S.O.S.N.L. The Summer of Starmaker

ALL RISE FOR THE STARMAKER HOME VIDEO NATIONAL ANTHEM…

Welcome to the Summer ‘17 annex of S.O.S.N.L.; this section is dedicated to sketches that appear on the “Starmaker Home Video” SNL releases that were big in the 1990s. Before you read anything, here’s a quick recap of the rules:

1. ALL Sketches featured will come From Starmaker’s cuts only; they did not put on Entire episodes, so the choices for the sketches featured will be intentionally limited.

 

2. The Order of Tapes we go in will be as follows:

*“Annual” tapes (1975-1994) first.
*Then “Host” Tapes (in Alphabetical Order by Last Name).
*Then we take a Week Off so I can focus on something over on the Main Page.
*Then, we resume with the “Classic Years” tapes.
*Finally the “Special Edition” tapes.

 

3. Unlike S.O.S.N.L. which features continuous updates at the top of the page, this page’s updates will be in “Descending” order—in other words, you have to Keep Scrolling Down to see something new the next day.

 

4. Once we cover the final sketch on Sept. 29th, this page will NEVER update again…consider this something I wanted to get out of my system.

 

So, on that note, let’s begin…


THE ANNUAL TAPES


STAR 75

We begin with the 1975 “annual” tape; and with it, some of SNL’s first episodes. But before we get to the actual sketch, I should point out that when I first got this tape, I was slightly disappointed that the Very first episode with George Carlin was not one of the ones included…but in the passing years, I realized that maybe it was all for the best that the first 3 shows were not included here. More so, it actually seemed fitting that the first show they show on the tape was Episode 4 with Candice Bergen—partly because in Shales/Miller, a number of people (including Lorne) were quoted to saying how the Bergen episode was probably the first time the show went through what is now it’s “Normal” format. Carlin’s show got all the nerves out of the system, Paul Simon’s show the week after was about 80% musical performances, and Rob Reiner’s show was hampered with bad/overstretched timing. So to that respect, yes, I see why the Starmaker people decided to lead off with Bergen, Lily Tomlin & Richard Pryor’s episodes. With that said…

FORD

PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CONFERENCE (Original Airdate: 11/8/1975) – There were a number of firsts during this first season, but we begin with some of the show’s most important ones—the origins of political humor, and of Chevy Chase’s “Non-Impression” impression of President Gerald Ford. For the record, I can only KINDA see what was so funny about this back in the day—after all, it was making fun of a then recent incident when the real Ford slipped on some wet stairs while exiting Air Force One. But then, SNL took the ball & ran with it (oh wait, it’s ’75, I guess that should be “NBCsSN”…which also explains the joke about Harvey Cosell” Chevy makes, but that’s another can of worms for the future). It was at that point that they came up with yet another first; that of an idea they would eventually pound into the ground until people were sick of it (Not counting “The Bees”, nobody liked them anyway). Eventually, they would learn to be a little more creative with their openings after Chevy left a year later, but back then I’m sure the show and the audience was still trying to find a natural rhythm that both would be in tune with.


Continuing with the Lily Tomlin episode, there was surprisingly very little to use. We already did a Chevy as Ford/Fall sketch, We hardly ever do the monologues, there’s an Update segment, some commercial parodies, and the show ends with a “Bees” musical number. So by process of Elimination, here is/are the Only sketch(es) from Starmaker’s cut that meet our standards…

BEETHOVEN

BEETHOVEN (Original Airdate: 11/22/1975) – If I’m not mistaken, these sketches mark the first time the show had what’s called a “runner sketch” (or as I call it, a “3-Pack”). I don’t want to say this is the forefather to the “MacGruber” sketches decades later, but they dynamic is there; one concept done 3 times in a show with each installment trying to one-up the last. Beethoven (Belushi) is having trouble coming up with his next symphony while his wives and/or chambermaids (Gilda & Laraine) check in on him periodically; Afterwards, Beethoven comes up with a piece of music that happens to be a little ahead of its time…like 200 years ahead. You don’t see the first one on the Starmaker tape, because the first song Beethoven plays is Tony Orlando’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, and I’m certain Starmaker couldn’t afford the astronomical licensing fees to use Mr. Orlando’s music (I assume…doesn’t his house constantly need saving?—you thought I was gonna use the “Simpsons” joke, didn’t ‘ya.). However, we do get parts 2 & 3 where the punchlines are The Temptations’ “My Girl”, and Ray Charles’ “What I Say”—I guess Motown Records was having a Fire Sale in the 90s. Anyway, Like many of the show’s first sketches, the concept couldn’t be any more bare bones. But as time went on, the “3-Pack” sketches would become more refined, tighter, and have an even bigger payoff once we saw that 3rd act.


One of the downsides of talking about the sketches on the Starmaker tapes is that they often filled them with “THE” sketches. Ones that many of us know by heart, ones that have been analyzed to death, ones if/when our Commander-in-Tweet ever pushes the wrong button and our charred remains are discovered by aliens centuries later, these sketches will probably become a part of their metal tablet encyclopedias (I assume). Having said that, I might as well add my Two cents on one of SNL’s earliest iconic sketches…

WORD

WORD ASSOCIATION (Original Airdate: 12/13/1975) – Several years ago, NBC & SNL decided to re-open a weekly broadcast of a classic episode of the show. However, this wasn’t the same as the “Classic SNL” they aired at 3 in the morning; this aired in primetime under the banner name “SNL Vintage”. What makes these re-runs different from the other ones is the opening bumper they would use to introduce the episode; they would list the show we were about to watch, followed by a small text of historical significance related to the episode. I bring this up because Richard Pryor’s episode was the first one they aired under the “Vintage” name, and their “Historical Text” mentioned that there was going to be certain language in the episode that may be politically incorrect in this day & age, but then goes on to say something along the lines of “Things were different in the 70s”. If you haven’t already guessed by now that I’m talking about use of the N-Word in this sketch, you probably should’ve read more textbooks in school. Disregarding that one moment (which, BTW, might’ve been the reason NBC looked for a “7 second Delay” in this episode), this sketch still remains highly significant in the world of comedy. What I feel is the most interesting part of the sketch aside from the escalading comedy/tension between Pryor & Chevy, was the fact that this sketch was actually written by someone who wasn’t on the Writing Staff; so we have another first I think, the first “Guest Writer” sketch. Not just any Writer, but the one & only Mr. Paul Mooney—who would collaborate with Pryor for many years, and then a few years later would introduce himself all over again thanks to “Chappelle’s Show” (To say nothing about his writing for “In Living Color” and his long & storied career in Stand-up). This sketch also solidified an important rule for SNL, that every once in a while it’s OK to not only “push the envelope” in terms of content, but also that it’s OK to take that envelope and run it through a Paper Shredder…as long as they don’t do it 100% of the time.


STAR 76

Moving on to 1976, but still in Season 1…But first, a little explanation. As you can see, the cover of this tape box is a little different than the ones we are going to be using through the rest of the summer. Although “Starmaker” was responsible for the release of SNL tapes in Retail stores, a year or so earlier you could ONLY get the videos through everybody’s favorite Mail-Order service before Guthy-Renker came along, Time-Life Video. This doesn’t change the fact that the shows on Those Tapes are the exact same as the ones on the Starmaker tapes, but I wanted to bring that up in case I couldn’t find a Specific Starmaker title, and anybody had any questions about it later on. Now that we got That out of the way; At this point in the series, The show has now found its identity, but there was still a little fine tuning to be had. Fortunately, there are still moments in the Early days that are worth talking about…

GODFATHER

GODFATHER THERAPY SESSION (Original Airdate: 1/10/1976) – I know, I know, it’s another “Iconic” sketch that everybody has talked about to death; But sometimes you have to watch things with & without Nostalgia Goggles in order to fully appreciate something. I mention this because even though this is one of Belushi’s early signature pieces, the thing few people notice about it is that the actual “Godfather” aspect of the sketch is only around for half of its running time. After Belushi does his take on Don Corleone’s “Orange” death, there’s still about 3 minutes left in the sketch with Belushi dead on the floor. Thus leading to (possibly) another first; that of the sketch that lasts a lot longer than it should’ve, when in theory, the sketch should’ve just stopped right there. But nope, it goes on for a few more minutes with the group (Including Laraine Newman’s “Sherry”; or as I call her, “The Original Californian”) analyzing what they just saw in a somewhat frank manner. This was one of the early hallmarks of writer Michael O’Donoghue’s fabled “Dark” humor; yet compared to the stuff he wrote for the National Lampoon & later his “Mondo Video”, this is actually kinda tame in comparison—but then again, this Is network television Mr. Mike is writing for, you can’t freak too many people out all at once.


MECHANIC

MECHANIC’S BEDTIME STORY (Original Airdate: 1/17/1976) – While I promise to get to an actual sketch with Buck Henry in it when I cover his Starmaker tape in a few weeks, I wanted to focus on Cast-driven sketches in the “Annuals” just to show how much has changed over time. Take for instance, the “Slice of Life” sketches that would appear in the first 5 years—I’m not sure who wrote this one; but when in doubt, I’ll pin it on longtime writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller who probably wrote slices of life better than anybody else on the show (Though please correct me if she didn’t do this one…now that I think about it, this could also be a Rosie Shuster or Anne Beats piece). Sketches like these are not overtly “funny”, but they do give the audience a sense of “Oh yeah, I’ve been there”. In this case, I can only imagine how many mechanic friends of mine who have children try to peel away from their gruff exteriors in order to become more nurturing for them. Such is the case when Aykroyd just put in a long day of work, but is then talked into telling his young daughter (Gilda) a bedtime story; only using mechanic’s jargon to help tell it—and considering Aykroyd has been known it be a bit of a gearhead, the descriptions in his story come in handy in making it sound relatable. Like many slice of life sketches—especially ones where Gilda plays a child—it’s cute, innocent & harmless, especially considering the era. Something that I could Also say for our next sketch…


SLUMBER

SLUMBER PARTY (Original Airdate: 5/8/1976) – Not unlike the “Mechanic” sketch, this too is a slice of life (one that I can actually CONFIRM was written by Marilyn Suzanne Miller), only this time the subject matter is amped up a little despite the otherwise innocent scene. The female cast is joined by (host) Madeline Kahn, where they portray a gaggle of girls trying to understand “The Birds & The Bees”. Again, at some point in our young lives (male or female) we’ve all been there—trying to figure out what it’s all about before we reach a certain age. You know those old stories about The Stork dropping a Diamond into a Cabbage Patch, and then that Cabbage is molded into a Bun that’s baked in an oven, and then suddenly a Baby is born? It’s pretty much Those kind of stories—only actual sexual mechanical terms are being implied without being overtly said. Remember, even though it was Late Night TV, it was Still the 70s. Chances are, the word “Penis” would’ve caused 30 Rock to implode back then. So with that, the content had to be implied instead of expressed. Otherwise, thanks to 40+ years of hindsight, this too is comparatively innocent in this day & age. Still though, it’s pretty harmless compared to what we frequently see on the show today—ESPECIALLY in recent years.


