Blue Oyster Cult Sketch April 8th, 2000
This sketch is an episode of VH-1: Behind the Music. It shows the music group Blue Oyster Cult back in 1976, as they recorded their biggest hit, "Don't Fear the Reaper." A lot of people (young viewers especially) have asked me if this is a real song, and YES it is. It was a big hit at the time (also featured in the movies Halloween and The Stand). Anyway, the group is in the studio with famed producer Bruce Dickinson, played by the strangest man alive, Christopher Walken. The writers gave him all sorts of weird and funny quotes in this sketch, the kind that only Walken could pull off:
Jimmy Fallon: I can't believe Bruce Dickinson digs our sound!
Bruce Dickinson: Easy, guys... I put my pants on just like the rest of you - one leg at a time. Except, once my pants are on... I make gold records.
Take #1 of the song starts, with all the band members playing their instruments, and Will Ferrell in the front banging on a cowbell with a drumstick. Let me add at this point that Will is wearing one of the worst outfits ever seen on a human being: a huge lumberjack beard, red-tinted glasses and the tightest brown shirt you have ever seen on man. It has stupid leather trim around the collar and is so tight it pulls up and you can see Will's stomach hanging out. It is also unbuttoned halfway down his chest, and he just looks ridiculous. So he is already funny looking to start with, and when the song starts, he just starts banging away on his cowbell. It shouldn't be that funny, but it just IS. He focuses directly on the cowbell and keeps his arm at the same angle the whole time, and it kills me every time I see it.
The first take ends with the lead singer a little bothered by the sound of the cowbell. So he calls out the producer to ask him if the cowbell sound is needed in a rock and roll song. And following is one of the best Christopher Walken lines ever on SNL:
Bruce Dickinson: [ stepping out of the booth ] That was gonna be a great track. Guys, what's the deal?
Chris Parnell: Are you sure that was sounding okay?
Bruce Dickinson: I'll be honest.. fellas, it was sounding great. But.. I could've used a little more cowbell.
The way Walken delivers the line is classic. I have always thought that Walken doesn't realize where the punchline is supposed to be in a joke, so he just makes up how he thinks the inflection should go. And his unexpected remark is very funny the way he says it. He puts the emphasis on the syllable "cow." "I could've used a little more COWbell."
He tells Will to play a little louder and "explore the studio space." Of course, in take #2 we get one of the funniest moments in SNL history, as Will dances around the room, banging the cowbell over his head and gyrating his hips like a hula dancer. At this point, his dancing causes his tight shirt to pull up, and you can see Will's flabby gut sticking out, which makes it even funnier. He puts so much intensity into his dancing that he careens into other band members, veering wildly out of control. Plus Will has this incredibly focused look on his face as he stares at the cowbell intently. It is really funny and hard to describe. You just have to see it. The lead singer stops the take, distracted by the dancing cowbell player.
Chris Parnell: Okay, wait! Stop! I'm sorry. Bruce, could you come back in here, please?
Bruce Dickinson: [ stepping out of the booth ] Fellas.. now, we just wasted two good tracks! That last one was even better than the first!
Chris Parnell: Well, it's just that I find Gene's cowbell playing distracting! If I'm the only one, I'll shut up.
Horatio Sanz: It was pretty rough..
Will Ferrell: You know, I could pull back a little. If you'd like.
Bruce Dickinson: Not too much, though! Fellas, I'm telling you [ pause ] you're gonna want that cowbell on the track!
Once again, Walken totally butchers the sentence. "You're gonna WANT that COWbell." At this point, everything in this sketch is funny, and Walken just gets funnier and funnier.
Take #3 starts, and Will's character is angry at the lack of appreciation for his playing. So he decides to play his cowbell directly in the lead singer's face, placing it inches from his face as he deliberately plays very slowly. It is funny to watch, because Will looks very angry and Chris Parnell (always a pro) looks very realistically annoyed. After Will starts to lose tempo, the two men get into a shoving match, ending the take as they yell at each other. Chris Kattan grabs Will, yelling "Don't blow this for us, Gene!" and at this point all hell breaks loose. Jimmy Fallon is supposed to deliver a line, but he takes one look at Will and totally cracks up. He has to hide his face with his drumsticks and turn away from the camera to hide his giggling. Will is supposed to deliver his line, but nearly everybody is giggling now. But Will tries his best to stay in character:
Will Ferrell: Can I just say one thing? I'm standing here, staring at Bruce Dickinson! And if Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell, we should probably give him more cowbell! And, Bobby, you are right - I am being selfish. But the last time I checked, we don't HAVE a whole lot of songs that feature the cowbell.
Bruce Dickinson: I gotta have more cowbell, baby!
Will Ferrell: I'll be doing myself a disservice, and everybody in this band, if I don't perform the hell out of this.
With this last line, Will's voice starts to crack, as he very nearly starts giggling. This, of course, sets off everyone else again, particularly Jimmy Fallon, who has just lost it at this point. The only person who doesn't laugh is Christopher Walken, who I suspect, like always, doesn't get the joke. He's just kinda out of it. But he does get to deliver the most memorable line of the 1999-2000 season:
Bruce Dickinson: Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription... is more cowbell!
Or, of course, as Walken says it: "I got a FE-ver. [pause] And the only pre-SCRIP-tion. [pause] is more COW-bell."
Will now threatens to quit, but the band rallies behind him to do one more take. They nail the 4th take, with Will playing his cowbell proudly alongside the lead singer, a big grin of joy on his face. At the end, the audience gives a huge ovation. It is one of the loudest ovations I have ever heard at the end of a sketch.