Saturday Night Live takes a lot of swipes at a lot of different areas of news and pop culture in its episodes, from Jeopardy! to politics to haunted elevator theme park rides. But rare is the sketch that roasts a font, as well as that font's use in marketing for the most financially successful film of all time. That rarity came up in the Season 43 premiere, though, when Blade Runner 2049's Ryan Gosling played a man obsessed with the font Papyrus and its use in Avatar. It wasn't exactly flattering, but Papyrus' original designer Chris Costello apparently loved it.
I woke up this morning, Sunday, and my email was full. I had a lot of people telling me, 'Did you see this Saturday Night Live thing?' I took a look at it and me and my wife were like cracking up, I mean we couldn't stop laughing. It was one of the best things I've seen.
Any unfounded assumptions about font creators not having senses of humor can be tossed into the garbage now, because Chris Costello is someone who's perfectly fine with poking fun at his own design. (Do font creator stereotypes exist?) Given how ridiculous the Saturday Night Live sketch is, it would have been supremely silly for Costello to get angry about it, since it was more directly insulting Avatar's pedestrian font choices, while being largely dismissive of the font itself. Of course, filmmaker James Cameron would probably have a bone to pick with all involved, but there are worse things in life than having a creation be used for comedic fodder by one of TV's longest-running comedy series.
Speaking with CBS News, Chris Costello said he designed the Papyrus font when he was just out of college at 23 years old. While dealing with some of life's inherent struggles, Costello was studying the Bible and had Egypt and the Middle East on his brain; it was then when he made his preliminary jottings that would eventually lead to the official font. Defending the design as well-thought, Costello says he had no clue that it would ever become so popular, and he actually sold the rights to the font for $750 and a small percentage of royalties from its use. In his words:
It was sold to Microsoft, it was sold to Apple...it came packaged with Mac OS. It ended up being a default font set on every computer since 2000. Since that point, it's been on every computer in the world...anybody who has a Mac or Microsoft operating system. With that broad range, that broad appeal, anybody could use it, not just graphic designers. So that's when I began to see it turn up everywhere: mortgage ads, construction logos. It was kind of out of control. It was not my intent to be used for everything -- it's way overused.
As overused as Papyrus may be in many areas, even for theatrical films, that doesn't take away from the inherent curiosity that it became the final choice for Avatar's title design, especially since James Cameron has no limits to the kinds of visual designers and graphic artists that he could partner with. Maybe every last budget dollar went into the 3D lushness, with nothing left to cover the font issue.
Whatever the reason, it eventually led to a fantastic sketch for Saturday Night Live to kick off Season 43 with, and you can watch it in full below.
Saturday Night Live airs every Saturday night on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET, and this weekend's guest host will be Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, with musical guest Sam Smith. Check out why Gadot is nervous about it, and then check out our SNL host rundown to see who's coming next. And for all the other big shows hitting the small screen soon, our fall TV schedule will show you everything that's new and returning.