The Unexpected Appeal of Ray Romano Saying ‘Zwan,’ and Other ‘SNL’ Musical Guest Intros

Saturday Night Live - Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Saturday Night Live - Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

As the world burns, it becomes easier to find joy in more innocuous moments. A niche literary dispute about a donated kidney. Cats hanging out in bodegas. Or a two-second clip of Ray Romano introducing the short-lived Billy Corgan side-project Zwan on a 2003 episode of Saturday Night Live.

The latter is part of a treasure trove of quick-bite clips going up on the relatively new Twitter account, SNL Hosts Introducing the Musical Guest. Launched last month — with Nathan Lane channeling the middle ground between theater kid and metalhead while introducing Metallica — the account does exactly what its name promises. The result is a living archive that thrills at the bizarre host/musical guest pairings that have populated SNL’s 47 years while unearthing the hidden humor in the show’s most mundane moment.

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SNL Hosts Introducing the Musical Guest was started by a 30-something man in Los Angeles who requested anonymity, but was happy to answer a few email questions about the account and its sudden viral success. A longtime SNL fan, he says he and a group of “obsessive comedy nerd” friends have long been fascinated by the strange combinations of host and musical guests, and the formal nature of the introductions.

“Like, they always have to say ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ so it has the gravitas of introducing the Von Trapp children or something, but no, it’s just Third Eye Blind,,” he cracks. “The account was made mostly for those guys so we could actually see these moments we vaguely remember.”

While nostalgia of all kinds can reign supreme online, Twitter was primed for this thanks to the ongoing success of the account that, every Friday, tweets Daniel Craig’s introduction of the Weeknd. (When asked about the account in a recent interview with The New York Times, Craig replied, “I don’t know what that is, but thank you. That’s lovely, I suppose I’d have to have social media to know what that was all about.”)

Despite its specificity, the creator of SNL Hosts Introducing the Musical Guest says the Craig account made him think there’s an appetite for 47 seasons worth of even-stranger introductions. “In my head, I was kinda like, ‘Oh if the internet enjoys this, wait ‘till they see George Foreman introducing Hole.’”

The account got off to a modest start, with just one or two clips going up each day. The creator says he followed a few SNL fan accounts, thinking they might pick up on what he was doing, but he jokes that they seemed “way more interested in things like fantasizing about new cast member Aristotle Athari stepping on them.” Unsurprisingly, the clip that went viral is old footage of an extremely famous person doing something outrageously problematic. In this case Adrien Brody — fresh off his Best Actor Oscar win in 2003 for the Holocaust drama The Pianist donning fake dreads and doing a woeful Jamaican patois while introducing Sean Paul.

“That was shared by the account for this neat SNL history podcast That Week in SNL and then suddenly it was everywhere,” the creator says. “That clip is such a train wreck that I think when people see it, they have to share it. You can’t just watch that and go, ‘Huh.’ and move on with your life. Your brain will explode unless you’re able to reach out to someone else and go ‘PLEASE LOOK AT THIS, TOO. WHAT THE HELL.’ I could talk about that clip for hours, but man… it’s so embarrassing and offensive, goes on for almost a minute, and then he messes up the name? The only thing he had to do?!”

While Brody’s masterclass in cringe helped launched the account, the less over-the-top clips made it stick. Actress Roma Downey, in her tender Derry brogue, welcoming Missy Misdemeanor Elliott, Timbaland and Magoo to the stage in 1998 (it’s the upswing in her voice on “Magoo” that sells it). The indomitable Christine Baranski hailing the arrival of the Cure with a flourish of her hand in 1996. Or late Arizona Senator John McCain mustering all the enthusiasm he’s got as he proclaims, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give it up for the White Stripes!”

(The creator says he hasn’t heard from anyone at SNL — “legal department or otherwise” — about the account, though he did note that he saw former producer Mike Shoemaker like a few. New cast member James Austin Johnson also retweeted the McCain/White Stripes clip, and the creator says, “That was cool because I know my SNL history very well and that guy had easily the most promising, impressive first episode of any featured player ever.”)

While showy or awkward deliveries like these are part of the appeal, the account’s creator argues that an even greater allure is simply “Who’s saying it and who they’re introducing.” Take for instance Al Gore’s introduction of Phish in 2002: “Al Gore doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with his introduction of Phish, but it’s great because it’s a guy who was nearly president introducing a stoner jam band that has a song called ‘Wolfman’s Brother.’”

To that end, for no particular reason, this writer’s humble favorite remains late SNL legend Phil Hartman introducing British butt rock greats Bush with an unexpected gravity in his voice. And for the account’s creator, it’s the aforementioned clip of Romano welcoming Zwan that towers above all the others: “Even if you remember Zwan, it’s so unexpected to hear their name now, especially in the context of them somehow being on SNL in the brief time they were together. The name Zwan is also just very stupid. Anyone saying it is funny, but when it’s famously goofy-voiced Ray Romano? Get out of here!”

SNL Hosts Introducing the Musical Guest is definitely an exercise in nostalgia, but these clips aren’t about fawning over bygone eras — they’re evocative, but so short they feel more like ephemera pulled from a time capsule. As the creator notes, there’s also something disorienting about them. Saturday Night Live is probably the only cultural institution of its kind, a stalwart entertainment behemoth that’s constantly in flux, vacuuming up the culture to present it as parody but also reflecting it back to us exactly as it is (though maybe not exactly as we thought it to be). Because Pam Anderson and the Rollins Band were contemporaries, so were Harry Dean Stanton and the Replacements, Laura Leighton and Rancid, Christopher Walken and Foo Fighters, Al Sharpton and P!nk, Tom Hanks and Sade, Bernie Mac and Good Charlotte, little Fred Savage and Technotronic. Where else but SNL would they have have ever crossed paths?

More than nostalgia though, SNL Hosts Introducing the Musical Guest has proven to be a perfect internet time warp. As the account took off, certain clips immediately spawned their own contemporary memes that functioned the same way as the Daniel Craig/Weeknd clip. As the creator notes: “What tweet about the Covid vaccine is gonna be better than just posting Christine Baranski giving a little theater flair while she proclaims ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Cure!’”

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