Well, maybe not Canteen Boy.
The recurring character — a naive, Cheryl Tiegs-loving Boy Scout who perpetually wore a canteen around his neck — was classic Sandler. “The reason you feel bad for him, and you can laugh is because he, and I guess a lot of my characters, they don’t notice they’re getting made fun of,” the comedian told the Los Angeles Times in 1994.
Throughout Sandler’s tenure on SNL, Canteen Boy would typically show up as an unwelcome guest at neighborhood events or hangouts. The setup allowed hosts, including John Goodman, Jeff Goldblum and Christian Slater, to ruthlessly mock Sandler’s character. But an infamous 1994 sketch featuring Alec Baldwin took a more controversial turn.
It was the weekend before Valentine’s Day, and Baldwin was hosting alongside his then-wife Kim Basinger. The actor appeared as a scoutmaster in a Canteen Boy sketch that put Sandler’s character in a new, but relatively expected setting: a campsite in the woods. Canteen Boy was subject to the usual ridicule — this time, from his fellow Boy Scouts (played by Chris Farley, Jay Mohr and David Spade).
Baldwin’s scout leader, Mr. Armstrong, dismissed the other scouts, but asked Canteen Boy to stay with him near the campfire. “I see you take a lot of ribbing from the other scouts,” he told Canteen Boy.
“Goes with the territory, Mr. Armstrong,” Canteen Boy replied. “Sticks and stones.”
“Attaboy!” Baldwin said, putting his arm around Canteen Boy. Then he turned his head and gave Sandler a longing look, prompting audible groans from the SNL audience.
Previous sketches had established Canteen Boy as an adult — his bullies referenced him having graduated from high school and having been kicked out of the Boy Scouts for being “too old.” But that was all but lost in “Canteen Boy Goes Camping,” which seemed to present him as an actual scout who looked to Baldwin’s character as a mentor.
The implied dynamic renders the sketch increasingly unsettling as Mr. Armstrong makes overt sexual advances, nuzzling Canteen Boy’s neck and stroking his leg. Baldwin rips open his shirt, revealing his bare chest and stomach. “Whoops, my shirt fell off,” he tells a visibly uncomfortable Canteen Boy. The two end up sharing a sleeping bag after Mr. Armstrong intentionally spills wine on Canteen Boy’s bedding. The innuendo and one-sided fondling escalate from there.
The sketch, a mainstay on lists chronicling SNL’s most controversial moments, reportedly angered some viewers. Richard Roeper wrote that he had received calls from several readers of his Chicago Sun-Times column who said they had turned the sketch off halfway through.
“We see nothing funny about child molestation, and are surprised that this unfunny subject would be selected for a comedy sketch,” a rep for the Boy Scouts of America told Roeper. NBC, meanwhile, denied there had been “an abundance of complaints."
Canteen Boy made a brief appearance a few months later during Heather Locklear’s monologue, bumbling about as she gave him a big kiss on the cheek. Later that year, Baldwin devoted his monologue to the controversy when he returned to host SNL’s Dec. 10 episode. “After my fourth time hosting, I wasn’t sure I’d be invited back,” Baldwin cracked.
“Now, even though the character of Canteen Boy is a grown man, a perfectly intelligent 27-year-old, not a child, some people got the wrong idea and, frankly, all hell broke loose” Baldwin told viewers. His run-down of the backlash quickly turned to hyperbole.
NBC had been flooded with angry calls from viewers, Baldwin said, citing an improbably high figure of 300,000. He said the network had lost seven affiliates after the sketch. And, referencing a decidedly more controversial moment in SNL’s history, Baldwin joked that singer Sinead O’Connor had “ripped up a picture of Canteen Boy to deafening cheers at London’s Wembley Stadium.”
None of that was true, of course. But SNL did vaguely acknowledge the strong response to the sketch, now widely referred to as “Canteen Boy and the Scoutmaster,” with a satirical title card that precedes the clip in re-airings and online. It informs viewers that what they are about to see “is based on actual events” and describes Canteen Boy as “a highly intelligent though quite eccentric 27-year-old who still lives with his mother, and who, despite his age, remains active in scouting.”
Sandler left SNL in 1995, just as his movie career was taking off. He has said he was fired under somewhat mysterious circumstances, which might explain why it’s taken him so long to host the show.
Canteen Boy has occasionally resurfaced in the years since. There are clear odes to the character in Sandler’s 1998 comedy “The Waterboy.” And last year, the show alluded to the sketch during a cold open featuring Kate McKinnon as Fox News host Laura Ingraham. Baldwin, who often pops up in the cold open to impersonate the president, had been arrested days earlier and charged with assault following a parking spot dispute.
McKinnon was about to say “live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” but first, Ingraham needed to say goodbye. “When we come back, an update from disgraced former actor Alec Baldwin, seen here molesting a young Boy Scout,” she said, grinning as the show flashed to a photo of Baldwin and Sandler in the 1994 sketch.
Some SNL fans are hoping to see a reprisal of the sketch when Sandler helms the show this weekend — especially since Baldwin could reasonably turn up. One thing working in their favor is the fact that Weekend Update anchor Michael Che, who is one of SNL’s co-head writers, happens to love Canteen Boy.
But Canteen Boy 2019 probably won’t happen. Che, no stranger to SNL controversy, hinted as much while talking about why Canteen Boy is his favorite Adam Sandler sketch in a behind-the-scenes video published to the show’s YouTube channel this week.
“It’s funny as hell,” Che explained. “And also, it’s something that can probably never be done again.”