Great Sketches #14: “Colonel Angus Comes Home” by Saturday Night Live

I’ve written more than a dozen blogs about sketch comedy and somehow am only just now covering Saturday Night Live, aka SNL aka the Harvard of Comedy TV aka Lorne Michaels Might Already Be A Cyborg And We Wouldn’t Know. There are so many SNL contenders for the title of “a great sketch” that even Rolling Stone’s top 50 list leaves off several classics. But I’m going to go with one I keep coming back to, one that isn’t on that list at all, and one that truly makes the case that a one-joke sketch can be milked dry and still work if it’s milked well.

See, “one-joke sketch” is generally used as an insult, but as I’ve argued before, there are some sketches that take one joke and develop it rather than simply stretching it thin. And in the case of the legendary Colonel Angus, that one joke has a surprising amount of dimensions.

If you’re not yet clear as to why the name “Colonel Angus” is supposed to be funny, it’s probably because you’re not reading it with an exaggerated stereotypical Southern accent in your head. Try this: Cuhnel Angus. Better. Now put the emphasis on the “Cuh”. Get it yet?

Yes, the entire bedrock of this sketch is basically just “ha ha, oral sex” (dictionary definition of cunnilingus: “stimulation of the female genitals using the tongue or lips”). It’s accomplished with a straight face, though, and that’s the entire reason it works. And it works way, way more than you think it will.

To begin with, the sketch gives us a full 44 seconds of bravura acting on the steps of a Civil War-era plantation house before Rachel Dratch’s bespectacled old lady peers out into the cotton. “Well, that must be the Colonel!” she says. “Colonel Angus!” It will be the only time anyone in this sketch pronounces it like two separate words. All it takes is Amy Poehler’s “Could it really be Cuhnel Angus?” and the audience begins to get it.

Basically every line after that about the storied Confederate soldier is a double entendre, conjuring up pretty much any and every innuendo involving the Cuhnel that you could imagine. It’s worth noting what does and doesn’t get a response. There are smatterings of applause when Chris Parnell’s gentleman says “They say once a lady is introduced to Cuhnel Angus, they’ll settle for nothing less”.  But nobody seems to notice Dratch’s line about the Colonel’s “shining face” or the fact that the Colonel has suffered an injury to his jaw. And the description of the Colonel as an “old carpet bagger” takes a second before it lands. I didn’t even catch the throwaway use of the phrase “taint sure” until someone in the comments pointed it out.

This is a true ensemble sketch, which means everyone, including Maya Rudolph’s character Bedelia and the curiously old boy (Chris Kattan?) who has one line gets something funny to do. By the end, we truly know what they all think about Cuhnel Angus, and probably cunnilingus as well. Everyone hams it up commendably and does a good job of hitting the rhythms of this kind of melodrama.

It’s worth mentioning that the Colonel is played by none other than Christopher Walken himself, here in one of his seven appearances on SNL to date. Walken hasn’t hosted in eight years but for a time he was one of the legendary champs of the Five-Timer’s Club, known for running with any premise, no matter how ridiculous. Affecting a drawl that isn’t miles away from his later performance as Captain Hook, Walken delivers a speech about Colonel Angus that’s truly awe-inspiring, but his best line (and the best line of the entire sketch) comes later: “If I overstay my welcome, just tap me on the head”. Only Walken could deliver that with the kind of conviction he does here.

That’s a pretty clever joke, no matter how obvious, and it gets the recognition it deserves. This sketch isn’t just a bunch of references to cunnilingus: it’s actually about the act itself, what it involves, and how it feels, both to give and receive it. As one of the top commenters on YouTube noted as of this writing, this is a very dirty bit of writing, especially once we learn that the Colonel’s real name, god help us, is Enil Angus. Walken may have the single best line but Poehler steals the show with this unforgettable groaner: “I so love the sound of Cuhnel Angus, but I guess I could give Enil Angus a try.” If that wasn’t enough, she says it while staring directly into the camera, almost daring you to get what she’s saying. I have to say, I’m impressed this got on NBC. It’s not a network known for appreciating the finer points of Enil Angus.

When you really examine it, this sketch is like a finely woven wicker chair of dirty wordplay, where even the setups are all in the gutter. The capper for the whole thing is the ending, after Parnell delivers the final line: we hear a canned horse’s neigh and then the cast lines up for a bow, as if we’d just watched the filthiest town hall history pageant in history. It’s an absurd touch but it fits with what’s come before and even gives it a kind of context.

If something is made with joy and care, even if that something is just trying to jab you in the ribs and tell raunchy jokes, you can sense it. In terms of commitment to the bit, this sketch belongs up there with other SNL classics like Lord and Lady Douchebag and Schweddy Balls, not to mention Fry and Laurie’s turns as American servicemen obsessed with ass. They all fall on the right side of the scale when it comes to “one-joke” sketches, and in fact, there’s way more than just one joke going on here. Like a lot of verbal humor, you have to have some knowledge of what’s being discussed to even begin to make sense of it.

This post is dedicated to the brave men who lost their lives at Big Beaver.