STAR 77

Moving on to the 1977 tape; Chevy’s out, Murray’s in, and “NBC’s Saturday Night” loses its “NBC” training wheels (though they wouldn’t add the “Live” until much later in the ’76-’77 season). Speaking Murray, that’s our subject for today…

MURRAY

BILL MURRAY’S APOLOGY (Original Airdate: 3/19/1977) – Of all the “Iconic” moments the show has had, this one is probably the most “Personal” ever put together. At the same time, it’s also something that could’ve ONLY worked with a person like Bill Murray—others have tried to have a similar moment to this in years since, but they all pale in comparison to the true sincerity & vulnerability that Murray expresses here under the guise that he’s “not making it” on the show after coming on mid-season to Replace Chevy. He does so by doing something that would seem rather alien to audiences today, he—GASP—talks about himself. He does so in a way that reminds people that those who are cast members (ESPECIALLY those from the first 5 years) are not 100% “Stars of the Show”—at least, not yet. Murray’s star was certainly going to be on the rise at some point; but remember, he was actually playing catch-up with all of the other cast—who by Season 2 were already well established; and with Chevy gone, each of them had their own chance to grab the title of “Star”. Murray’s sincerity may not have made him a Star overnight (I think “Nick the Lounge Singer” did that for him), but him giving the audience a chance to look into a more human side of Television was just as important—and that ultimately made Murray one of the more “Approachable” not ready for prime-time players (just ask him each time he tends a neighborhood bar for charity)


OVAL

AN OVAL OFFICE (Original Airdate: 4/9/1977) – First thing’s first, let me give you a few minutes to read up on who Julian Bond was, I’ll wait…………..Y’Ready?……….OK, let’s continue. At this point in the series, Political humor only started to bloom—we had yet to see how mighty an Oak it would be decades later. So for the most part, sketches where we see the doings of what the President (any president) is up to is less about political humor, and is more “Slice of Life-y” than it lets on. Take for instance, this occasion where President Carter (Aykroyd) is meeting up with his home state’s fellow politicos (Garrett as one, and the late Julian Bond essentially playing himself). Garrett & Bond try to convince Aykroyd’s Carter to focus less on international issues, and more on the domestic ones. But while they try to get the President to focus, Carter tries to distract them with some home-state reminiscing—including showing of a model of his childhood home…made from Peanut Shells. This seems like a complete 180 from the Carter portrayed a few weeks earlier in “Ask President Carter”; Aykroyd takes his Carter from “Detailed Genius” to “Homesick Hillbilly” in a speed fast enough to give you whiplash. Then again, considering the Real Carter was a little too hard to pinpoint during the first few months of his presidency, the show might’ve had a little trouble in figuring out how to play him in the years ahead. On the other hand, at least Aykroyd’s Carter was Far more accurate than Chevy’s Ford ANY Day of the week despite not having anything distinctive about him aside from his voice. I mean, think about it; Ford fell down, Reagan was doddering, Bush Sr. said “Nah Gah Dah”, Clinton chased the skirts, Bush Jr. was an Idiot. Carter (along with Both Portrayals of Obama, and possibly Mike Pence in 2019) was probably the least impactful Presidential impression the show has had…so far.


This next episode is going to mark one of a number of times where the episode will actually repeat on varying Starmaker tapes somewhere down the line; some of the other volumes may have More of the episode to show, so that’s why it’s OK to do one sketch now and another one later. With that said; here is the first of MANY Steve Martin sketches…

PLUG

PLUG (Original Airdate: 2/26/1977) – I know I said I was going to focus on “ensemble” sketches before focusing on Host moments later on; but it’s almost impossible to not talk about how Steve just fit in with everybody else over time—why else would he be considered an “Honorary Cast Member” after so many years? A piece like “Plug” was an early example of just how indispensable Steve would be no matter which era of the show he finds himself in. Steve plays a doctor alerting the parents (Jane & Bill) of their comatose child (Belushi) that there is virtually no hope of revival, and that the machines keeping Belushi alive are costing a fortune. So, the option of Pulling the plug on him is brought up. Jane is aghast about doing it, but Dr. Steve & Bill consider doing it in a way that is both dignified, yet casual—“accidentally”, they say. What follows is about a minute of Physical comedy that even Carol Burnett would be proud of, as Dr. Steve & Bill just can’t seem to unplug the plug in spite of getting tangled up in various cords. Belushi eventually gets out of the coma, and then gives a performance I can only call a cross between Louis CK and a 10 year old boy (or maybe Louie as a 10 year old). Cap it off with Steve’s trademark “EXCUUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSE MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”, and you pretty much have a “textbook” SNL sketch; one that have seen a number of variants over the years—that of the “Bad Doctor” sketch. Of course, the doctors portrayed in sketches would only get worse over time; but then again, you have to evolve in order to survive, right?


1978, Y’all!

STAR 78

The second half of Season 3 was the point in the show’s history when everything Really came  together with one iconic moment after another; and what better place for Starmaker to start this year than with Robert Klein (who also hosted one of the first shows). There were a number of Iconic moments in this episode alone; from the first “Olympia Restaurant”, to Bill Murray singing the “Star Wars” theme as “Nick the Lounge Singer”, to one of Roseanne Rosannadanna’s first commentaries on “Update”. Despite the classic factor reaching Critical mass this year and this episode, there were also some elements lost in the shuffle…

TURNER

ROCK CONCERT (Original Airdate: 1/28/1978) – Noteworthy for a number of things; First being this was one of the first times Paul Shaffer appeared on camera as a Sketch performer instead of just being featured with the rest of Howard Shore’s band. Shaffer is playing Music Mogul/TV show host Don Kirshner, whose “Rock Concert” program in the early to late 70s was appointment viewing…whenever “The Midnight Special” was a re-run—and yes, that clip would be a good time to compare/contrast. Because next, we have Garrett in probably one of his more thankless roles playing Tina Turner—on the one hand, I’ve never been a fan of men dressing in Drag (with some RARE exceptions), but on the other hand; Damn if Garrett doesn’t give his All here. As if that wasn’t enough, this is also one of “Mr. Mike’s Least Loved Bedtime Tales” in disguise, in addition to working in near-perfect harmony with Garrett getting down with his bad self—and I have to give O’Donoghue some bonus points for pulling rabbits out of his guitar in a nonchalant way while Garrett & “The Mikettes” (the Female cast dressed in “Mr. Mike” gear) do their thing. Watching a piece like this open a show gives me mixed emotions—on one side, it’s always nice to see something full of energy and Non-Political/topical be the piece that starts the show. On the other hand, it feels like FOR-EV-ER since a piece opened the show that had nothing to do with anything in the news. Nature of the beast, I guess; but once in a while, it would be nice if SNL threw a curveball like that our way instead of sticking musical performances in the Monologue.


OK Boys & Girls……We have reached the first of several bits of “Hallowed Ground” this summer. What is said to be the single Greatest SNL Episode of All Time—at least according to one guy’s book. If I were to mention the date of April 22nd, 1978 to you; I would anticipate a Flood of responses as to the date’s significance. It was on this day when Steve Martin hosted his 3rd show in the same season (his 5th overall at that point, making him one of the charter members of the “5 Timer’s Club” well before it became an actual thing years later—I Believe Buck Henry was the first to make it to 5, BTW). And while there were a number of great moments in comedy history on this episode, it is also an episode that appears on Martin’s “Host” tape, so we’ll get to dive into this episode a 2nd time later. For now, here is not only one of my All-Time favorite SNL moments; but one that’s going to require a little jump ahead in time just to jump back again…

DANCER

DANCER IN THE DARK (Original Airdate: 4/22/1978) – I’ve said this (or at least variations of it) a number of times; things don’t have to be “Funny” in order for them to be “Memorable”, and I give you “People’s Exhibit B” to the claim (Exhibit A being “Love is a Dream”, but I digress). The set-up and the scene could not be a simpler one. Steve is alone at a Bar while everybody has a good time around him; he lights up a cigarette when suddenly, he spots an object of his affection—Gilda. A fantasy forms between the two that (in hindsight) looks to emulate part of the “Dancing Cavalier” number from “Singing in the Rain”. The piece is performed with great care & precision between Steve & Gilda, but because we can’t forget this is a comedy show, they also move around in spastic ways sometimes—which actually helps cut the dramatic tension between the two as they perform. The scene ultimately culminates with Steve trying desperately to carry Gilda back to her seat—sometimes in incredibly awkward ways—only for the fantasy to come to an end, and life resumes as normal. As you can see in the enclosed video, this was not the original broadcast of this sketch—but rather a broadcast of the sketch that aired the day Gilda Radner passed away in 1989 (Geez, has it been that long?). But no matter when or where this sketch is being seen, the fact remains that SNL does not always Have to be “Funny” in order to make a lasting impact on the audience. Sometimes you just need to take a break from laughing, and this particular sketch is one of those times where you really need to take in your surroundings so to speak. “Dancer” has so much atmosphere, that at times it feels like you’re watching a small dramatic play instead of a comedy show—and that’s OK sometimes. I’m the kind of person who feels if you’re bombarded with one thing 100% of the time, it gets boring after a while; the same thing applies for Comedy—sure, it’s good to laugh, but sometimes you need a breather once in a blue moon…your mileage may vary.


Next up is Richard Dreyfus’ episode; and with it comes the odd coincidence that 90% of the sketches that are featured in Starmaker’s cut either have to do with “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind”, UFOs in General, Dreyfus’ Oscar win that year, Recurring characters or a combination of the aforementioned…So, by Default, let’s talk about the ONLY sketch on this episode’s cut that has Nothing to do with Any of that.

PARAQUAT

PARAQUAT (Original Airdate: 5/13/1978) – For those unfamiliar, Paraquat was an herbicide that was dusted on certain strains of Marijuana back in the 70s; and was also alleged to have caused lung damage if one were to smoke weed that was treated with the chemical……of course, this was back in the day when Weed was Still considered a “Bad” thing, but what did we know? (don’t look at me, I was born in the 80s, we had our own drug problems) In the sketch, Belushi & Gilda are Mexican Mary-Jane farmers who hustle to harvest their crop after a duster plane drops Paraquat all over the fields. From there, Dan Aykroyd gives probably one of his most breathless voice over performances on the show as he describes—in both rapid and specific detail—what happened to that load of weed after it got dusted. What makes this particularly interesting is that this is probably one of the rare times when SNL is actually (*GASP*) Educational. Partly because all of the subsequent Busts Aykroyd is rattling on about are very much a reality—100 tons of Ganja from Mexico could just as easily turn into Several pounds by the time it reaches its final destination…which in this case happens to be 30 Rock where Bill Murray gets a hit from SNL band member Buddy Williams, and then suddenly goes into convulsions when he takes a puff. This wasn’t a particularly “Funny” sketch, but sometimes I’ll feature a sketch as sort of a “Time Capsule” of what was happening in the news at the time (Seriously, before I mentioned it just now, how many of you have even HEARD of Paraquat? Damn auto-correct would probably have you looking up the Parquet floor where the Celtics play).


STAR 79

On to 1979 (or to be specific, the 2nd half of Season 4), The Cast is at its peak, the comedy is more “out there”, and they either throw just about everything against the wall to see what sticks; or they go balls to said wall and give it all they got. And since the day I’m posting this sketch happens to be “Canada Day”, who better to wave the flag than one of that country’s greatest performers (Although officially she was born in Detroit, the city of Windsor, ON was just across Lake Michigan, so what the hell, she’s an Honorary Canadian to me)…

YEAST

ROCK AGAINST YEAST (Original Airdate: 2/17/1979) – We begin with a crowded greenroom at the concert where Paul Shaffer’s Don Kirshner and Bill Murray as record promoter Jerry Aldini are mingling with a who’s who of impressions; Laraine as Olivia Newton-John, Jane as Dolly Parton, Garrett as a Bob Marley who lived a lot longer than the actual one, and Dan & John as a pair of “Elvi”–We also have host Rick Nelson in the mix; but he doesn’t really add too much to it, nor does he fit in very well—Seriously, it’s like placing Donny Osmond in the middle of a group of GWAR fans. All of these brief impressions pale in comparison to the unquestionable highlight of the sketch, Gilda as her Patti Smith homage “Candy Slice”; whose “Gimmie Mick” figuratively brings the house down, and is probably one of her best performances ever. One of the great things about the show’s first 5 years is their ability to do whatever they felt like doing regardless of conceptual boundaries. That creativity reached a fever pitch around the back-end of season 4, as a few “High Concept” sketches began to make their mark. This sketch involving the behind-the-scenes/on-stage action at a benefit concert to help stamp out Yeast Infections might’ve been the forerunner to “This is Spinal Tap”, “A Mighty Wind”, or possibly a response to the recently aired “The Ruttles: All You Need is Cash”—There was fertile ground for the “Mockumentary” to grow, and (if you pardon a horrible pun) “Yeast” helped the creative loaf of bread to rise…………I’ll pun-ish myself later. The one thing about it that sticks out like a sore thumb aside from Nelson’s awkward appearance is the rampant use of Cocaine being consumed by everybody throughout the sketch; Yes, it’s a sign of the times, and the 70s music scene would be incomplete without it. But compared to a much cleaner scene today, it sort of adds an extra layer of grime. Nevertheless, this is just one of many examples of the show trying to capture a snapshot of what was hip/relevant back in the day; and despite the coke use, it still holds up.


