‘SNL’: Matthew Broderick’s ‘Nude Beach’ Sketch Enraged Audience For Saying ‘Penis’ Over 40 Times

Saturday Night Live (SNL)has been on the air for over four decades. While the series produced some of the most iconic comic performances in history, sometimes it crossed the line.

Whether it was a host’s ill-fated off-script moments or a skit that didn’t land, sometimes the show crossed lines that audiences didn’t appreciate. One such case was Matthew Broderick’s appearance on the show, in which one particular skit enraged millions due to the overuse of the word “penis.”

‘Saturday Night Live’ has been on air since 1975 

RELATED: ‘SNL’: Samuel L. Jackson Reportedly Dropped the F-Bomb Due to Bad Timing

SNL premiered in 1975. The brainchild of Lorne Michaels, who brought along some little known comedians like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and several others who eventually became household names in the world of Hollywood and entertainment. What started as a sketch show that pushed the limits of 1970s censorship quickly became a cultural touchstone. 

Anyone who is anyone has likely graced the stage at SNL, from presidential hopefuls to professional athletes, singers, and actors. It’s given us many of the biggest names in comedy over the last five decades. Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, and dozens of others owe their fame to the Saturday evening sketch show. 

From its satirical news breaks to iconic skits about controversial topics, SNL has been around long enough to become a staple of households worldwide. That doesn’t mean the show avoided controversy. However, one of these controversies involving a nude beach, Matthew Broderick, and the word “penis” sent shockwaves through a society still getting used to that brand of scatological humor. 

Matthew Broderick hosted ‘SNL’ in 1988

Matthew Broderick attends the premiere of "Manchester by the Sea" at Samuel Goldwyn Theater on November 14, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.
Matthew Broderick | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

In 1988, Matthew Broderick hosted and appeared in a skit that had been knocked down several times before. “Nude Beach” was penned by a young Conan O’Brien and was initially supposed to feature Carl Weathers when he hosted.

When Tom Hanks hosted the show, it made it to the rehearsal stage but was struck down before the show was taped. When Broderick hosted the show in 1988, the skit finally aired. 

It featured four men at a nudist colony discussing their genitalia and culminated in a song that repeated the word “penis” several times. It got laughs from the audience at the taping, but people at home were not as forgiving when it hit the airwaves.

Castmembers spoke the word 43 times during the short sketch. According to writer William Clotworthy, they were inundated with hate mail after the skit. 

“We knew we’d hear from the public, and did we!,” he wrote in the book Saturday Night Live: Equal Opportunity Offender (Per RetroJunk). “The sketch generated 46 thousand letters of complaint. 45,999 were form letters sent to Reverend Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association, the other was from ASS, the Association of Stripped Sunbathers, complaining that we hadn’t shown enough flesh! Just kidding.”

Looking back

While that type of joke may seem tame in 2020, sexual humor and terminology like “penis” were typically kept off of network television unless speaking about it in a medical sense. The taboo nature also explains why O’Brien and company fought so hard to get the episode in. It might not go down as one of the funniest bits in the show’s history, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most audacious. 

To this day, it serves as a reminder of how far we have come since 1988 and how big SNL has been for as long as it has been on the air. As the show airs its 46th season, the skit would likely go down as a humorous but ultimately forgettable skit. At the time, however, the writers, performers, and producers played with fire by even letting it on the air.