Happy Anniversary to SNL’s Happy Fun Ball Skit. Do Not Taunt This Toy

I don’t know about you, but whenever the word “taunt” comes to mind, I think of one thing and one thing only: Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball. Back on Feb. 16, 1991, 32 years ago this week, Saturday Night Live introduced the world to a new toy with uh, mysterious origins.

The NBC sketch comedy show has delivered many hilarious fake commercials over the years — the Amazon Alexa for older people is one of my favorites — but Happy Fun Ball might be the most quotable. 

The parody ad begins simply: An orange ball comes bouncing down the street to the delight of SNL actors playing kids. (Hey, there’s Mike Myers!) The pitch-perfect announcer voice of Phil Hartman (still very much missed) zooms in to plug Happy Fun Ball, the “toy sensation that’s sweeping the nation.” Only $14.95!

Hartman’s selling of the toy is pure Ronco Bass-O-Matic infomercial perfection, but then the warnings start rolling, and this parody commercial goes nuclear.

“Pregnant women, the elderly and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to Happy Fun Ball! Caution: Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds! Happy Fun Ball contains a liquid core which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled or looked at!”

The warnings keep on coming, including an unending list of when you should discontinue use of Happy Fun Ball. (Heart palpitations! Slurred speech! Loss of balance or coordination!)

Then, things get even weirder. “Happy Fun Ball may stick to certain types of skin.” CERTAIN TYPES? Like … human?


Maybe remove your skin before playing with Happy Fun Ball.

Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

When not in use, Hartman calmly tells us, HFB should be kept in a special container, and refrigerated. If you don’t do that, you relieve Wacky Products Incorporated and its unnervingly named parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited, of liability.

Then everything takes a turn into the Twilight Zone. Happy Fun Ball, we learn, contains “an unknown glowing substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.”

But it’s the next line that made this commercial as quotable as Monty Python or The Big Lebowski: “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball,” Hartman warns. Whichever SNL writer chose the word “taunt” should win a Pulitzer Prize for Commercial Parody Screenwriting, once we invent one, because that word, in that context, is perfection. Why would you ever … and what happens if you actually … and … taunt?



Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

Looking back at the Happy Fun Ball ad 32 years later, I marvel at its excellence. Part of the hilarity is that Happy Fun Ball itself is just a plain old ball. It’s only briefly seen in action, but it seems to have no skills other than … bouncing? Like any ball ever?

Yet, in the old infomercial tradition: BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! And “more” isn’t an included set of Ginsu knives, or a buy-one-get-one-free deal, but instead a terrifically delivered, simple and hilarious backstory with a menacing edge that comes completely out of left field. The Happy Fun Ball ad manages to poke fun at infomercials, lengthy medicine warnings and trendy new must-have toys before taking that sci-fi, alien, Welcome to Night Vale/Black Mirror twist. 

Nine months later, the Happy Fun Ball ad had a baby, kind of. Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketch aired in November 1991, and Happy Fun Ball was listed as one of the show’s sponsors. “Still legal in 16 states,” the new sketch touts. 

Thankfully, SNL didn’t run Happy Fun Ball into the ground, as that show’s been known to do with everything from memorable characters to snappy catchphrases. Other than that brief November mention, Happy Fun Ball was one and done. 

But 32 years later, you’d still better not taunt it.

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