Probably since Day one, Recurring characters have come and gone on the show. But then there are times when something comes along that strikes the right chord with the audience (more or less), only to never be seen again. It honestly amazes me that this was done only once, but then again the star of the sketch was just about to leave…

GARVIN

FRED GARVIN: MALE PROSTITUTE (Original Airdate: 3/17/1979) – As the story goes in Shales/Miller, Dan Aykroyd & writer Rosie Shuster came up with this sketch while the two were dating at the time. Aykroyd did a number of patently un-sexy “seductive” poses for Shuster while using his—shall we say—Canadianity to help “enhance” (?) them. The routine was too awkwardly amusing for it not to be a sketch, so here we are as Aykroyd tries to put the same moves on (host) Margot Kidder; Aykroyd performs the character in a way that Norm MacDonald once described in an unrelated “Update” joke as “The Merger between Geeks & Nerds”…it goes just about as well as you think it does. What makes this sketch particularly endearing isn’t so much the content itself, but rather that Aykroyd really believed in the character; even going so far as to saying that it was one of his personal favorite things he ever did on the show. So much so, that when Aykroyd FINALLY hosted in 2003, there was supposed to be a follow-up to the sketch (at least according to some now-defunct sources), but for whatever reason the sketch was cut. I honestly never really got it, But more power to Aykroyd if it’s his favorite. Also out of curiosity, Is it me or should Aykroyd have sued the hell out of Rob Schneider six-ways-to-Sunday by now because “Deuce Bigalow” is pretty much the same thing, only dirtier? Just sayin’.


It’s time for another “By Default” selection. As much as I enjoyed Richard Benjamin’s 1979 appearance, there are too few sketches to choose from on Starmaker’s cut, and the sketches themselves are disqualified for various reasons. I’ve already talked about “The Pepsi Syndrome” on the Movie Parodies list, The “Nerds” sketch falls under the recurring category, “Little Chocolate Donuts” was a commercial I already covered on the Sports Sketches list, and we can already rule out the Monologue. So, we’re stuck with the last of the bunch…

SUBSTITUTE

SUBSTITUTE BELUSHI (Original Airdate: 4/7/1979) – (No Video/Transcript available) The premise of the sketch is that Belushi couldn’t show up that week because of an ear infection; though truth be told, I think the REAL reason was because he was out filming scenes for “1941” which would come out later that Christmas…but I digress. The “Substitute” for Belushi arrives via the NBC Utility Pool, and is played by a voiceover legend—Marvin Goldhar. If you watch this sketch, you’ll immediately think “Gee, that voice sounds familiar”. That’s because his work spanned about 40 years worth of programs like the 1980s Star Wars cartoons (Particularly “Ewoks” and “Droids”), the Care Bears, ALF, The Magic School Bus, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, and The Raccoons—which, BTW, gives me total justification to play this song now—in addition to his voiceover work, he was probably one of the most durable character actors of the past few years…”Was”, because Goldhar passed away in 2002. Goldhar plays Not!Belushi much to Aykroyd’s surprise; so Danny gives Not!Belushi some pointers on how to emulate the real deal—for the most part, Goldhar’s mimicry was alright; from the fake Japanese of the “Samurai” to a particularly verbose “BUT NOOOOOOOOOooooooOOOOOOO!!”—To my knowledge, I think this also marked the first time (but not the last) an active Cast Member has been impersonated on the show; so thank you, Marvin Goldhar for chipping off a piece of TV history.


STAR 80

It’s now 1980; and despite the burnout that the remaining cast experiences during the final season of the “Original” show, they still manage to do things that are high concept—or in the case of this next sketch, some elements that are loaded with hindsight.

DEBS

DEBS BEHIND BARS (Original Airdate: 1/26/1980) – Take 1970s “Women in Prison” exploitation movies, add Ivy League/Blue Blooded cons, serve warm. This was one of those sketches I watched over & over, not because it was overtly “funny” per se, but because I wanted to try and understand what exactly the sketch was about aside from said debutantes (or “Debs”) being imprisoned; I mean it, too, they never expressly say WHY Jane, Gilda and (host) Teri Garr are imprisoned—they just are. Maybe because the writer pool at SNL has always been NOTORIOUSLY Slanted toward the Ivy League (coughHARVARDcough), that perhaps whoever wrote this probably did so for himself instead of for the audience he was trying to cater to—How else can I STILL “Not Get it” to this day. Not that there weren’t a few moments worth writing about—The Girls do play convincing blue bloods, Garrett in Drag is always a boost, and we even get a minor blooper from Laraine as Gloria Vanderbilt as one of her earrings fall off. But now, about that hindsight—Early in the sketch, the girls complain about when they expect parole for (INSERT CRIME HERE). Garr makes a passing joke about how they are going to make progress when “George Bush is President”. Some people forget that Bush Sr. actually ran for President in 1980 before ultimately becoming Reagan’s running mate, and then eventually President 8 years later…I know this is just a sketch, but that one line raises SO MANY QUESTIONS. Were the Girls’ sentences reduced when Bush became VP? Did they get released when Bush was sworn in in ’89? Does this mean Gilda’s character died in Prison because the real Gilda died 5 months after Bush was Inaugurated? Sadly, we’ll never know—but then again, since most Blue-blooded White Collar crimes tend to be treated with different kinds of care, maybe the girls got transferred to a “Club Fed” type facility to run out the rest of their sentences (It worked for Martha Stewart; and now she’s BFF’s with Snoop Dogg…what a world we live in). Anyway, like most of the “High Concept” sketches that aired during this year, there was a 50/50 chance of them working—this one didn’t, but the next sketch I’m going to cover was a masterpiece (strictly in comparison).


We now turn to the Century Man himself, Mr. Kirk Douglas—as well as another all-time favorite of mine.

DENTIST

THE MICRO-DENTISTS (Original Airdate: 2/23/1980) – (No Video/Transcript available…I blame “Battlestar Galactica” for that since the sketch uses their theme song in certain parts…but I digress) Hoo boy, where to begin on this one? First of all, it’s yet another “High Concept” sketch; a team of military dentists are shrunk down so they can work on the mouth of Egypt President Anwar Sadat (Garrett), and for the most part this is pretty much a mini-movie not unlike other “Lengthy” sketches—I.e. “The Pepsi Syndrome”…and, quite honestly, that’s all I really need to say about the sketch other than it’s a pretty solid story more or less, with some decent Special & Practical effects for Early 80s Live TV. But what I REALLY want to talk about are some behind the scenes bits regarding this sketch that I read about in Shales/Miller, and this has to do with Harry Shearer’s mis-use on the show. Supposedly, Shearer had impersonated Sadat a number of times either on TV or on his NPR radio shows—yet, it’s Garrett playing Sadat in this case. This apparently drove Shearer nuts to the point that he was complaining to Lorne about how his Sadat was better than Garrett’s but there wasn’t really much to be done about it—Especially considering it might’ve been in bad taste for a White guy to play a Black guy…like that’s ever stopped them since. To add insult to injury, just a few seconds before the sketch airs, Garrett asks Shearer what Sadat sounds like—I’ll let that speak for itself. Also of note; probably one of my favorite underappreciated running gags; Bill Murray singing an over-the top song at the end—it was ALWAYS the same melody & tune, and it really gives it a “B-Movie” feel to the sketch. On top of that, we’ve got an “Intentional” technical difficulty in the sketch; which is also where the sketch becomes a Hot Mess despite its creative strengths. Gilda & Jane are telling the viewers point-blank why you won’t be seeing a certain Special effect near the end of the sketch—and then for reasons known only to them, they start giggling and keep doing so for about a solid minute; lord only knows why, but I would prefer to think of that part as a “Forced Blooper”, nothing I’d put on a list. Regardless of that flat tire; this was just one of a number of times during Season 5 where you could tell that there wasn’t much time left for everybody, so why not do some of these extra long, high concept sketches while they can. I can think of at least half a dozen more that aired during this time—and while some were hit or miss, at least they cranked the effort to 11.


Moving on now to the Final episode with the Original Cast; and with it, one more piece of “Hallowed Ground” for them, as well as one last chance for them to piss off the censors…

DOUCHEBAG

LORD & LADY DOUCHEBAG (Original Airdate: 5/24/1980) – For all we knew, this sketch could’ve had a simple, innocuous premise—That of people showing up to a party with characteristics matching their names. There’s a Lord & Lady Wilkinson discussing swords in a way that describes the similarly named razor, There’s a Duke & Duchess of Argyle wearing the clothing pattern of the same name, the Earl of Sandwich inventing a snack involving two slices of bread, etc.; Pretty tame stuff, but still somewhat clever. Enter Buck Henry & Gilda as the title characters, and all bets are off once they do. Altogether, the word “Douchebag” is said nearly a dozen times, and are said In such a way that it seems less of an insult and more of a greeting to the gathering crowds. And who do we have to thank for more douche than a Pete Twinkle/Greg Stink sketch? The one & only Tom Davis (though I’m not quite sure if Franken helped out a little on it, or if he was already exiled from the show thanks to “Limo for a Lame-O” a few weeks earlier). EDIT: 7/25/2017, thanks to an avid viewer, I found out that the sketch was actually written by Alan Zweibel according to the Hill/Weingrad “Saturday Night” book that I glanced over once some 20 years ago. Incidentally, if you see anything I might’ve made a mistake or two on; feel free to comment either at the bottom of this page, or you can Contact me on the Contact page on the masthead…It’s the only way I’ll learn.  Aside from the wordplay & innuendo, two things make this an all-time classic. One being the punchline to the sketch (which I won’t ruin here), the other being Bill Murray’s cocky greeting of
“Douchebaaaaaaaaaaagg, How are ‘ya!” As this was the last show of the First 5 years, this sketch was one of a number of opportunities during the episode to burn down the house—and burn it down they did; so much so that the home’s next occupants had to cut off the lease prematurely, and let someone else move in, so to speak………We begin with the Ebersol Sketches next.


