TV Legends Revealed | What’s Up With ‘SNL’ and Lincoln, Llamas and Showgirls?

Kristen Wiig with Lincoln and a pair of showgirls

TV URBAN LEGEND: Does every Saturday Night Live sketch set backstage since Seth Meyers became head writer feature a llama, a showgirl and Abraham Lincoln?

A few months ago, in the penultimate episode of Saturday Night Live‘s 38th season, former cast member Kristen Wiig returned to host. In her opening monologue, she sang a version of The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited” about how thrilled she was to be back at her old stomping grounds. The joke behind the song is that she’s singing about how everything is really familiar to her, but as we follow her backstage, she clearly has forgotten everything about her time on the show, including where her dressing room was and the names of all of her former castmates. When she goes to her old dressing room (really a janitor’s closet, where guest stars Maya Rudolph and Jonah Hill are seen making out), there’s a llama right next to her. Later, she runs into an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln talking to a pair of showgirls (she confuses him for Daniel Day-Lewis). Pretty weird, right? However, earlier that season, during the Christmas episode, host (and SNL alum) Martin Short also went backstage during a musical routine where he too encountered showgirls (oddly enough while talking to Wiig, who was making a cameo), a llama and an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln. So is it somehow true that every time a sketch is set backstage on SNL that Lincoln, a llama and showgirls are present?

Martin Short, with Lincoln, a llama and Samuel L. Jackson in the background

Martin Short, with Lincoln, a llama and Samuel L. Jackson in the background

No, it is not true.

There have been many backstage sketches over the years without the trio present. However, the in-joke seems to have originated with current SNL head writer Seth Meyers. The Lincoln, llama and showgirl routine first appeared together in the premiere to SNL‘s 31st season in 2005 (Meyers was serving as head writer in place of Tina Fey, who was on maternity leave). That episode had a sketch set backstage where SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels is concerned about whether that week’s musical guest Kanye West would say something unscripted before his performance, as he did earlier that year in NBC’s live Hurricane Katrina fundraiser. (Paired with another SNL alum Mike Myers, West went off-script, saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.) Myers appears in the sketch as himself, nervously bumping into West. In the background, we see first a llama and then an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln talking to two showgirls.

So has the trio been seen in every backstage sketch since then?

No, but they have appeared in nearly all of them. Really, it reminds me a lot of a recent TV Legend about South Park sneaking aliens into the backgrounds of episodes. In both cases, the legend is blurred from “you often see X” to “you see X every single time.”

In a Season 37 episode, host and SNL alum Maya Rudolph performs a musical routine about how she had fooled around with all of her former co-workers. She goes backstage but there’s no Lincoln, llama or showgirl present.

Mark Wahlberg, Sarah Palin, Lorne Michaels, Lincoln and a llama

Mark Wahlberg, Sarah Palin, Lorne Michaels, Lincoln and a llama

Perhaps the most famous example (and likely when people first started to notice it) was during an October 2008 episode where then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin made a cameo appearance backstage while Tina Fey was doing a Palin impression. Actor Alec Baldiwn runs into Palin and Lorne Michaels, and confuses Palin for Fey. In the background are, of course, an actor dressed as Lincoln walking with a llama and then a pair of showgirls pass by.

As far as I can tell, the origin of the sketch comes from two separate Eric Idle hosting appearances in 1978 and 1979. In the 1978 episode, Idle goes backstage looking for the writers when he discovers he hasn’t been given a script for the monologue. He runs into Gilda Radner talking to an actor dressed as Abraham Lincoln. A year later, in the Season 5 premiere, Michaels is talking to a doctor (played by Harry Shearer) about how Idle is too sick to do the show (while frequent SNL host Buck Henry insists he’ll just go on instead). While backstage, we see a llama and we see showgirls. Often, when people went backstage in SNL sketches, there have been odd characters behind the scenes, all part of the idea of “Who else would you expect to see behind the scenes of a comedy show but clowns, actors dressed as weird people or all sorts of animals?” but I don’t know why the Lincoln, llama and showgirl trio has been decided on specifically to become a recurring in-joke. Actually, it might not even be a Meyers idea, as Lincoln and the showgirls both appeared in a backstage sketch in the finale of the 2004-05 season, hosted by Will Ferrell (another SNL alum) sans llama. Meyers was a writer on the show at the time, though. I really don’t know whose idea it is.

