The Secret History of Saturday Night Live’s French People Dancing Sketch

Slate's Culture Blog
March 7 2011 4:07 PM

The Secret History of Saturday Night Live’s French People Dancing Sketch

According the dutiful recap monkeys who review Saturday Night Live each week, the sketch "Les Jeunes de Paris"—in which nearly the entire cast enacts a wordless drama by dancing to a French pop song—was a unanimous, breakout hit. Performed for the second time this weekend towards the end of the Miley Cyrus-hosted show, Entertainment Weekly ’s Ken Tucker called it "charmingly wacky." Tucker was also impressed that Taran Killam (who also co-wrote the sketch) was able to stuff his face with crepes whilst continuing to wiggle around:

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.



We spoke to Killiam about the inspiration for "Les Jeunes de Paris," how his fiancé ( How I Met Your Mother actress Cobie Smulders) loves Starbucks’ music, and mixing Harvard nerds with improvisers.

Slate : "Les Jeunes de Paris" is so goofy and lighthearted, and its tone is fairly different from the mainstream SNL sketch these days. What was the inspiration?

Taran Killam : My fiancé is a fan of Starbucks’ music and that’s where we came across the song "Ta Douleur" by the artist Camille. It just tickled us pink. [Ed note: That was the music in the first instance of the sketch from October.] We just were looking for a reason to dance around, really. I first wrote it with Sarah Baker at The Groundlings (before it appeared on SNL ). It’s sort of just our exaggerated portrayal of our American interpretation of French youth culture, inspired by the song.

Slate : What made you decide to make it a recurring sketch?

Taran Killiam : I had help from the writer Rob Klein, and he helped me give it some structure. He’s a very funny man and much smarter than us.

Slate : That the sketch originally germinated at the Groundlings, which is an improv theater, made me think of what Tina Fey just wrote in the New Yorker : the key to great SNL comedy is to "mix Harvard nerds with … improvisers and stir." Is that what happened here?

Taran Killam : He’s from the Harvard Lampoon ! He’s super smart, but he’s also a great blend of the Harvard Lampoon cerebral wordplay and really ludicrous silly, mindless fun, which I always enjoy. He’s really a great blend of both schools.

Slate : Do you actually speak French? Or do you use an online translator or something?

Taran Killam : I don’t speak French. The online translator is a co-writer of the sketch. The action of the sketch is whatever the tone of the song I chose inspires. " Tekitoi " [by Rachid Taha, which is the song in the Miley Cyrus sketch] has got some of that combative energy because of the two voices going back and forth, so I wanted to involve some sort of love triangle in the plot. But it just becomes about how many times people can throw water in my face. It’s just really fun to do, to get as much of the cast involved to jump around and look like idiots.

Slate : Do you think you’ll do the sketch again? Or is it just a two-time thing?

Taran Killam : Yeah, I don’t know, the only reason to do it again would be if we could come up with something better, something stronger, I’ll keep cruising iTunes for inspiration.

Follow Brow Beat on Twitter . For more culture coverage, like  Slate   Culture on Facebook.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 22 2014 12:30 PM Turkey Just Got Forty-Six Hostages Back From ISIS. How Did That Happen?
Sept. 22 2014 12:07 PM Divestment Isn’t the Answer To destroy demand for fossil fuels, universities can do a lot better than just selling some stocks.
The Shortcut
Sept. 22 2014 12:31 PM Down With Loose Laces A simple trick to tighten your running shoes for good.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 12:22 PM The Age of the Streaming TV Auteur
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.