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Larry the Lobster

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Title: Larry the Lobster  
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Subject: Saturday Night Live sketches, Interactive television, Strategery, The Continental (Saturday Night Live), Canteen Boy
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Larry the Lobster

Larry the Lobster, and the 900-numbers that could decide his fate.
Larry The Lobster

was the subject of an April 10, 1982 comedy routine by Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live. In an early example of interactive television, Murphy held Larry, a live lobster, aloft and declared that the show's audience would determine whether he lived or died.

Murphy then read two "900" phone numbers, one for those who wanted to spare Larry, and another for those who wanted to see him cooked. Calls cost $0.50 each.[1] Murphy tended to read the number to save Larry very quickly, as opposed to his giving the number to cook Larry very slowly and clearly.[1] Updates on the voting were given by other cast members over the course of the episode, and in the span of 30 minutes, viewers made nearly 500,000 calls, sending phone traffic soaring.[2]

The heavy phone use stood as a record or near-record for many years.[3] The spike in traffic perplexed AT&T employees, who eventually figured out that the program was responsible.[2]

Though the phone network survived the spike, it was sufficiently threatening to operations that AT&T established communication with the television networks so that they could be warned of potentially disruptive future events; this system remains in use to this day.[2]

Larry was initially spared by about 12,000 votes. 239,096 callers voted to save him and 227,452 voted for him to be boiled.[2]

On the next week's episode during NewsBreak, however, Eddie Murphy raised the subject of Larry the Lobster again, saying that he had received letters protesting the crustacean's treatment the previous week, including one that contained the racist barb "that man is sick, and I thought those people didn't like seafood." Murphy then displayed a boiled lobster on a plate, announced that Larry's stay of execution had been revoked, and ate it while giving some to NewsBreak anchors Brian Doyle-Murray and Christine Ebersole.

This event is cited to this day in discussions of classic comedy routines,[4] cruelty to animals[5] and in rosters of famous animals.[6][7]


  1. ^ a b Transcript at, "Lobster, Shrimp & Crab"
  2. ^ a b c d "Ms. Gauweiler Guards U.S. Phone Network From 'Idol' Threat," Dionne Searcey, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2006; Page A1
  3. ^ "Thousands ring up 900 each day," Mark Lewyn, USA Today, August 29, 1988. pg. 04.B
  4. ^ Interwebia, February 29, 2012
  5. ^ "Cutting Loose the Crustaceans; Whole Foods Stops Selling Live Lobsters," Washington Post, June 17, 2006, page D1
  6. ^ "Famous fauna; Celebrity animals from Bubbles the Chimp to Mike the Headless Chicken," Erin Ryan, The Idaho Statesman, October 3, 2006. THRIVE section, Pg. 12
  7. ^ The Fine Lobster Blog, January 28, 2010
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