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'Saturday Night Live': Origins Of The Sloppy Swish And Mokiki, Explained By Taran Killam

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MOKIKI
Taran Killam explains the origins of "SNL's" Mokiki and the Sloppy Swish. | nbc

On this past week's "Saturday Night Live," a rather strange pre-taped short aired titled "The Legend of Mokiki and the Sloppy Swish." In the segment, Mokiki (played by Taran Killam) does an odd, yet strangely infectious dance called the Sloppy Swish around New York City, which culminates with a flood of green "venom" on host Anne Hathaway's face.

It is one of the most bizarre things to ever air on "SNL," yet, the next day, everyone was talking about the Sloppy Swish. (I swear that I am not making this up: I've already been invited to a Sloppy Swish-themed karaoke party.) Where did the Sloppy Swish come from? Who is Mokiki? Killam took some time out of his hectic "SNL" schedule to answer these pressing questions for us.

So ... the "Sloppy Swish," where does something like that come from?
The move came first. And it was always just sort of a creepy, weird dance move to make people laugh.

How long have you been doing that?
Oh, that's a great question. I would say it probably started in college.

I kind of assumed this was a dance that you've always done, then you made a sketch out of it.
Exactly. And I think that maybe it wasn't a conscious decision from the outright, but as I was writing it, I certainly realized that it wasn't so far removed from a Macarena or Gangnam Style dance craze.

I'm already seeing many, many comparisons to Gangnam Style.
Yeah! So, it's sort of nice that even though we didn't ever necessarily call that specifically, that kind of registered with people. Because there was certainly a thought during the process, but I don't want to claim that was the inspiration. It was just that my favorite things -- my favorite kind of humor -- are dumb, weird things that aren't really commentary on anything. So, you know, obviously I work with very intelligent people who are much smarter and much better at social and political commentary than I am. It was nice that I could [laughs] sort of parlay some in there at the last second. Like, "No, no, no -- there's thought behind this, of course. This isn't just a stupid, crazy dance move that makes me laugh." Which, in truth, is what it is.

But then you had to come up with the Mokiki side of it.
Yeah, yeah. That's really just sort of ... that's just comedy instinct, man! [laughs]. That's just pulling from the gut! -- "Oh, this is a funny sounding word." Then there was a song, which often I would do the move to, which is Manu Chao's "King of the Bongo." If you play them side by side, you'll hear the inspiration, for sure. But I don't think I would have ever wanted to use the song because it already exists. And, creatively, there's more room to add or make jokes or do weird things -- or to leave space to find large wine bottle submarine sculptures in parks that you want to then insert, that you want to cram into the lyrics.

Speaking of, I did like Kenan's role of introducing Manhattan as a tropical island.
If you hear the original song, it really has some of that, as you said, kind of tropical feel. But, Manhattan as an island has always interested me. I think, growing up, New York City -- I never comprehended that it was technically an island. And having lived here the last two and a half years, you do see that it's its own center in many ways. And then, obviously, all of the weather things of late, how quickly we can be isolated. Although, this was written before Sandy happened. The sound and the vibe kind of just went with the style of movement, too. It's not a very poppy move. It is sort of that lazy kind of Rasta rhythm -- although, I think Manu Chao is from France. In terms of wanting to shoot something pre-taped, you know on this show that you're always going to be compared to the legacy that is The Lonely Island guys. Those guys changed the face of the show in a way that I don't know that anybody has one since its creation.

I do feel there has been an evolution of what The Lonely Island did into what we're seeing this season. I think "Sad Mouse" is the first example, but they do feel different than what The Lonely Island did.
Yeah, I think so. I think what happened was The Lonely Island legacy is so strong and distinct -- especially in their comedic tone -- that you would never try to directly replicate that. Or, at least, consciously ever want to try to recreate what those guys do. Just because, in my opinion, they are the best at it. But, I think -- and this is presumptuous of me -- as you said, the show has evolved and it feels like there's a hole without a pre-taped "something" in there. So, we always knew there was a slot to be filled and I like the way the show is kind of sharing that load. You know? And I think that's how it should be. I think you'll get more variety that way. And in terms of "Sloppy Swish," I thought what would be a different look than what The Lonely Island guys had done visually was going out on the street and getting people's reactions to a lunatic.

Speaking of that, not everyone in the short seems pleased about what you're doing.
No, a lot of those people that you don't recognize -- I would say everybody that you don't recognize -- are people that we got on the street. Chris Voss, our digital unit producer, had to chase them down with disclaimers, or whatever.

Did anyone refuse to sign it?
Yeah! Yeah, there were a lot of people who refused to sign. And the areas that we were in, more than anything what we came up against, was people not speaking English -- international tourists who were just like, "I don't understand anything." Whereas the American natives could say, "I don't understand anything" in English. We weren't able to explain it much better to people who spoke English.

At this point, can you tell when something like this is going to go over well once it airs?
No. I have like two and a half years of failed jokes that I know I wouldn't repeat, but I certainly have no comprehension of what definitely works. And the only gauge that I can go by is, "This makes me laugh," and is joyful ... I like to, if possible, do things that people can enjoy and it doesn't take anybody down.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting "venom" to splash into Anne Hathaway's face.
Yeah, you know, it probably starts the question of whenever I do that [dance], people most often say, "What is wrong with you?" So, sitting down to kind of figure out what would be wrong with somebody who spends their life doing this across the city of New York.

I have noticed you re-tweeting a lot of the photos you're being sent of people doing the Sloppy Swish. This is becoming a thing.
It is the highest compliment to see people trying to recreate it. I mean, that's like better than hearing laughter in the studio to see that it sticks with people and that people want to participate. But at the after after-party on Saturday, Seth Meyers said that a buddy of his was at a dance club that night -- the night it aired -- and people were Sloppy Swishing on the dance floor. And that was insane to me.

You started a revolution.
[Laughs] ... Sure.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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