SNL’s “Proud Mary” sketch bruises pride of The Groundling’s similar Tina Turner tribute

One sketch had them singing for their supper in the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif.

The other stuck them on a riverboat in Nebraska.

In both cases — The Groundlings this summer, and SNL this past Saturday — we saw women dolled up in 1980s-era Tina Turner wigs and red dresses, pausing between verses of “Proud Mary” to tell us how they’d come into their current predicament.

Parallel thinking or joke theft?

The Groundlings has a great history of providing performers to SNL, with alums including Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Nasim Pedrad, Will Forte, Ana Gasteyer, Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, Chris Kattan, Julia Sweeney, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz and Michaela Watkins. Current SNL cast member Taran Killam and current SNL writer Mikey Day were former Groundlings.

Ian Gary, a teacher at The Groundlings, defended his friends and performers in The Groundlings Sunday Company, Kimberly Condict and Vanessa Ragland. Gary wrote on Facebook:  “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.”

For her part, Condict wrote: “If you liked the sketch SNL did last night about a Tina Turner tribute band musing and singing to “Rollin’ on a River,” then you’ll LOVE this sketch Vanessa Bruiser Ragland and I wrote and performed for six weeks this summer at Groundlings about a Tina Turner tribute band musing and singing to “Rollin’ on a River!”

Well, the song’s “Proud Mary.” But I ain’t too proud to beg for a correction.

The kicker: In the sketch performed by Condict and Ragland this summer, one of the secrets from their past was a gig on a riverboat.

Here’s The Groundlings version.

And here’s what SNL aired over the weekend, with Kenan Thompson introducing the River Sisters: host Sarah Silverman and cast members Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata.

Gary asked that people share the photo above “and let people know that STEALING other peoples art and passing it off as your own like you’re the biggest bully in the room is NOT okay, and stop being silent about the blatant theft of other people’s creations.”

Who created this joke and when?

It’s a delicate question that sometimes doesn’t have an easy answer. Certainly, though, the parallels here are a little too close for comfort.

With a proliferation of comedic content on stages and online, you’d like to think that SNL would have someone on its staff to joke-check the sketches and Weekend Update jokes to make sure the punchlines and premises already hadn’t been done to death by everyone else that week. In this case, even such a joke-check would have been problematic, as The Groundlings only posted their video to YouTube on Sunday, after SNL had aired.

Late Monday, many websites were reporting the same quote from the same “source close to the show,” who allegedly was saying in defense of SNL: “It’s a common idea since Tina Turner is such an iconic figure. The similarities represent parallel thinking in the comedy world.”

Not buying this defense or even this quote, as it’s not attributed to anyone bold enough to stand by the defense.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →