SNL – “ESPN Classic: 1991 Ladies Billiards Tournament”

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In 1991, Robin Bell won the second ever World Pool-Billiard Association’s Women’s World Nine-ball Championship, defeating her opponent Jo Ann Mason, in Las Vegas. Many years later, Ms. Bell would be inducted into the Billiards Congress of America (BCA) Hall of Fame.

Tampax to the MaxThat same year, a very different billiards match also occurred in Las Vegas.  Televised by ESPN Classic, that matchup was the 1991 Tampax to the Max Ladies Billiards Tournament of Champions, featuring Greta Milwaukee versus “The Soft One” Nina Wilkes Booth.

Confused yet?  Not if you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live.

In 2009, SNL cast members Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte introduced their ESPN Classic sketch, which would recur for three seasons through May, 2012. The two comedians portray on-air commentators for various ESPN Classic airings of women’s sporting events in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sudeikis’ Pete Twinkle is an uber-bro host and kind of a douchebag.  His foil is Forte’s Greg Stink, a cheerful moron, completely uneducated about sports and incapable of even basic conversation. And though Twinkle’s attempt to engage Stink is sometimes humorous, the real heart of the sketch that earned the guffaws is the frequent references to the feminine or sexual product sponsoring the event, using rhyming jingles.

The first ESPN Classic sketch, which aired in October 2009 as part of the Saturday Night Live’s 35th season, is “1991 Ladies Billiard Tournament,” sponsored by Tampax. The full sketch is available to watch here.

Tampax to the MaxGreta Milwaukee (Kristen Wiig) and Nina Wilkes Booth (celebrity host Drew Barrymore) are introduced and subsequently engage in some over-the-top, physical comedy around chalking their cue sticks, breaking, and attempting to make shots in their game of 9-ball. Both women are pretty unmemorable, though Wiig’s billiards-themed ‘80s shirt is a real keeper.

More amusing is the repartee between Twinkle and Stink, such as:

“Where does the name billiards come from?”

“No idea.”

“Greg Stink – best color man in the business.”

But, of course, the real zing comes from Twinkle’s frequent shout-outs to the tournament’s sponsor Tampax. These jingles punctuate the commentary and get progressively more absurd as the sketch goes on, starting with the introductory slogan, “Tamp it to the max with Tampax,” and culminating with, “Helping you relax when Mother Nature attacks your slacks. Tampax.”[1]

The entire sketch is just over four minutes long, so it’s impressive the number of laughs it generates, even with its one-trick pony concept.  Saturday Night Live is also not alone in sketch-comedy shows that have leveraged billiards as source material.  It’s a future blog post to review and rank them all, but it’s worth checking out “The Hustler” (The New Show), “Van Hammersly” (Mr. Show), “Pussy on the Chain Wax” (Key & Peele), “The Hustler” (Mad TV), and “Spot Black” (The Benny Hill Show), among others.

[1]       Ironically, Tampax’s actual slogan at the time – “Outsmart Mother Nature” – also referenced Mother Nature.

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