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'Saturday Night Live' Skips A Census Sketch For 1st Time In History


If you're looking for some laughs this weekend, don't count on a new episode of "Saturday Night Live." The sketch comedy show just ended its current season. NPR census reporter Hansi Lo Wang noted a particular sketch missing this year.


HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: If you've stayed up late to watch "Saturday Night Live" over the decades, you may have noticed a kind of sketch that seems to resurface every 10 years...


VICTORIA JACKSON: (As character) Hello. Is anybody home?

PHIL HARTMAN: (As character) Yes.

JACKSON: (As character) Hi. I'm here from the U.S. Bureau of the Census. I'm an enumerator.

WANG: ...Like this one from 1990 with Victoria Jackson and Phil Hartman or this one from 2000.


TIM MEADOWS: (As Census Taker) We sent you a census form, but you failed to return it to us.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: (As Mr. Leonard) My mail is piled up like crazy.

WANG: ...With Christopher Walken as a Mr. Leonard, who finds outside his apartment door Tim Meadows playing a census worker.


MEADOWS: (As Census Taker) How many people live in this residence?

WALKEN: (As Mr. Leonard) Oh, boy. That's a good question.


WALKEN: (As Mr. Leonard) I'm bad with numbers - maybe 80.


MEADOWS: (As Census Taker) Eighty people live in this apartment.

WALKEN: (As Mr. Leonard) Seems high, doesn't it? Not 80. How about four?


WANG: Meadows says former SNL head writer Tina Fey wrote this sketch for him right around Census Day 2000.

MEADOWS: Whenever I talk to aspiring sketch writers, I tell them to look at that sketch because I think it's pretty much a perfectly written comedy sketch. As the questions are answered, it escalates slowly into insanity.


MEADOWS: (As Census Taker) Mr. Leonard, do you own or rent this apartment?

WALKEN: (As Mr. Leonard) Sure.


WALKEN: (As Mr. Leonard) You have to ask one of the other 79 people.


WANG: The very first "SNL" census sketched aired in 1980 when Laraine Newman wore a string of pearls to play former first lady Rosalynn Carter reading inappropriate fake census questions for unauthorized immigrants.


LARAINE NEWMAN: (As Rosalynn Carter) If engaged in household work, do you receive less than the minimum wage? If you answered yes, would you be willing to locate in the Washington area? Do you do windows?


WANG: Tim Meadows says as far as he knows, there was never a push to do a census sketch once a decade.

MEADOWS: But because "SNL" is so topical, there's usually something about the census during that year.

WANG: Except this census year. "SNL" ended its latest season last weekend without one. I asked NBC spokespeople - what's up with that? And they didn't respond on the record.

MEADOWS: I think the census sort of got put on the backburner. I forgot to do it. I kept getting letters from them, and I was like, oh, yeah, I got to take care of this. It is important.

WANG: So far, just over 59% of households asked to fill out the census themselves have done so. And the Census Bureau is looking for more ways to get people thinking about the national count of every person living in the U.S. Based on her track record, the bureau may want to do some courting of Tina Fey, who not only wrote the 2000 census sketch but also performed in the one about the 2010 count with Betty White, which was news to Tim Meadows.

MEADOWS: What (laughter)? She cornered the census sketch market. I have not seen it. I got to - I got to watch that.


TINA FEY: (As Census Taker) What is your last name, ma'am?

BETTY WHITE: (As Lee Smith) Blarfengar (ph).

FEY: (As Census Taker) Can you spell that for me?

WHITE: (As Lee Smith) S-M-I-T-H.


FEY: (As Census Taker) And that's pronounced...

WHITE: (As Lee Smith) Blarfengar.

WANG: Because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau says it's not planning to send out census workers to do doorknocking until mid-August. And they'll be out through the end of October. So "SNL" writers, if your show's back on the air by Halloween, you have another shot at more census jokes. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, not live from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.