STAR 81

It’s now 1981—Starmaker made the smart decision to skip Season 6 of the show and jump right to the first 3 episodes of Season 7…a season that was as much about staying true to its roots as it was about reinventing itself in order to survive. Gone were “Traditional” monologues (except in some cases), in was a simple gathering of the cast at the top of the show. Gone was the LFNY Battle cry, In came an occasional opening Tag from a fake sponsor. Gone were the pipes of Don Pardo (at least this one year only), In came NBC Staff announcer Mel Brandt (and in some episodes, Bill Hanrahan). SNL was indeed still on the air—but Season 7 saw the show stuck in an identity crisis (Of course having the writing of the first half of the year helmed by Michael O’Donoghue only brings further confusion; though more on him in a moment). The two things that remained a constant, however—its ability to poke fun at what was hip/trendy at the time, and that there was a certified “Star” of the show…or in this case, one in the making…

PROSE

PROSE & CONS (Original Airdate: 10/3/1981) – I kinda feel guilty for neglecting to talk more about Eddie Murphy in the past year (save for a handful of sketches that weren’t even career highlights); But then again, what else can be said about him outside of “He Saved The Show” that others haven’t already pointed out? He came in when the show needed him the most—albeit, he had to take a circuitous route in order to get there—and he came through in the clutch where some of the other Season 6 lost souls faltered. So when this film came on, pretty much 99% of the bad aftertaste from Season 6 was wiped out faster than you can say Listerine. Part of that is because of Murphy’s performance at the end (which I’ll get to in a sec), but few forget that it was just a minor role compared to a much larger picture being painted. The film itself is loosely based on the phenomenon of Jack Henry Abbott; a convicted criminal/aspiring author who reached out to fellow author Norman Mailer in an effort to gain parole for one of his crimes. Abbott actually Got his parole with Mailer’s help in 1981 (a few months Before this sketch aired), as well as getting one of the books he wrote while in prison published…only to be thrown back in prison on Murder charges a few weeks later…This explains why Mailer & Abbott’s names are used in the sketch’s end credits without their permission; but it also explains why the film’s premise of Prison Authors is done in a tongue-in-cheek way in the midst of a gritty setting. Now that we got that out of the way, back to Murphy—who gives an early career defining performance as “Tyrone Greene”; a semi-recurring character who is seen here as the “Winner” of Rockland Prison’s poetry contest thanks to the inimitable piece “Cill my Landlord” (and yes, I spelled it that way on purpose—after all, so did he.). Although Murphy’s performance was about 30 seconds or so, that was all he needed to put the cherry on top of a piece that was already loaded with atmosphere, and—dare I say—would probably have made Tom Schiller & Gary Weis blush. Thus beginning the first formative step in SNL’s first comeback—a sketch that didn’t suck, featuring someone whose star was on the rise.


As much as I’ve neglected Eddie Murphy over the past year, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve done a similar disservice to Michael O’Donoghue—who, in ’81, returned to the show as Head Writer/Reich Marshall—And while he did do a number of avant-garde bits of material in the 6 years (On & Off) he was involved with the show; this next sketch is (IMO) his magnum-opus next to “Mondo Video”…

BIZARRO

THE BIZARRO WORLD (Original Airdate: 10/10/1981) – It’s one of those “Simple” concepts that’s more complex than advertised—essentially, everything is the opposite of what things should be in the real world—so, how does Mr. Mike put his stamp on such a simple idea (aside from appearing as an omnipotent narrator)?  It’s all about one word: Atmosphere. Several things are done to make this an SNL sketch unlike anything that has ever been tried before (or even since). They strobe the camera so that it looks like everybody’s walking funny, they alter everyone’s voices to a point where the performers are almost unrecognizable (even with cheap looking masks), and they use enough synthesizer music to make Oingo Boingo jealous. The Special effects may look primitive, even by early 80s Live TV standards; but for whatever reason, it just makes things work better than it should. So much so, that it makes the “Opposite” dialogue almost an afterthought. I especially liked the idea of Bizarro Reagan (Piscopo) going to sleep whenever a Crisis breaks out. I also have to give Special Mention for this bit of dialogue where Bizarro Reagan is seen selecting his Cabinet:

“For Secretary of Interior, man who likes strip-mining and air pollution. For Secretary of Education, man who want to destroy department. For Secretary of State, scary man with morals of a styrofoam cup!”

Well, he was off by about 35 years, but there you have it; Michael O’Donoghue predicted a piece of the Trump administration—hell, Trump & Rex Tillerson are around the same age, maybe they watched the sketch at Trump Tower one night and thought…….Nah, that’s just a horrible coincidence. To my knowledge, they tried another edition of Bizarro World before O’Donoghue was unceremoniously dumped by Ebersol mid-season (one that takes place at a Bizarro version of NBC). It was OK, but considering all of the sketch’s best moments were already displayed in the first instalment, it was probably best to leave well enough alone on this one. For an O’Donoghue sketch, it was actually pretty tame by his standards—Nevertheless, this sketch took a lot of chances in just how high the concept was; and for the most part, it paid off.


Time for another “By Default” sketch, this time from the late George Kennedy’s episode. On the Starmaker cut, we have a micro-logue we can’t review because of how short it is, the debut of “Velvet Jones” that falls under the “Recurring” banner (as does an installment of “Mr. Robinson”), and Harry Anderson’s first appearance. So with that…

CONTROL

CONTROL ROOM ’81 (Original Airdate: 10/17/1981) – There’s a lot to unload here, so bear with me. First, some trivia: Back in the 70s, and even into the early 80s, 30 Rock was the home to a number of other programs that were not SNL/Talk Show/News based. Among one of the many was the classic game “To Tell the Truth” which the first half of the sketch is spoofing—In fact, the Music they use to introduce our guest stars was the theme song to the (then) recent incarnation that aired in syndication the year before. (Revenge of Trivia: The “Truth” set was Studio 6A at 30 Rock—a set that would soon be occupied by some ex-weatherman from Indianapolis, and would actually make a joke about his studio predecessor on his first Late Night show…but I digress). We then get to our guest stars; Regis Philbin—who actually had a daytime talk show on the network when this aired (and was also on his way in becoming a “New York Personality” elsewhere) and “Opie Cunningham” himself, Ron Howard—Who, I believe, might’ve had a TV Movie coming up the night after this aired (but don’t quote me). They, along with Kennedy are getting ready to play the game, when suddenly, the cameras start to malfunction one by one—ultimately causing the Entire control room to have heart attacks, and Kennedy taking over just as he did in all the “Airport” movies he did. I have to give them props for throwing the curveball that they did here—but I just wish they did a little more with it; like, say, have it be the main theme for the entire episode; a high-concept show where Disaster strikes at every turn (a la “Airport”) and it’s up to Kennedy to save the day…Hell, “The Price is Right” had a similar idea for an April Fool’s stunt a few years ago; and that’s a pretty low bar to rise up to. Of course, the show was still trying to reclaim its identity at the beginning of this season—a big production certainly would’ve got people talking, but then the expectation to do something similar week after week would’ve become unfeasible after a while (Mr. Baldwin, I’m looking in YOUR direction); so we wound up getting that was only serviceable, as well as getting the “Host sketch” out of the way.


STAR 82

On to 1982, and here’s where Starmaker starts to play a few tricks on us (especially on the Next tape once we get to it). The “Best of ‘82” tape is exactly what they advertise in that the shows do come from 1982—but instead of it being all from Season 8, we actually get two shows from the 8th season, and one more episode from Season 7. I know this is a Very Nitpicky thing to mention, but then again, I also work at a place where being detail oriented means EVERYTHING—so forgive me if I bring any of that home with me from time to time………anyway…

 

Now the story of a North Carolina town that lost everything, And the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together……it’s the narrator of “Arrested Development”.

 

OPIE

OPIE’S BACK (Original Airdate: 10/9/1982) – SPOILER ALERT, When we resume doing our “Regular” S.O.S.N.L. stuff in the fall, there Will be a list of TV Parodies somewhere down the line, and This sketch will feature somewhere in the Top 5; because not only is this one of the more solid TV Parodies the show ever had, but it also takes the “Host Sketch” to a whole ‘notha level. Basically, if you’ve ever seen an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” in your lifetime (Possibly as recently as when you wake up for breakfast and flip through your TV listings in the morning), you know what to expect. Yet at the same time, so many curveballs are thrown at us that you don’t know what’s right & wrong anymore. The town of Mayberry has seen some dark days since Sheriff Andy was “Killed in a Fishing Accident”; Among the changes, Aunt Bee (Robin Duke) is running a Cathouse, Barney Fife (Gary Kroger) becomes corrupt, Gomer Pyle (Brad Hall) comes out of the closet but still tries to maintain masculinity, Otis (Piscopo) is still a Drunk but probably more so, and the biggest change of all; Floyd the Barber is now Black (a thankless job from Eddie)…or at least that would’ve been the biggest change, were it not for the fact that Opie Cunningham comes back into town with a newly reinforced backbone and ready to clean up Mayberry—with a little help from the “Ghost” of his father (Andy Griffith, himself, in a guest shot). What makes this sketch Truly effective is the simple fact that Nostalgia Goggles (more often than not) can fix anything without actually fixing anything. You have to understand that in the Early 80s, the country wasn’t in as good a shape as people thought; You had Crime & Drugs everywhere, AIDS was about to become a pandemic if it wasn’t already, The recession was ravaging the country, and New York City—though on the comeback trail—still had an extra layer of sleaze (if the 1981-84 Opening Montage wasn’t already an indication). So with all those factors, seeing something as wholesome as the Town of Mayberry being under siege was a cold splash of water in the face for some. Everybody gives a powerhouse performance here; Of particular note are Kroger & Hall who give pretty uncanny performances as Barney & Gomer (though I’d be lying if I didn’t think “Out of the Closet Gomer” looked more like Bowser from Sha-na-na). And then we get to the elephant in the room of Eddie playing Floyd the Barber—which is in itself a surreal scene to witness; So much so, that Ron Howard accidentally calls Him “Otis” later in the sketch. In the words of another person who famously changed color “It don’t matter if you’re Black or White”, Murphy nailed Floyd’s demeanor almost to the letter (Truth be Told, Eugene Levy went the extra mile playing Floyd on SCTV—both “Pre-Stroke” and “Post-Stroke” versions of him). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—there was a lot of criticism that the Ebersol years of the show were too “Safe & Corporate”, and in some cases, that’s true. But sketches like these should also serve as a reminder that not only was the show trying their best to make us laugh with a little extra effort, but it did so in a way that was trying to appeal to all ages in spite of the “Edgy” late night slant—why else would “The Andy Griffith Show” STILL be popular to this day?


We now have another episode that’s going to repeat a little later in the collection—And why not? It’s Eddie Murphy’s historic hosting gig from 1982. “Historic” because to this day, he is the ONLY person to have hosted the show WHILE being an Active cast member (Let’s see Kate McKinnon do that……..Actually, Yeah, Let’s See Kate McKinnon do that!). We have Nick Nolte to thank/blame (?) for that, because as Murphy mentions in the Cold Open, Nolte was too sick/rehab’d to be on the show—which also brings up an interesting point; They opened the Previous season 7 with a Hostless show (originally, James Caan was supposed to do that one, but then had to be by his sister’s side for some Bone Marrow surgery), why couldn’t this particular episode be hostless as well? Maybe they didn’t want to go through that again, so it probably would’ve been easier to have somebody associated with the movie being plugged step in to take that person’s place—Ergo, Murphy’s at the bat. That’s neither here nor there; so let’s take a look at this…

BLIND

DANCE THEATER FOR THE BLIND [AKA “I Came, I saw, I Came again”] (Original Airdate: 12/11/1982) – For the life of me, I don’t know why they named the sketch “I Came, I saw…” on the Starmaker tape or on NBC’s Website; sometimes it’s OK to be Matter of Fact in titling things–just call it what it is…but I digress. The Ebersol years saw the return of sketches where the story is a simple one, but not childishly or insultingly so like in season 6. This sketch has a pretty simple premise in that Piscopo & JLD are viewing a performance by the title Dance Theater for the Blind. What makes such a simple premise a little more unique is that the performers on stage (Murphy & Just about the rest of the cast) have to pretend they’re blind without looking like they’re telegraphing their performances (read: Look convincing as they’re making their intentional stumbles). Having taken a few drama courses in my youth, faking blind is almost as difficult to pull off as “Silent Humor” (an example of which I’ll get to a few shows down the line), so I have to commend the cast for fakin’ it til they make it here. And then, there’s the punchline which—screw it—I’m gonna spoil anyway. The fact that this is a Dance troupe performing FOR the blind audience, instead of the dancers themselves being blind—again, another example of simplicity mixed with a dash of clever…either that, or the twist is so eye-rollingly dumb, that Of Course one has to laugh at it legitimately. Either way, this sketch is a good example of how the cast was gelling at this point—even surviving another round of firings in season 7’s off season—and still another example of “Everything’s gonna be OK” during a time of continuous transition.


