9 Times Tom Hanks Broke Character on SNL To Shout At The Audience About Proper Grammar & Usage
Tom Hanks is known for several iconic performances throughout his career hosting and guesting on the classic NBC sketch program Saturday Night Live, but what few people realize is that he also has a troubling history of breaking character mid-skit to furiously address issues of grammar and usage directly to a frightened audience. Here are the nine most memorable moments in which Mr. Hanks snapped and gave us shocking — yet very insightful — lessons on the English language.
1. December 14, 1985: As a first time host of the show and a relatively unknown public figure, Tom was understandably a bit nervous when he took to the stage in mid-December of 1985. It wasn’t until he turned to the camera and started calmly differentiating verbs and gerunds that he began to grow comfortable in front of a packed audience. After several minutes he had begun employing a most strained variation of his outside voice to get his not-entirely-prompted point across, much to the dismay of an unsuspecting audience and a mortified SNL cast, who all secretly valued this free educative reminder of what a gerund is.
2. February 20, 1988: Returning to NBC Studios two years later, Tom had made a name for himself with such hits as The Money Pit and Dragnet, leading SNL fans to believe he’d take his role as host a bit more seriously. But half an hour into the show, after appearing to have forgotten his lines, Tom turned to the audience to remind them that “whom” is not just a formal version of “who” with apparent irritation. No one in that room will soon forget the sudden materialization of a vein prominently pulsating on Tom’s forehead, especially those for whom Tom’s lesson proved unfamiliar information.
3. October 8, 1988: After allegedly sitting down with Lorne Michaels to discuss his past outbursts, Tom was asked back to the stage to host for a third time in 1988, riding the wave of success following his summer hit Big and the release of his new movie Punchline. Alas, something about the timbre of Kevin Nealon’s voice must have triggered Tom’s instinct to instruct as he rolled in a chalkboard from backstage to confront a somber audience with a needlessly harsh — though much needed — refresher on punctuating appositives.
4. February 17, 1990: Now a household name following the critical acclaim of his recent comedies The ‘Burbs and Turner & Hootch, Tom couldn’t have been more out of line interrupting Weekend Update to deliver a rant on the usage of active versus passive voice in legal agreements if his impassioned speech wasn’t so eloquently worded and perfectly applicable to all of our lives.
5. December 8, 1990: Despite the near past and future flops of Joe Versus The Volcano and The Bonfire of the Vanities respectively, Tom’s comfort as a host of SNL was at its peak at the tail end of 1990 before he dragged a dismayed Rob Schneider onstage during Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ performance of “Woyaho” to remind him that a semicolon is to be used to connect two independent clauses, whereas a colon conjoins two dependent clauses. The ire with which Tom conveys this thought, though, disrupted an otherwise stellar hosting job, and evidently unsettled the rookie Schneider, who has yet to mispunctuate his clauses since the shake-up.
6. May 9, 1992: On the cusp of his unforgettable role in A League of Their Own, Tom managed to further alienate himself from the SNL family when he opted to utilize the scant remainder of his air time to furiously address the issue of present perfect progressive usage during the show’s closing, rather than thanking musical guest Bruce Springsteen. Though the tirade seemed to have no apparent point at the time it occurred, in retrospect it’s indisputable to note the significance of this part of speech when diagramming sentences.
7. September 28, 1996: Sleepless In Seattle, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Toy Story, Philadelphia…Tom was such an unstoppable force by the time he hosted SNL for the seventh time in 1996 that his brief diatribe on m-dashes and hyphens served as a mere blip in an otherwise spotless career. If anything the brief digression was of great benefit to an audience who hasn’t been on the receiving end of such important grammatical lessons since sixth grade.
8. May 6, 2006: Almost ten years since his last crack at hosting the show, Tom may not have been as prolific an actor in 2006 as he was in 1996, but his persistence to purify all linguistic faux pas remained in tact. His hazing of Finesse Mitchell following a scripted split infinitive was clearly unjustified, but as a master of the English language it’s hard not to appreciate the, well, finesse Tom brought that night to educating America on proper usage.
9. October 22, 2016: In a career riddled with grammar-influenced outbursts, few viewers were surprised when Tom spent his opening monologue indignantly lecturing on the difference between italics and quotation marks when citing various mediums of sources, but the force with which he imparted this wisdom on an audience submissive to his sagacity was somewhat unnerving. While most walked away more confident in their writing abilities, many audience members in the first tier of seating won’t soon forget Tom’s grasping them by the shirt collar and shouting “italicize large works; put lesser works in quotations!”