The Unlikely Origin of ‘Saturday Night Live”s ‘Hans and Franz’
On Oct. 17, 1987, Saturday Night Live cast members Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon debuted their bodybuilding duo Hans and Franz. Even though the characters were ostensibly from Austria, they were born in a far more unlikely place.
Carvey and Nealon both joined the SNL lineup in 1986, part of an influx of new, younger talent to uplift the series’ sagging ratings. Both comedians became popular cast members, thanks to such memorable characters as the Church Lady (Carvey) and Mr. Subliminal (Nealon).
The men were also close friends and embarked on a comedy tour together during the break between SNL’s 12th and 13th seasons. It was while on the road that Hans and Franz started taking shape.
“When Dana Carvey and I did our first tour in 1987 after our first year on Saturday Night Live , we were staying at some hotel in Des Moines,” Nealon recalled in 2013. “I was watching Arnold Schwarzenegger on Showtime, they were doing an interview, ‘Up close and personal,’ and were asking him about his routine of the day.” Nealon found himself intrigued by the action star’s description of his routine.
“He said, ‘I check into the hotel and I slip into a nice light cotton shirt then I go out on the town, and I come back to the hotel and I slip into the nice white cotton sheets,’” Nealon explained. “I was watching this and called Dana and said ‘You gotta watch this.’ So we both watched it and for the rest of the tour, we were talking like Arnold. We said we had to come up with a character for next season, and we came up with Hans and Franz watching that in Des Moines.”
From their accents to their muscular physique to their overly macho attitudes, every part of Hans and Franz was an exaggerated characteristic of Schwarzenegger.
The initial sketch had just a simple structure: Speaking directly to the camera, Hans and Franz discussed the importance of a proper warm-up routine and how to pose in the Mr. Universe contest, and they continually voiced their desire to “pump [clap!] you up.”
Watch the First Hans & Franz Sketch on 'SNL'
Hans and Franz would go on to become some of the most popular SNL characters of their era. Schwarzenegger himself was a fan of the duo and even appeared in a sketch with them in 1991.
Carvey left Saturday Night Live in 1993, at which point the bodybuilder characters were retired, though they did return to the SNL stage again in 1994 when Carvey served as the show’s host. At one point, a Hans and Franz film was also in the early stages of production, with Schwarzenegger set to produce and costar. The actor eventually backed out, leaving the movie unmade.
“I think Hans and Franz made Dana and me laugh more than any other characters when we were writing them. It’s funny how something like that will permeate the culture and become pop culture,” Nealon reflected in the book Live From New York. “People need that occasional catchphrase in their life. The coolest thing for Dana and me is that on the space shuttle they were doing Hans and Franz, which was fun.”