Moving on to one of our favorite (yet still under-served) hosts of the 80s & 90s, Danny DeVito—who makes his OFFICIAL First appearance on the show (AHEM). We’ve already covered  the Taxi monologue a year ago, the Andy Kaufman/Jerry Lawler bit was less about the comedy and more of an “Interview”, the lovably abrasive “Whiners” make their 2nd appearance, and there’s no way in Hell you could show that sketch of DeVito blowing up the ABC Building in this day & age, so what’s left?

STRESS

STRESS TEST (Original Airdate: 5/8/1982) – Even in the Ebersol years, “Slice of Life” sketches were still pretty common, even if they were done without Marylyn Suzanne Miller’s guidance. DeVito plays a guy who is on tap for a promotion; but first, his world starts to crumble piece by piece. First, he hears his wife (Mary Gross via intercom) having an affair with their gardener (I’m not sure if that was Tony Rosato’s voice or Andy Kaufman’s); an exchange which, BTW, lends to probably the single most disturbing Orgasm voice I’ve ever heard—ANYWHERE. Next, Murphy comes in as a “Delivery Man” of sorts, as he gives DeVito his Weekly shipment of weed; which DeVito denies he ever used or has ever met Murphy (and remember, this was back in the day when weed was a “Bad” thing). While this is happening, Piscopo—playing someone who has worked with DeVito for years and claims he’s got his back through thick & thin—suddenly turns on DeVito after seeing his Not!Involvement with Murphy…And THEN, my darling Ebbie barges in as DeVito’s secretary upset that he gave her Herpes and probably passed it on to his wife…And THEN Murphy threatens to “cut a bitch” to DeVito for not paying for the weed, and just when you think we’ve reached maximum “Shit Hitting the Fan”, the whole thing is revealed to be the title Stress Test orchestrated by Brian Doyle-Murray…one that, quite honestly, I feel stressed just watching (*LIGHTS UP CIGARETTE*). Even though the sketch is enough to put one through the wringer, it’s actually kind of entertaining to watch someone go through such toil—there’s that Schadenfreude again—at the same time, it also makes me hope to Never get a job in corporate America as long as I live…unless a decent paycheck is involved.


STAR 83

Now, here’s where things get even trickier—we’re on the “Best of ‘83” tape, which happens to be our first single-episode “Best of” show in the collection. But what makes this a little awkward, is that this isn’t really the Best of 1983-84, but rather the best of 2 seasons combined; we get sketches from 1982 through 1984 in this one episode…weird, I know—either that, or maybe Season 8 wasn’t good enough to warrant their own “Best of” show, so they had to piggyback on Season 9. Anyway, there’s a lot of Great Moments on here—70% of which is Murphy-centric; The Death of Buckwheat & John David Stutts, Mr. Robinson meeting Mr. T, James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party, even him teaming up with the one & only Robin Williams and Stevie Wonder. But if you’ve been reading these things in the past year, you should know by now that I don’t look at things that are universally well known—I prefer to aim for the diamonds in the rough whenever I can…

NEWS BAR

NEWS BAR (Original Airdate: 2/25/1984) – We can’t talk about this sketch without first talking about the great newsman Edwin Newman…who, surprisingly appeared on the show more frequently than he probably should’ve—Twice as a Host, and then a few more appearances as Guest Anchor during the period where there wasn’t a permanent anchor at the “Saturday Night News” desk, followed by one more appearance a few years later when Lorne returned. All in all, despite all the years Newman put in delivering a world of news for NBC and being relatively stiff while doing so, the guy still knew how to have a little fun; you gotta respect him for that (You also REALLY have to respect him further for doing the TV Version of “Weekly World News”). In this sketch, we see Newman gathered at a bar conversing with fellow NBC castaways Tom Snyder (Piscopo, who—let’s face it—will Never hold a candle to Aykroyd’s impression) and Linda Ellerbee (JLD, in a rather spot-on impression of her) talking briefly about what got them canned—or in Newman’s case “Retired Voluntarily” (“Just like Nixon”, retorts Piscopo). From there, we get probably one of the stranger set-ups for a parody, as the sketch suddenly evolves into a spoof of “My Fair Lady”—the plot of which is properly ported; Piscopo bets Newman that he can turn anybody into a News Anchor thanks to the seemingly low bar (pardon the pun) TV News in the 80s has been set to; that people care more about how an Anchor looks instead of what they say (Somewhere in 1984 Australia, Rupert Murdoch takes Vigorous notes). The bet is accepted, and the patient zero is none other than Brad Hall; who by this point in the show was not only demoted from his post as “Saturday Night News” anchor, but he actually casually mentions said demotion in the sketch as he tends bar. Piscopo & Newman put Hall through a couple of tests to see if he’d ever stack up as a News anchor; culminating in probably the most Ridiculous yet still Brilliant renditions of “The Rain in Spain” you’ll ever hear until Family Guy decades later. Sure, they could’ve went whole hog on the parody, but after hearing a version of the song like that (complete with a “Snyder Laugh”), it was probably best to end it there. It was still a solid parody at just the right length.


STAR 84

Another Single-episode “Best Of”, and this one in particular may rank as one of the Greatest seasons the show ever had (at least IMO)—granted, Ebersol felt compelled to break out the big guns. It’s time for the “Steinbrenner Season” of SNL; 1984-85; a season which is almost impossible to review sketches from, partly because (1) I’ve already reviewed a number of sketches on the Starmaker tape elsewhere, (2) the remaining sketches in the program have recurring characters, (3) Just about everything you see on this tape reaches levels of “Iconic” and leave very little to talk about that nobody else has already, and (4) even the weakest sketches on this tape are still very strong and leave little to criticize about. In essence, it’s Nearly perfect…How much nearly, though?

SHAME

HOUSES OF SHAME (Original Airdate: 3/30/1985) – (No Transcript/Video Available) Of all the sketches on this tape, this was probably the one I laughed the least at—not because it wasn’t funny, but because I was roughly 11 years old when I first saw this sketch, so a little……OK, a LOT of the humor might’ve been lost on me…that, and I was probably WAY too young to fully understand the idea of what a “Prison Bitch” was, regardless of the era this is taking place in. The era in question plays a key role in the sketch’s effectiveness, however, as we take a look at Prison life in the south at the turn of the 20th century. We see some fresh meat (Martin Short) get thrown in, followed by his new cell mate (Belushi #2) warning him about another prisoner simply known as “The Bull” (Played with the utmost southern charm by Christopher Guest). Since there doesn’t seem to be video or a transcript around (save for the above screen cap), I might as well spoil it—Guest takes Short through an old fashioned “Courting” process inside the jail; complete with porch swing so they could be a little more “Intimate” together. Seeing southern charm mixed with the harsh reality of prison isn’t the strangest visual, peculiar maybe, but somehow Guest & Short make the scene work—To top it off, Guest delivers to Marty probably one of the funniest “Dry Lines” ever uttered in show history (“I would like you to wear my pin…and be my Bitch.”). Because of the atmosphere being somewhat tense & uneasy during the bulk of the sketch, one might argue that the uttering of the line was somewhat cathartic—only Christopher Guest could pull that off. I still maintain that this is one of the weaker sketches on the “Best of ‘84” tape, but now that I’m watching this with adult eyes on the VHS copy I have, the sketch is close to par with the rest of the best—the pacing might’ve been too slow, though.

 

So ends the Ebersol portion of the program (at least, for now), Lorne comes back in our next selection; and with it, a brief re-visitation to a “Horrible, Horrible Dream”


STAR 85

I kinda feel a little silly introducing the “Best of ‘85” tape, especially considering I’ve already gone to great lengths talking about this shotgun-misfire of a season last year. But since the episodes on this tape make up the sum of a single silver lining, we have to give it its due. Quite honestly, considering how much Lorne wanted people to forget this season, I’m more surprised the “Best of ‘85” tape wasn’t 3 episodes from the tail-end of Ebersol’s last year…but I digress.

STANDUP

THE STAND-UPS (Original Airdate: 12/14/1985) – Remember a time when Tom Hanks was strictly a “Comic actor”? Long before his Oscars hard-wired him for greatness, the most he had on his resume were “Bosom Buddies”, “Splash”, and various other sitcom appearances (though his appearances on “Family Ties” should’ve acted as a sign of things to come more than anything). Well, seeing him in one of his first sketches playing one of several Seinfeld clones shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anybody (Especially since 30+ years later, Mr. “S. Pumpkins” never truly forgot his roots). To my knowledge, this sketch happened (maybe) three times on the show; here, one time without Hanks, and the next time he hosted in ’88. But sometimes, it’s probably best to leave things well enough alone (That, and perhaps Seinfeld might’ve been the litigious type). Doing so makes this sketch one of many “Diamonds in the rough” from the troubled season. Hanks, Lovitz and Damon Wayans pretty much spend the next 3 minutes trying to out-Seinfeld each other. And while the voices they all use gets a little irritating at times; the comedy goes so fast that it’s hard to keep up (another reason why I’m glad this sketch was on VHS at the time). We get your usual staples:

*“What’s the deal with French Fries/Toast?”
*”Where’s the other 98% of 2% Milk?”
*”What’s the deal with that missing sock in your Laundry?”
*”Have you Seen ‘Miami Vice’, I mean, have you SEEN This?”

And so forth. Simply put, if you’ve ever been to a comedy club in your lifetime (or at least in the mid 80s-early 90s when “observational” Stand-up was in vogue) this was pretty on-point. Also, if a sketch like this is considered an “Alpha” sketch about stand-up comedians, “Stand-Up & Win” 7 years later is most certainly the Omega, end-all be-all of them.


I’m just gonna go ahead and say it, Paul Reubens (AKA “Pee Wee Herman”) deserves more credit for his contributions to the comedy world, and I’m just glad his infamous “incident” happened well before the age of Social media, otherwise we’d truly never hear from him again because he’d be afraid to leave his house. Reubens deserves all the credit for a number of things; making a “Kid’s Show” that was clearly more meant for Adults, Giving an up & coming director by the name of Tim Burton his big break, and probably of equal/greater importance, he helped get the ball rolling for a fellow “Groundlings” member and future SNL Hall-of-famer to be hired…

PEEWEE

PEE-WEE’S THANKSGIVING SPECIAL (Original Airdate: 11/23/1985) – (No Video/Transcript Available) When the Big Adventurer hosted the show, there was a probably a sense that the pool of writers that were assembled at this point wasn’t gelling as quickly as Lorne hoped. So, Reubens wanted to bring a couple writer friends along with him as an insurance policy—one of them was a late-blooming up-and-comer by the name of Philip Hartmann (who would later drop the second N), he not only did the gruntwork of the writing for this sketch, but just a few months earlier was actually Passed Over as a cast member in favor of fellow Groundling Jon Lovitz…much to Lovitz’s own surprise. In essence, this sketch was sort of a field test for Hartman, but only as a writer (Though you do get to see him briefly here as one of the Pilgrims being chased by a Turkey). For what it’s worth, it’s a pretty solid take on the forced contrivances of “Holiday” specials, as well as a decent impression showcase for cast members still trying to find their voices. Joan Cusack does an OK Brooke Shields—though I don’t recall younger Brooke being THAT Vapid—I’m sure she was, just not at an insulting level like Cusack is showing us. Terry Sweeney fails to disappoint as Diana Ross—his best impression next to Nancy Reagan, though the use of “Bronzeface” might be a little questionable. And despite the fact that she probably had the most wasted potential a cast member could have next to Pamela Stephenson & Morwenna Banks, Damn if Danitra Vance didn’t impress me here with her portrayal of Cicely Tyson. Mix all of that with Reubens’ exuberance, as well as Hall & Oates throwaway joke, and the whole thing winds up working better than I remember—and was probably also the prototype for Pee Wee’s Christmas Special a few years later; load it with guest stars, see what sticks. More importantly, with this sketch as a calling card, Lorne would soon realize the mistake he made in passing over Hartman just in the nick of time.


