Oral History of the “More Cowbell” Movie That Never Was.
On April 8, 2000 Christopher Walken hosted Saturday Night Live with musical guest Christina Aguilera, and I viral sketch was born. The sketch is presented as an episode of VH1’s documentary series Behind the Music focusing on the rock band Blue Öyster Cult. In it, the group — Chris Parnell as Eric Bloom, Jimmy Fallon as Albert Bouchard, Chris Kattan as Buck Dharma and Horatio Sanz as Joe Bouchard, respectively — attempt to record their song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, but are constantly interrupted by an overzealous cowbell player, portrayed by Will Ferrell. The sketch became an international hit. Lorne Michaels took notice and commissioned a movie spinoff penned by Ferrell and his long time writing partner, Adam Mckay.
Jimmy Fallon (Albert Bouchard): Oh man, that was just one of those nights. Chris (Parnell) loved classic music and pitched this thing and most of us were like “Uhhhh this is kind of out there.”
Horatio Sanz (Joe Bouchard):It was Parnell’s idea. I had never heard of Blue Oyster Cult or whatever but we were all, “I dunno this seems kind of out there.”
Chris Parnell (Eric Bloom): It definitely was out there but that’s what I wanted. Sometimes the best comedy is edgy. Sometimes it’s safe. I was thinking, what if we’re safe AND edgy? It was definitely a risk. It totally didn’t work in dress rehearsal.
JF: Uhhhhh it bombed in dress rehearsal.
HS: Did it work in dress rehearsal?? [expletive] no!
Will Ferrell: I mean sure it was out there. But I really wanted it to work. When it didn’t go well in dress rehearsal, I felt like it was on me.
Lorne Michaels, Executive Producer/Creator of Saturday Night Live: No. It did not go well in dress rehearsal but I wasn’t worried. That’s show business. We had nothing else on the table so “Recording Session” had to work. I turned to Paul (Simon) and just gave a look, and he gave a look back, and then I turned to Paul (McCartney) and gave a look.
WF: The clock was ticking and we didn’t know what to do. Finally I get an idea. I asked wardrobe to get me a shirt one size smaller. She asked, “Are you sure?” I said, “No, but it’s all we’ve got.”
JF: All of sudden. Will is putting on a different shirt and we’re all like “Okkaayyyy….something is happening.”
CP: It was like a blur but also slowmotion. We knew it was going well but we had no idea that we had something big on our hands.
HS: I mean…his shirt kept coming riding up… because it was too small.
JF: That shirt being too small… yeah that was it. That’s all it took.
CP: That shirt was so small!
WF: I was just happy we got the sketch to work. I should’ve kept that shirt.
Christopher Walken (Bruce Dickinson): I had no idea what was happening.
LM: I was happy with it. People seemed to like it. So naturally, we thought it could be a movie. So I asked Adam (Mckay) and Will (Ferrell) to write one.
Adam Mckay, former SNL writer, director: Lorne gave us 30 days. The script came to us in one. Basically it would be set in 1976 and Blue Oyster Cult is about to play one last concert but the cowbell goes missing. Turns out it was stolen by the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia), and BOC has to go find it. Each scene, though, we have Will in smaller and smaller shirts. It was going to be called “Even More Cowbell.” I wanted it to be an allegory for the banking industry and how it relates to American “exceptionalism.”
LM: The script was good…not great. Chris (Walken) had signed on. Drew (Barrymore) was thinking about it. But we forgot to check with the actual Blue Oyster Cult. They were not a fan of the sketch and they say it ruined their concerts. People would just shout “More Cowbell” no matter song they were playing. Legal wouldn’t let us make it, so it died. That’s show business.
AM: I understood but was mad. I wrote a letter to the band pleading with them and they sent back a really nice “cease and desist” letter.
WF: It would’ve been fun but what can you do. At least we got to do the sketch.
CW: To this day, people say the same two things to me every day. 1) “More Cowbell” and 2) “What happened to Natalie Wood?”
JF: I’ll never forget Will’s shirt.
HS: Will’s shirt…man you dream of comedy moments like that.
CP: Of course I was proud of the sketch I wrote, but I didn’t write Will’s shirt. So great.
WF: I always wonder how differently my career would’ve been without that sketch, and I realize it would probably be pretty similar. Most likely the same. But it’s fun to think about.
Editor’s Note: We forgot to reach out to Chris Kattan for comment.