Brow Beat

In Retrospect, Saturday Night Live’s “Old Glory Insurance” Commercial Was Nothing to Laugh About

An elderly man is attacked by a robot.
“When they grab you with those metal claws you can’t break free, because they’re made of metal, and robots are strong.”

In November of 1995, Saturday Night Live aired a commercial parody that turned out to be shockingly prescient, for a product called “Old Glory Insurance.” As Law & Order star Sam Waterson explained in a soothing voice, one brave insurance company was willing to insure the nation’s vulnerable senior citizens against “the unfortunate event of a robot attack,” without requiring a health checkup. (There actually is an Old Glory Insurance company now, but it dates from 2003.) “Old Glory Insurance” was written by Adam McKay, years before his feature-length explorations of financial chicanery, and was immediately hailed as one of Saturday Night Live’s all-time greatest sketches. This week, it reappeared on the show’s YouTube page. Take another look, if you haven’t seen it in a while:

The sketch was directly modeled after the ads Ed McMahon was making for Colonial Penn Life Insurance around that time, which are still extraordinary in their shameless willingness to leverage old people’s fear of death. If you were fortunate enough to avoid Colonial Penn at the time, your luck has just run out:

Stipulated: both Old Glory Insurance and McMahon’s Colonial Penn ads are hilarious, in the same way as “Ya Got Trouble” and “The Monorail Song,” and for the same reason: Watching saps get separated from their money is one of life’s great pleasures, whether they’re motivated by a fear of Cap’n Billy’s Whiz-Bang or the icy hand of death, and the more transparently fraudulent the pitch, the funnier it is. In retrospect, however, the Colonial Penn ads were more of a warning sign than a joke: If senior citizens of the 1990s could be convinced to do something as absurd as sending their money to Colonial Penn out of a fear of their own funeral expenses, who knows what kind of bullshit the baby boomers could get tricked into doing once their cohort started looking death in the face? It’s a question McKay has returned to in the years since “Old Glory Insurance,” but unfortunately, we now know the answer. Maybe we shoulda bought insurance.