Moving on to Ron Reagan’s episode, as well as the Final sketch in the “3-episode” tapes (until we get to the “Wayne’s World” tape a little later); all the rest from here on out are self-contained “Best of” shows. And while there were a number of highlights in the episode, I’m actually NOT going to talk about any sketches from it—which is just as well, because there was the “Back to the Future” parody I already talked about, a Miller Update with someone I want to wait until August to talk about; “Pat Stevens”, which I never really liked; and the “Risky Business” opening that is unavailable thanks to use of a Bob Seger song. No, today, I need to make up for a slightly glairing mistake I made a little while ago…

PENN

PENN & TELLER’S “LEVITATION” TRICKS (Original Aridate: 2/8/1986) – When covering a chronicle of SNL “Special Guests” a little while back, I had mentioned how some of the guests in the 80s were more comedy based than “performance” based with certain exceptions. Among those listed were the likes of Sam Kinison, Steven Wright, Harry Anderson and so forth—so you could only imagine the amount of e-mails I got from people that either mentioned subtly or shouted in all caps “How could you Leave out Penn & Teller?” Well…they do have a point, how could I leave them out? After all, if it weren’t for SNL, they would probably be doing their “Comedy Magic” at cheesy Nightclubs to this day instead of being the iconic Master illusionist/Bullshit stoppers/multi-million dollar magic empire makers they’ve become…This, despite the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) They don’t necessarily do any “Magic” here; but rather pull off an impressive camera trick for the home audience (Though hats off to the people in the Studio audience for playing along). Nevertheless, P&T galvanize the crowd with the ruse; with Penn constantly exclaiming “ARE WE LIVE?” while the audience shouts “YEAH!” A Good time is still had by all because of it. P&T would appear on the show for Most of Season 11, and part of Season 12 before they landed a multi-year “Specials” deal with NBC—my favorite of which was the program “Penn & Teller: Don’t Try This at Home”–the rest is history.


STAR 86

At long last, the “Horrible, Horrible Dream” is over, and now we begin the start of what I’d like to call the “Silver Age” of SNL—1986 to 1994 (For those keeping Score, ’75-’80 = “Golden Age”, ‘80-’85 we’ll call “Bronze”…don’t read too much into the structure of the timeline, that’s just how I see it). It is here in 1986 that we get to see the show truly left to its own devices; The Training wheels are off, The learner’s permit becomes a License, the plane flies solo, and the rocket is ready to get back into orbit—feel free to add some of your own clichés in the comment box below. Anyway; with a renewed sense of survival, the show could go back to what made it great in the first place; comedy that can only work well with a solid ensemble…

DONAHUE

DONAHUE (Original Airdate: 10/18/1986) – This sketch is another one of those “Everything’s gonna be OK” moments in the show’s never-ending quest to remain relevant. Partly because you could see that even though this was their 2nd episode together, Hartman, Hooks, Jackson, Nealon & Dunn are already becoming a more cohesive crew than the cast the year before. That’s important, because any ensemble cast HAS to have an abundance of chemistry; and without out it, there wouldn’t be much for people to tune in for. Such is the case when Hartman debuts his Phil Donahue impression, and grills his guests about being trapped in exploited relationships. We get a predictably ditzy story from Victoria—though the jury was still out as to just how one-dimensional she would be over her 7 year tenure (Which is about 4 years too long, BTW). Hooks has the funnier story, though Phil is the one who’s telling it. Nora—who radiates a strong but icy Bebe Neuwirth/Lilith Sternin vibe here—plays a Lesbian Psychiatrist who wrote a book called “Women Good, Men Bad”…which, now that I think about it MIGHT be the show’s first-ever portrayal of one—at least in a point-blank way.  (I Could be SEVERELY Wrong here [and correct me if I am]; but if I’m not, hats off to you, Nora for breaking that barrier). Nealon steals the show as an unruly audience member who eggs on the women in the hopes of establishing a hook-up. It’s nearly perfect, however, because it unfortunately falls victim to SNL’s greatest Achilles heel—That of having a sketch run a little longer than it should. Case in point; As much as Nealon’s part was the cherry on top, sometimes it’s OK to eat ice cream without said cherry. Cut his stuff out, and perhaps add a few more callers, and the sketch would’ve done just fine. Then again, the new cast was very much on the learning curve here—the fact that they were near-perfect on their 2nd show is proof enough that people didn’t need to worry about SNL’s future……for now.


STAR 87

Despite the cast hitting their stride by this point, The “Best of ‘87” tape is another odd one—partly because this was another instance of this being Two Seasons in One in this compilation. Part of the reason for that could’ve been the Writer’s Strike of ’88 cutting the Season short, and ultimately resulting in a lack of clips (why else would an “Easy Rider” Spoof or “The President Has Mustard on his Chin”, two sketches from the previous season, be on here?). Nevertheless, this was the year where everything really started to come together…again…for the third time. Also in this season, probably one of my Personal Favorite sketches of All time…

MITCHUM

DEATH BE NOT DEADLY (Original Airdate: 11/14/1987) – No Video/Transcript Available…sort of. Like many sketches, I first saw this one when I was a kid on a 90s rerun…and like many of the sketches I saw back then, this is one that I’m pissed isn’t available either in video, transcript, torrent form or even a friggin’ screen cap (save for this context-free, 15 second clip I found that isn’t really the best example of the sketch’s greatness). And that’s a crying shame, because not only is this a loving homage to Film Noir, it might’ve been the best Noir Tribute the show ever did. As a kid, I had absolutely no knowledge of the awesomeness of one Mr. Robert Mitchum—or, for that matter, the vast world of the “Phillip Marlowe” detective stories. Mitchum is playing an aged Marlowe; he tries to take the case of a young man in some trouble (Nealon), and he would easily do so if it weren’t for the fact that Mitchum kept narrating every waking moment of his life much to Nealon’s increasing anger. For me personally, this sketch was immitatable as hell—so much so, that guess who did their own variant of “Narrating their lives” a mere 15 years later? When it comes to SNL sketches, there’s one thing that I know for sure—if it’s either quotable, or easily mockable, it’ll be remembered forever…especially when the right Jazz track comes on the radio or it’s pouring rain (or both), and you feel compelled to just say to yourself “It was 10PM in the Naked City…” in a deep, ponderous tone. Not only that, but (to my memory) they got the style of Noir down pretty well as well. Just wish there was more to show—so instead, here’s a trailer to “Farewell, My Lovely”…it’s pretty much the same thing, but in Color and without narrating everything out loud (TRIVIA: That, BTW, was the first Movie Jerry Bruckheimer ever Produced…so in a way, we unfortunately have Mitchum to partially blame for Michael Bay ever existing–oh well, nobody’s perfect, not even legendary bad-asses).


STAR 88

Season 14—one of the All-time greats, an Emmy Award winning season for the Writers, and Definitive proof that SNL was back in style. So much so, that I’ve actually spoken about several sketches from this “Best of” show elsewhere…but what’s one more gonna hurt?

SERGENT

DRILL SARGENT (Original Airdate: 11/1/1988) – No Video/Transcript…Not unlike “Death Be Not Deadly”, this too is one of a number of sketches that happen to be an all-time favorite; while at the same time, there is nothing to show of this sketch aside from the screen cap you see above—but trust me when I say that this is not only one of my favorite Phil Hartman sketches, but it’s also another movie parody I forgot to add to an existing list. Yes, it took me years to realize it, but this was actually a somewhat thinned-out parody of “Full Metal Jacket” (which would also explain why [host] Matthew Modine features prominently in it). Coincidence of coincidences, Hartman is playing a completely different “Hartman”, as he emulates R. Lee Ermey’s balls-to-the-wall Sargent by saying some of the most painfully awkward (but still funny as hell) dialogue I’ve ever heard. As he gives the privates such creative nicknames as:

“Mr. Smiling, Laughing, Joking around man”
“Mr. Out-of-Shape Person”
“Mr. The Guy I bet is a Homosexual”
“Mr. Eyes-in-face……man”
“Hair Head”

…and so forth. Hartman delivers these silly nicknames in such a way, that you have to wonder if he was supposed to be a “Substitute” for a Real Sargent, or if he’s just painfully unqualified to lead. Lucky for us, it doesn’t matter as Hartman gives us a bravura performance anyway—especially as he leads his troops out the door with various ways to say “Army”. I’m pissed that there’s neither a video or transcript for this one, because this was one of those “You had to be there” kind of sketches where a description doesn’t do the sketch any justice.


STAR 89

We have now reached the Historic 15th Season; one that began with a pall of sadness as we said goodbye to Gilda Radner and ended with Lovitz leaving a little prematurely, as well as a “Don’t Let the Door Hit you” to Nora Dunn after her “Dice” protest. But at the same time, we said hello to people who would be SNL Mainstays for Years to come; Baldwin, Walken, Goodman, not to mention characters that “started” the previous season but would gain steam fast in this one—Wayne’s World, Sprockets, etc.—and of course, lots of memorable moments to go with everything else…

WAGNER

ROMANTIC DINNER (Original Airdate: 12/9/1989) – Considering Robert Wagner is pushing 90 as I’m writing this, I’m hoping that this sketch doesn’t double as a “Memorial” sketch any time soon…then again, this was probably the most memorable sketch of his episode (aside from the Conan O’Brien penned classic “Attack of the Masturbating Zombies”, which–sadly–does NOT show up on the “Best of ’89” tape). This was memorable because of another kind of SNL mainstay; that of the “Host Plays Against Type” sketch. When you think of Wagner and all he’s done in his storied career, the first things that come to mind is that he’s Debonair, Dashing, Elegant etc……certainly not slovenly, slob-like, or willing to make a mess; but boy, does he go for the jugular here. Wagner plays opposite the one & only Jan Hooks as a couple getting ready to say their goodbyes as Wagner prepares for a business trip. What follows is a series meal courses that get progressively messier as time marches on; first, a less than sensible bite of bread. Next, drinking wine without swallowing any of it. Next, a bowl of soup—same story, but with a well timed “All Gone” from Wagner. Finally, a Steak Dinner eaten by hand, complete with smearing mashed potatoes all over himself—all to Jan’s repulsion, until Wagner reveals a rather matter-of fact twist at the end that makes things OK. “Against type” sketches are often hit-or-miss depending on who it is going against the grain; In Wagner’s case, I’d like to think he would help pave the way for someone like (Ironically enough) Christopher Walken a few episodes later to turn such an acting choice into a more refined art form. Wagner helped make it safe for so-called “Prestige” hosts to become less inhibited and have fun. Granted, it hasn’t always worked (Paging Mr. DeNiro), but at least they know they’re good sports about it.


