage of the Thomas hearings and Bobbitt trial. Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote, ‘I agree with anatomically correct speech. It would be absurd to speak of John Bobbitt’s ‘private parts,’ let alone his ‘peepee.’ Anatomy isn’t vulgarity.’” (Page 25)

Clotworthy goes on quote a very small portion of a letter he wrote in response to the sketch:

“I thought you might be interested in a further history of ‘penis’ on television. I was the NBC censor on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ a job most people believe doesn’t even exist.”

Mr. Clotworthy also explains that the sketch had been circulating during the earlier months of 1988, and was cut from the dress rehersal of the show hosted by Carl Weathers. That, my friends, aired in early 1988! This sketch made the rounds, and took ten months (!) to finally make it to air. It's not the worst wait to happen for a "Saturday Night Live" sketch - I've heard of sketches that didn't get approved until ten years later.

In the fall of 1992, Dennis Miller appeared on “Later With Bob Costas,” where they showed some clips of Miller’s six-year tenure on “Saturday Night Live.” Miller knew immediately that a clip from one of the only sketches he was in, coincidentally the most controversial of the time, would be shown. Hence, “Nude Beach” was shown.

Hi, I'm on a caffeine binge right now. Actually, I always bob my head like this. [Flips hair behind shoulder] Ha-ha!

Miller went on to say that the network got all kinds of complaints. People stated the obvious by saying, “they seemed to say penis a lot.” An exasperated Miller says, “That was the whole point.” He even says it is perfectly normal to say it because all men have them (one point for Mr. Miller).

In fact, the word “penis” was spoken seventeen times, and sung twenty-six times, for a grand total of forty-three (!) times. That is a lot for a sketch that ran between three and five minutes long.

But, still, I don’t see a problem, and I honestly don’t know anyone who does. But, in 1988, it may have been a different world. I know it was to me – I was almost six years old when this aired. I would never have been allowed to see it. I don’t know too many kids who would have been. But, today, who knows? It seems tame by today’s standards. If this sketch aired now, it probably wouldn’t even get a second look from any easily offended parties.

And now, because I think so highly of all of you, and know (hope) you won’t be offended, here is the transcript from “Nude Beach.”

“Nude Beach”: The Transcript

Bob: Is this great or what?

Doug: I feel a little self-conscious, Bob. I mean, I've never been to a nude beach before.

Bob: Aw, listen, Doug, you don't have to worry about that here. The people at this club, they're not hung up about that kind of thing. That's what's great about it, everyone's just here to relax.

Doug: Really?

Bob: Yeah, yeah. Believe me, in a few minutes, you'll forget all about it. C'mon, I'll introduce you to some of the guys.

Doug: Okay...thanks, Bob.

Bob: Hey guys!

Jack: Hey, Bob! Hey, your penis looks great today.

Bob: Thanks, Jack. Yours too.

Ted: Hey, Bob.

Bob: Hey, Ted. How's your penis?

Ted: Not bad.

Bob: Good. Hey, I'd like you guys to meet Doug.

Jack: Hey, Doug.

Doug: Hey, guys.

Jack: Hey, pretty small penis there, Doug.

Doug: Huh?

Ted: Yeah. You could pick a lock with that penis.

Jack: Hey, that's okay. There's plenty of guys around here with small penises. Bill's got one. Hey, Bill - come on over here and show him your penis! Bill, this is Doug.

Bill: Hey, Doug.

Doug: Hey, Bill.

Bill: So I guess you have a pretty small penis.

Doug: Yeah, I guess so.

Bill: Well, that's okay. I hear it really doesn't matter to women.

Doug: Yeah, I read that.

Jack: Okay you two, enough small penis talk.

Ted: Hey, guys, wanna see my pictures from Barbados?

All: Yeah, sure.

Ted: Okay. That's me with some friends on a catamaran.

Jack: Penis looks great.

Ted: Thanks. Here's me, playing tennis with my father.

Bob: Hey, you've really got your dad's penis.

Ted: Yeah. By the way, Jack, what have you done with your penis? It looks super!

Jack: Oh, I go to this place on Long Island. They do great work.

Ted: Wow. You got the address?

Jack: Sure.

Ted: Great. I'll write it on my penis so I won't forget.

Bill: So, Doug, where are you from?

Doug: Montpelier, Vermont.

Jack: Oooh...cold up there. Must be tough on the penis.

Bob: Bill, you're from Denver, right?

Bill: Yeah...

Ted: Good penis town.

Woman #1: Hey, everybody!

Jack: Hey girls!

Woman #2: Hey, who's the new guy with the penis?

Bob: Oh, that's Doug.

Woman #1: Hey Doug.

Doug: Hi.

Woman #2: Hey, pretty small penis.

Doug: Yeah.

Woman #1: That's okay.

Doug: Hey, thanks.

Woman #2: Hey, Dave just made a great sand penis sculpture. You should come and see it before the tide comes in.

Woman #1: Yeah, it's got testicles and everything!

Ted: Great. We'll check it out.

Bill: See, Doug, you had nothing to worry about.

Doug: Yeah, I guess not.

Jack: Hey, who wants to sing the club anthem?

All: Yeah!

Bob: Okay, I'll start:

"I once had a penis sing to me
His Penis Penis song
And when that Penis Penis sang
Here was the Penis's song
He'd sing me..."

All: "Penis, penis, penis, penis
Penis, penis song.
Penis, penis, penis, penis
Penis all day long.
Penis, penis, penis, penis..."

[Jack/Kevin Nealon steps forward]

Jack: Hi, I'm Kevin Nealon. What you just saw was an attempt to make an important point - that wherever you go, no matter how you look on the outside, we're all pretty much the same. You know, when the Standards Department was dissolved here at NBC, we welcomed it as an opportunity to deal with issues like these in a frank way. And to be honest, we're a little disheartened by the snickering we heard during this presentation. It kind of makes us wonder if there's room for serious discussion of these subjects on television. So to those of you who missed the point - grow up. Really.

All: "Penis, penis, penis, penis
Penis all day long..."

I particularly liked how Kevin Nealon stepped forward and delivered his monologue, and then told the audience to “grow up.” He even calls it a “serious discussion.” Yeah, it is about as serious as the time Dennis Miller sang Cat Stevens. And about as serious as the time…well, honestly, has anything on this show ever been serious?


Well, retro junkies, this has been the first of several articles on a controversial moment in “Saturday Night Live” history. I know of many more, but to me, this sketch deserved its own article – it stood out, being that the late 1980s are my area of expertise, and it was also a moment that bewilders me as to why it was so taboo to begin with. Well, I know why, but still, it was just meant to be fun.

I also wanted to mention that these pictures were taken with my new Canon Elura 100 camcorder. I think the quality is a step up from my Nikon Coolpix, but I am still learning how to use it, and I promise the next article's pictures won't be off-centered. I can't help but notice the television showing up in the pictures, but as soon as I learn to better zoom the camera in, this will be a thing of the past. Bear with me, it's a new gadget!

Anyway you look at it, I hope you enjoyed this first post-four-parter article, and will continue to keep your support for my work strong.

For now, this is Allison Venezio, your “Saturday Night Live” Guru, signing off.

“Penis, penis, penis, penis…penis all day long!”

There are some things I’ll never get out of my head. This is one of them. [/color]

~Allison Venezio, aka “Allison_SNLKid,” your “Saturday Night Live” Guru, owner of the most extensive "Saturday Night Live" collections since 1997.
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