By the end of the 1990s, American late night sketch comedy and variety show Saturday Night Live was still basking in the glow of its peak ratings in the mid-90s but was slowly declining. One of the few breakout stars in SNL’s post early 90s comedic nexus was cast member Will Ferrell. Over the years, every time Ferrell heard the hauntingly beautiful Blue Oyster Cult song “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, he wondered what life was like for the band member whose sole duty was playing the cowbell. In 1999, he wrote a skit about it.
The skit was written for host Norm MacDonald and pitched seven times in 1999, but producer Lorne Michaels wasn’t sure. Ferrell tweaked the script for upcoming host Christopher Walken and it was finally approved. The More Cowbell skit aired toward the end of the 8 April 2000 SNL show. Most of the offbeat and experimental skits appeared in the last third of the show, when the audience was usually too drunk or high to notice any issues and forgiving of content.
The More Cowbell skit follows a documentary style recording session of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” with Ferrell in the role of a fictional cowbellier “Gene Frenkle”. Walken played producer “The Bruce Dickinson” (not to be confused with Renaissance Man and Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson). And the rest of the cast filled out the remaining band members by accurately portraying Blue Oyster Cult at the time of the original recording.
Ferrell’s tight clothes and overzealous cowbell, Walken’s deadpan delivery, and the fact that the rest of the cast can’t keep from laughing made More Cowbell an instant fan favorite. The best SNL skits in its history are the ones where it’s obvious the cast is having fun on stage, and More Cowbell tops that list. If you watch the non-speaking cast they can’t keep a straight face, and several seamlessly switch from laughing to their speaking parts, well, except for Jimmy Fallon…
Christopher Walken, a veteran of dozens of serious movies like The Deer Hunter, The Prophesy, Biloxi Blues, and Pulp Fiction, credited Ferrell with “ruining my life”. “All everyone wants is More Cowbell,” said Christopher Walken with a slight smile, according to Wil Ferrell in November 2019. “The other day I went for an Italian food lunch and the waiter asked if I wanted more cowbell with my pasta Bolognese” Blue Oyster Cult members credited Walken and Farrell with “sabotaging” the song previously well known for its creepy tone and serious subject matter, though the band members were excited of their song’s new status in American pop culture.
Twenty years ago Walken’s gave his legendary line, “I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription is… more cowbell”
You know you said it in his voice. The world could use a little more cowbell, baby.