STAR 90

SNL’s 3rd Decade begins if you don’t think about the chronology too hard (seriously, 70s, 80s, 90s; It doesn’t matter that this is Season 16, 3 decades are at least being spanned, so to me it counts). With the “Best of ‘90”, we see an explosion of recurring character sketches (Wayne’s World again, as well as the androgynous “Pat”, and the full-body dry heave known as “The Richmeister”) that automatically rule out most of the tape—so on that note; the time has FINALLY come to talk about another “Hallowed Ground” sketch. One that is as much a classic moment as it is an overrated one; but still maintains its memorability to this day—so much so, that 20+ years later, this iconic sketch tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice. While that follow-up was a valiant attempt, there is absolutely no comparison…say it with me now…

5 TIMER

THE 5-TIMERS CLUB (Original Airdate: 12/8/1990) – For those of you who live under a rock, let me walk you through it. Tom Hanks returns to host for his 5th time; he quickly explains what it’s like to host all the preceding times—which, if you know the show as well as the rest of us do, is actually pretty accurate. We then get to the meat of the matter; Hanks shows us what happens behind the door of the “Five Timer’s Club”, and where history is made. First, before we even get to our guest stars, we have a rare spoken cameo from (Then) Writer Conan O’Brien playing the doorman to the club. Looking at this appearance, Coco should never have been nervous the first few months of “Late Night”; especially since Live TV is a bigger nerve-wrecker…but I digress. We then get to the REAL stars of the sketch, starting with Paul Simon; Who Technically was a multi-Musical Guest, he only ever hosted 4 times. Simon then introduces Hanks to Steve Martin (who—if you keep track—gets the biggest applause in the sketch); who Then neatly segues into Elliott Gould exiting the club pool at a “Perfect 80 degrees” (Which might explain why he never hosted again beyond 1980). THEN, we get the recently exiled Lovitz who acts as a waiter—a tradition that carries over in the sequel sketch—who THEN promptly throws out One-Time host Ralph Nader. Stuntcasting is nothing new to the world of SNL; though in the years leading up to this sketch, the notion of bringing on a surprise visitor was a spoon-fed one at best…This sketch changed all of that. It turned cameos from a well meaning surprise to the home viewer, into a (sometimes) cheap attempt at either ratings or becoming “water cooler talk”—Nothing wrong with that, per se, if you must know, this sketch, its 2013 sequel, 2006’s “Platinum Lounge”, and Barbra Streisand’s 1992 cup of “Coffee Talk” are examples of these kinds of cameos done right—The Problem? This sketch worked so well, that TPTB thought it would be apt to try and capture lightning in a bottle multiple times; sometimes resulting in something amazing, other times are “just OK’, and other times still are total disasters. They struck gold with this one, though; and like most commodities, if it’s too abundant, it loses its value over time.


STAR 91

As we look at Season 17, we have also reached the point where one could simply look back from a distance and see not only the path that leads to where they are now, but what kind of peaks & valleys there are on the way. 1978 could be considered a “Peak” year, as would 1982, ’87, ’01, ’06, ’09, and also (almost) EVERY Election year. And yes, 1991 to ‘93 is included in there, too. Sure, there’s an oversized cast, but there is also an oversized writer’s room—and when these two mammoth forces join together, you wind up with a couple of moments one will Never forget…but we only have time for one…

HARRY

MASSIVE HEADWOUND HARRY (Original Airdate: 11/16/1991) – One of the best things about a cast/writing staff being as bulletproof as SNL’s was in this season was the idea that they could (once again) get away with just about anything. Nowhere was this theory more battle tested than in this cringeworthy (but still hilarious) masterpiece that I thank merciful God was done only once on the show—any more than twice, and the entire country would become anorexic from all the vomiting done at the sight of Dana Carvey as the title character. Again, a pretty straightforward concept—It’s Carvey with a blood-dripping prosthetic on his head, he uses said prosthetic to incite mayhem with “Hilarious” results—and I actually say that without a hint of sarcasm this time. Particularly because of two factors; one being the ability to amp up the gross-out factor about 50,000 Volts thanks to Carvey’s prop wound. And the other being one of the moments of the show that will forever burn into your brain once you see it—I speak, of course, about the moment when a dog comes in to—shall we say—“tend to his wound”. According to some sources, the dog was only supposed to Lick the fake wound; but I guess they added a little too much beef juice to the wound in the live show, because the dog straight-up tries to chew the wound off of Carvey’s head, leading to probably one of the best well-timed line deliveries in show history (Carvey: “He Probably Smells MY Dog!”). I throw around the term “Lighting in a bottle” far too often around here; but because this was (Thankfully) done just one time, the sketch became the very definition of a showstopper.


STAR 92

The Best of 1992-93 continues SNL’s Winning Streak; but first, a word about the box cover. As you can see, the layout is a little different from the other ones you’ve seen so far. The Still-shots are now in Color, the Goldfoil lettering is replaced with a generic Yellow; and most surprisingly, the “Starmaker” bumper is gone—in fact, for this phase of the releases, there is no Production company logo to be seen. It just goes straight to the SNL Home Video intro, and then to the show in question. Such is the case when Anchor Bay bought Starmaker c1994, and they took control of SNL’s Distribution rights at that point—when we get to a few other releases later down the line, you’ll see just how lazy these cut corners became. In the meantime…

SOYLENT

LET’S TALK (X 5) ABOUT THE MOVIES (Original Airdate: 3/13/1993) – Not only was 1992-93 a highly successful election year for the show, but the great moments kept on coming and—despite the massive size of the cast—everybody was given a chance to shine in their own way, even the tried & “glue”. Hands down, this is one of my all-time favorite Phil Hartman performances—seriously, don’t make me choose between this and “Drill Sargent”…then again, watching this for the first time when I was roughly 11 years old, I was still in the waning years of being “Impressionable” when it came to what I watched—suffice to say, it was funny as hell to see Hartman frequently bellow “SOYLENT (*ITEM*) IS PEEEEPOOOOLLLLEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!”. So much so, that it made the deteriorating quality of each Soylent item seem like less the joke and more of a framing device leading to Hartman’s reactions—though to this day, “Soylent Cow Pies” is still worthy of a giggle. Of course, Hartman’s bricks of brilliance can’t be possible without John Goodman & Julia Sweeney acting as the mortar in between them as they introduce each Soylent Sequel; and that also includes the ridiculously long title of the sketch, as well as Sweeney’s character name—“Mabel Blaster”—a name so odd that I wonder if a certain Ms. Pines married someone named “Blaster” once she grew up & moved away from Gravity Falls—but as I often do, I digress. Was this a sketch where you get the same joke over and over? Of course it was. But again, it was Hartman who took a sketch that was otherwise a little too “Lather, Rinse, Repeat”, and turned it into something highly quotable to this day.


STAR 93

And now, the FINAL “Annual” tape in the collection, the Best of 1993-94. Few people realized it back then, but this year marked a pivotal point in show history—Sure, there were still moments of greatness, but little did we know about the severe burnout that would lie ahead (*AHEM*). The show was about to lose Phil Hartman, never give Sarah Silverman a decent chance, let Julia Sweeney sneak out the back, and sweep Rob Schneider & Melanie Hutsell under the rug like so much unwanted dust. But before Season 20 would turn the show into a demilitarized zone, Season 19 still had a few tricks up its sleeve…

TIME SAVERS

AMAZING TIME SAVERS (Original Airdate: 5/14/1994) – Heather Locklear actually makes 2 appearances on this “Best of” show, but since “Silent Flirting” is nothing but Stage Direction, I want to instead talk about this powder keg of stereotypes; and how in just the right conditions, “uncomfortable” humor can actually be done with gusto. Like many great sketches, the set-up is simple—Locklear hosts an infomercial program with Mike Myers appearing as the inventor of a pasta maker; all goes smoothly until Locklear’s character makes the out-of-nowhere statement that the Holocaust was a lie, thus prompting an elaborate LED-Bulbed map of America to light up like a Christmas tree with viewer phone call complaints. It, of course, only snowballs from there as Locklear continues her absent-minded assaults by adding the Japanese, Puerto Ricans and various other minorities, all while Myers pretty much practices his “Embarrassed” facial reactions for the day when he teams up with Kanye West. You don’t see it in the transcript version (no video available); but In an effort to save face, there Is a disclaimer at the end touting that it was just a sketch, it was all in good fun/meant to teach a lesson, and that “It should be obvious to anybody who isn’t a retard”; cue one final phone ring—also missing in the transcript is an odd encounter where comedian David Brenner (Adam Sandler via Telephone) lodges a similar complaint and plugs a stand-up gig at the same time. Those omissions aside, yeah that’s pretty much what the sketch is—one big, long adventure in envelope pushing that (in the PC world we live in…even back in the 90s) may have the intent to offend the audience, but considering how long the show had been on the air to that point, the audience wasn’t that stupid. Also, I’d be remiss to say that if this sketch were done in Any other Era post-2000, Locklear’s character would’ve fit in great with any Alt-Right news organization or Fox News…(*PHONES RING*)…uh-oh…

 

So ends our look at the “Annual” tapes in the Starmaker Collection; next up, the “Host” tapes…


THE HOST TAPES


Welcome to Part 2 of our “Summer of Starmaker”—These are programs that feature multiple hosting appearances by those who (at the time the tape was released) were either major stars, or SNL Icons, or both. It also helped that most of these shows were “recent” enough so that the “Host” tapes in particular were probably Starmaker’s best-selling SNL titles at the time. There are two episodes on each tape, so that’ll mean we cover 2 sketches per tape. We will also be going in Alphabetical order on these—which is probably going to explain why this first entry needs a little explaining…

STAR ROSEANNE

As of 1993 when this tape was released; Roseanne was still going by “Arnold”, but had yet to become a single-named entity before ultimately reverting to her original surname of “Barr”. I bring this up because technically, this would mean that Alec Baldwin would go first considering “Baldwin” comes before “Barr” in the alphabet, but it’s tape labels that count here, so here we are. Roseanne was the number one TV star in the country when her episodes aired; so naturally, SNL struck while the iron was hot—even if Rosie made a slightly big mistake at the time…

KILLERS

COMEDY KILLERS (Original Airdate: 2/16/1991) – Yes, not even Starmaker is immune from the “Getty” bug, but whatt’ya gonna do? Anyway, Call this one the Prototype version of “Stand-up and Win”; after all, it’s a game show about stand-up comedians. The difference here is that the comics in question (Barr, Jan Hooks & Rob Schneider) are playing by these rules—and I quote: “In stand-up comedy, a comedy killer is anything – it could be a word, a phrase, a topic – that is so tasteless or upsetting, that, upon hearing it, an audience will simply refuse to laugh, and instantly turn on the performer – hence, a comedy killer.” The big irony, of course, is that just about every “Comedy Killer” joke in the sketch is funny in its own subversive way—in a sense, the snake eats its own tail. We get a number of Staples here:

*Don’t make fun of the Kennedy’s unless it’s Ted (may he respectfully R.I.P.)
*Don’t make fun of Sick and/or abused Children
*In fact, don’t make fun of children in general (unless you’re George Carlin)
*Above all else, NEVER make fun of German archduke Franz Ferdinand—I know it’s been over 100 years, but the Prussian/Germans are still a little testy about that.

So, about that big mistake Roseanne made; she actually makes fun of herself about it in the sketch—I speak, of course, about her infamous “performance” of our National Anthem at a San Diego Padres game in the Summer of 1990. A performance which, now that I’m old enough to have seen it a few times, was certainly abysmal vocally—but perhaps that was the point. As far as I’m concerned; I just see it as an aborted attempt at “Kaufman-esqe” humor, but certainly NOT offensive—and you’re more than welcome to agree/disagree. As for the sketch, the low blows certainly hit pretty hard, but as long as there’s a built-in irony of people laughing at things that’ll supposedly take the air out of the room, I’d think of the sketch as pretty neutral.


Roseanne’s 2nd appearance in 1992 came with a little extra baggage—ex-husband Tom Arnold. Fortunately, today’s sketch doesn’t have him anywhere near it, and is also a “Hallowed Ground” moment…

RECEPTIONIST

THE RECEPTIONIST (Original Airdate: 2/22/1992) – I’ve ignored a number of people in the Year+ I’ve been doing this; and yes, David Spade is one of them. Not because I hate the guy, far from it; but quite honestly, I would like him more if he showed a little range once in a while instead of essentially playing the same person for 30 years and counting (Though I will grant him that his recent appearances on Netflix’s “Love” is a marked improvement, he should do more roles like that). So with that; it’s pretty easy to forget that once upon a time, he seemed like a fresh-faced and otherwise likeable guy—this sketch in particular put him on the map, which is semi-ironic considering this was actually the Second time the sketch was done. If you remember the First receptionist sketch WITHOUT looking it up on NBC’s Website or the SNL Transcript page, you’re a bigger fan than I am. For the uninitiated, Spade plays the title role as someone who must’ve invented the acronym D.G.A.F., refusing to let people from all walks of life into the office of TV mogul Dick Clark—whether it be a humble executive (Nealon), Roseanne herself trying to out-DGAF Spade, Clark’s Biological Mother (Sweeney), or even the son of God (Hartman stealing yet another scene), Spade gives ‘em all the passive-aggressive version of “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!” If TPTB were smart, they probably should left well enough alone with this character; and for the most part, they did–save for one more appearance a few years later. But between this sketch, 1994’s “Total Bastard Airlines” (AKA “Buh-Bye”) and his Hollywood Minutes/Spade in America, The trajectory for Spade’s career pretty much locked into place with little room for improvement. A shame, really; because like many cast members who are destined for pigeonholing, I wouldn’t mind seeing him step out of his comfort zone once in a blue moon (Seriously, watch him on “Love”).