In any event, while it is a recurring gag that you should now make a point of looking for, it is not in every backstage sketch, so the legend is …

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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Comments

  • MrMGU

    Well, you can make a point of looking for it in RERUNS, as Seth Meyers has left the show to take Jimmy Fallon’s spot as Late Night host. But, cool story nonetheless.

  • Dreggor Gade

    A bet an email or tweet to a comic book writer and SNL writer could fill in details to a CBR writer.

  • daredeville

    While these Urban Legends columns are usually pretty good, this one feels kind of lazy. Both in the logic flow of the writing and the actual investigation.

    The headline implies that you’ll be discussing the “whys” of the llama, Lincoln, and showgirls, but instead you have the question of whether they show up in every backstage scene… which is not very interesting at all, and easily discerned by going back and looking at these episodes.

    The more interesting story is the why and the origin. The best part of your piece is where you mention that the llama, Lincoln, and showgirls appeared back in the 70′s. That’s something we might not have all known, and clearly shows that the gag didn’t originate with Seth Myers, more likely he or someone else noticed that gag and decided to have it recur.

    So you did a wee bit of research by re-watching old episodes, but what would have actually made this interesting if you contacted someone at SNL to get some real answers instead of speculating your way to a conclusion, which doesn’t really “reveal” anything to your readers.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to demean you, just that these articles are usually better than this, and this one felt a little lazy… So I wanted to give my constructive criticism… :)

  • J. Robb

    Lincoln, the llama and showgirls have been around for decades. I used to look for them as a kid.

  • Jeff

    I feel like I saw the Lincoln, llama and showgirls at least as far back as the Chevy Chase/Steve Martin/Martin Short episode from the 1986-1987 season. I might be mistaken but I’m pretty sure saw it, if not then, then at least during the Steve Martin “Not Gonna Phone it in Tonight” song, which was 1991. Not sure where you got the Seth Myers connection from. Still, nice to see it addressed.

  • Tim Callahan

    Just some constructive criticism, daredeville: an article can’t be “lazy,” so when you use that word you’re implying that Brian is somehow lazy because he didn’t give you something you wanted. That makes you sound like kind of a jerk. You should look into that.

  • Foreshore

    Sorry to be nitpicky, but he’s leaving in the new year to start prep for Late Night. He’ll be in the first half of the upcoming SNL season.

  • MrMGU

    Really? Well then I stand corrected. Til January.

  • daredeville

    It was not my intention to insult Brian Cronin, as I state in my response multiple times. I go out of my way to say how I usually really like these articles and find them well researched and written. I could have simply said that I didn’t think the article worked, but I not only backed up my opinion, but also explained what I think would have made the article better.

    My intention was solely to help Cronin make more interesting articles, and is no different than the kind of constructive criticism any of us may encounter in a writing course. I will admit the second to last paragraph of mine does come off a little snooty, which I wish I re-worded, but it was meant with the best intentions. And perhaps the use of the word “lazy” was a little harsh, but it was meant to provoke Cronin into being the good columnist I know him to be.

    My main point was that the content of the article didn’t match the headline, not that he didn’t give me “something that [I] wanted,” as you put it. The article content ended up amounting to pointing out that the llama/showgirl/Lincoln trio has happened before, but never addressed the article’s title: “What’s Up with ‘SNL’ and Lincoln, Llamas and Showgirls?”

    That’s all. Sorry if I came off as a jerk. But I don’t think criticism has to be ill-intentioned as so many people take it to be on the internet, sorry that you saw it that way.

  • famousmortimer

    On the off chance the writer of the article reads this and not the email I sent, the llama – Lincoln – showgirl trio all appeared in Alec Baldwin’s Feb 1997 episode, during his rather good monologue.

  • MychaelDarklighter

    Oh, I think I have that one on DVD! I’ll look for it!

    I’m kind of ashamed I’ve never noticed this in all the years I’ve been watching, and throughout the diverse breadth of episodes I’ve seen.