Vanessa Bayer took Saturday Night Live back to vaudeville this week with a routine that drew from the nearly forgotten genre of double-talk comedy. Bayer played nervous meteorologist Dawn Lazarus, delivering a weather report on Weekend Update that managed to maintain the rhythm and meter of normal spoken English—or at least the meteorologist version of normal spoken English—despite being almost complete gibberish. Almost complete, though: While it’s impossible to extract any meaning at all from the work of a classic double-talk comedian, you can more or less tell what Lazarus is trying to say. That’s not typically the case in this kind of routine; for purposes of comparison, here’s double-talk master Cliff Nazarro (and a very young Lloyd Bridges) in 1942’s Blondie Goes to College:
You can’t really transcribe Nazarro, but even at her most nonsensical (“Let’s have at that Dopp 3D 3D—look at wind speeds, gotta woosh, and it’s in danger!”) Bayer is speaking identifiable English words, at most slightly mangled. But in both cases, the comedy comes from disassociating the sound of a particular discourse—academic lectures, weather forecasts—from their meaning. (For a more extreme example, check out Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a song written by an Italian speaker with lyrics that sound like English without being English.) This is a natural genre for Bayer to dabble in—her recurring character child actor Laura Parsons is essentially someone trying to sound like an adult without understanding what she’s saying—and she finds new life in a genre of comedy that last appeared on NBC around 1960. Let’s hope Bayer brings Lazarus back to get even more nonsensical in the future—assuming we all survive that “big biggy tropical with yikes and wind” she predicted.