STAR BALDWIN

Ask anybody who their all time favorite SNL host is, and I’m sure multiple people will give similar answers (Many of whom are covered on the host tapes). Though not quite my Personal favorite, Alec Baldwin IS currently the Alpha & Omega—and at the rate he keeps playing Generalissimo Naranja, he might as well take the entire Greek alphabet—but like many other hosts, he had to earn his stripes. This tape not only features The first two episodes he hosted, but also a viable initiation process into greatness…

GREENHILLY

GREENHILLY (Original Airdate: 4/21/1990) – Baldwin’s first SNL sketch goes all the way back to his Soap Opera roots; playing a playboy who seems to have irresistible charm over everyone and everything at the title………Mansion?……..Country Club?……..Resort? Hmmm…I’ve been watching this sketch for years, and for the first time I actually don’t know what kind of place “Greenhilly” is supposed to be. Yeah, it’s an irrelevant point compared to the plot of the sketch, but now I can’t stop thinking about it—I mean, there’s a maid (Jackson) and two obvious heads of the house (Dunn & Hartman), but the scene begins with Baldwin & Hooks coming in from a Game of Tennis…Y’know what, Hell with it, I’m gonna say Greenhilly is a Mansion with Multiple tenants–sort of a Blue-blooded “Melrose Place”. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the main joke of the sketch—people’s inability to resist Baldwin’s charm. We get a little passion between him & Hooks, followed by a rather clumsy embrace with Victoria, then something a little more tawdry with Nora, and Then THE Punchline…where Baldwin makes his moves on Phil. I’m just gonna get this out of the way; I’ve always been “Not Gay, But Supportive”; and this goes for comedic kissing as well…but up to a point. Back when this aired in 1990, a 2-man kiss was probably one of the rarest events to happen in any media under any context. Hell, OJ Simpson Kissed both Bill Murray AND Garrett Morris over a decade earlier; but censors were more prudish back then, they cut away the moment it happened—not so, here, they hang on to that shot for dear life. A Kiss like that works for comedic effect because (1) It’s both Rare & Shocking to see—at least back then, (2) It comes from people you would least expect, (3) It’s a perfect payoff to an already building series of jokes, and MOST IMPORTANTLY (4) It’s neither blatant nor gratuitous; it is a means to an end. I mention all of these because a couple of years ago, it seemed as though week after week, there was at least one sketch on the show that seemed to have added a same-sex kiss just for the hell of it, and NOT for the sake of comedy like you see here in “Greenhilly”. Ergo, I have nothing against same-sex kiss scenes, as long as it’s done for tasteful purposes………Man on DOG kissing, on the other hand (whether the dog Baldwin kissed at the very end was a puppet or not) I draw the line on—but at least Baldwin earned his dues in just one sketch. And besides, it could be LOT worse…it could be “Canteen Boy” (and I promise that sketch’s time will come someday).


Well, if you’re still here, congratulations for not being offended by Greenhilly or my thoughts on it. As we move to Baldwin’s 2nd appearance; we see someone who in just one episode not only knows the ropes, but is also the kind of host who is willing to 1UP himself—in small doses, of course.

CYRANO

CYRANO de BERGERAC (Original Airdate: 2/23/1991)(Note to Self: I gotta start yelling “Getty!” under my Breath the same way Jerry Seinfeld yelled “Newman!” under his.) OK folks, time for a gut check—In SNL History, there has been just a little over 150 total cast members who called Studio 8H their home. Chances are, there will be one or two…enty that I will overlook for whatever reason. That being said, I think I need to perform some sort of discipline on myself for covering only Two Tim Meadows sketches (including this one) since I started. Of course, this sketch having “Early 90s Meadows” feature in it, I can understand if people missed out on it the first time—especially since people wouldn’t notice him until a few years later. Regardless, Meadows gives Baldwin a hand in this “Updated” version of the classic tale, only instead of Just having the big nose, Meadows decides to play his Cyrano a little more—shall we say—“Urban” than other interpretations, giving the character sort of a “Barry White meets Luther Vandross” kind of slant. The sketch pretty much belongs to Meadows, with Baldwin just there for the ride; all in all this seems like a rejected draft of a “What If” sketch from the 70s (What if Cyrano de Bergerac was an R&B Singer?). The sketch was OK, but Even Baldwin’s “rival” Steve Martin would’ve found this to be a little silly…and HE starred in “Roxanne”, a so-called “Modern” take on the tale. Nevertheless, Baldwin and Especially Meadows were still very much on the learning curve at the time, a few more years down the road, both of them would become effortless.


STAR BERGEN

Candice Bergen; the Daughter of a Comedy/Ventriloquism legend, an iconic performer in her own right, a multiple Emmy-award winning TV star, and (in her own words) “Saturday Night’s first Woman Host”. Although “Murphy Brown” was TV’s hottest show when this tape was first released and she did host a few times in the 80s, it’s her appearances in the 70s we’ll be looking at now—particularly her first two appearances…

CHAT

CHAT (Original Airdate: 11/15/1975) –  (No Clip/Transcript…sort of) Revisiting Episode 4 for a second, I mentioned previously that by the cast/crew/Lorne’s admission, this was probably the first show they did that felt like the kind of show they’ve been doing for 40+ years and counting—In short, the episode where they found their rhythm.  But even in those early shows afterward, there was still a lot fine tuning to be had. Albert Brooks & The Muppets were obviously odd ones out, but then there were other times where the show would be different in other ways. Take for instance this segment where Bergen & Gilda are simply shooting the breeze about whatever is on their mind at the moment. Despite the fact that this is clearly a conversation between two people, It’s not really an “Interview”. From the way things look, this is really more about discussing the various insecurities the two of them seem to share, and they discuss them in a way that makes me wish the term “Adorkable” was invented back then—surprisingly, just based on the random clip of the sketch I found, it’s nice to know that people complained about hipsters even back then; so in a sense, this piece is actually kinda timeless. Incidentally, this piece was actually supposed to introduce an Albert Brooks film, but because of Starmaker’s sometimes awkward editing, the sketch just “ends”; all the more reason to check out the Complete First Season of the show on DVD just so you can see this in its original context. Nevertheless, this also shows just how Rare a “personal” moment takes place on the show in this day & age (without having to address tragedies). In a way, I sort of see why they would do something like this, perhaps so the audience would get better acquainted with the yet-to-be famous cast.


More than being one of the show’s Original hosts, Bergen also holds the unique distinction of being one of a very few number of people to not only have hosted Twice in a Season, but also Twice in a Calendar year. Even more so, Bergen was the first to do both; which sort of stands to reason because back in the early days of the show, one idea was to have sort of a “Stable” of recurring hosts and they would rotate every few weeks (sort of like the old “Colgate Comedy Hour” did…look it up.). Eventually, that idea fell by the wayside, and the show’s quest for “Normal” would go onward. Anyway, Bergen’s 2nd show was also SNL’s first Christmas Show; and with it, a sketch that I’m honestly surprised hasn’t resulted in a lawsuit of some kind 30 years later…

ELF

LATENT ELF (Original Airdate: 12/20/1975) – Stop me if you heard this one before; a Grown man is an Elf from the North Pole, and he tries to fit in with the rest of his “Normal” family in the real world. Thankfully, that’s just about where any comparison to Will Ferrell’s perennially run on TBS movie comes to a stop, but still…freaky coincidence. The big difference between this sketch and Ferrell’s flick (aside from a Big Budget, Big Stars AND Tyrion Lannister) is the fact that this sketch is really more about tolerance—which, given the fact that this was the mid 70s, there was a surprising lack of in most media (with some exceptions…PBS documentaries, mostly). If you read some of the dialogue in the transcript, the evidence is pretty clear that the notion of Teddy the Elf (Chevy) revealing to the rest of his family (Bergen, Aykroyd & Jane) that he has always been an elf is a pretty matter-of-fact metaphor for Homosexuality and/or Gender Identity. But because it’s done in such a way, the whole thing looks pretty harmless today (though I can only imagine the angry, intolerant calls people made to NBC at the time). Nevertheless, this is a solid, early example of the show being progressive in its subject matter—even if on the surface, nobody seemed to have noticed just how progressive it would be until years later. BTW, if you’re curious about the bumper that closes the sketch saying “Somewhere in the World, this is the Family Hour”; Number 1, we gotta talk about the “Caption Bumpers” from the first 6 years at some point in the future; and number two, here’s a friendly little reminder on what exactly the “Family Hour” was just so you get the reference.


STAR CHEVY (HOST)

Love, Loathe, Hate or Tolerate; SNL would probably NEVER have survived its infancy without Chevy Chase. These next 2 episodes focus on some of the times when Chevy hosted the show, but what’s interesting about these selections is the fact that you are going to be observing two Very Different versions of the same person. One who was riding high as a Superstar, the other whose star was just starting to cool off—but as long as he’s in Studio 8H (and not making dirty jokes at the expense of cast members), he’ll always be a welcome member of the family…

ARABS

THE BEL-AIRABS (Original Airdate: 2/9/1980) – (No Video/Transcript Available.)  OK, this is a LONG Entry, so bear with me. First thing’s first, it’s another one of those sketches that contains dated historical context; so with that, I’ll give you a minute to read up on what Abscam was……………You Ready?……..OK, on we go. As I mentioned when talking about Season 5 sketches a while back, not only was this the last year with the Original cast, but it also marked a chance for them to pretty much do whatever they wanted no matter how ambitious or how offensive or “Out There” the premise was. Surprisingly, this was actually the Second time they did this sketch; and considering how volatile the world’s political climate was at the time this aired, I’m surprised the writers of this sketch didn’t wind up with a Fatwa on their heads. Then again, it’s JUST a “Beverly Hillbillies” parody, it just so happens to have Middle Easterners involved. At this point, I’m going to make a slight Deferral to part of an article one Mr. Dennis Perrin wrote for the Huffington Post 7 years ago regarding the sketch in general, and I Quote:

 

“The Iranian hostage crisis inspired less pointed humor, for fairly obvious reasons. National tension, frustration, and anger about being an “impotent” country didn’t leave much room for savage parody. The Ayatollah Khomeini served his role as all-purpose devil, an easy target, guaranteed to get a response. But there was an general hostile mood to anything Middle Eastern, Arab or Persian that season. Again, no surprise. SNL has long flirted with, when not succumbing to anti-Arab racism. In the fifth year, one premise really stood out in this regard: The Bel Airabs.

A take-off on The Beverly Hillbillies, The Bel Airabs tells the story about “a man named Abdul/a poor Bedouin barely kept his family full/ and then one day he was shootin’ at some Jews/ and up through the sand came a bubbling crude.” The Asad family, newly rich through oil, settle in Bel Air and display the same backward customs and behavior as the hillbilly Clampetts. Threats of violence, amputation for attempted theft, and bribing a federal agent make up much of the Asads’ character. But the real prize goes to Gilda Radner’s Granny who, wearing an abaya, jumps and screams in gibberish that’s supposed to be Arabic.

One can say this is simply a turn on Irene Ryan’s Granny, who behaved in a similar fashion. But given the political period in which The Bel Airabs aired, it’s clear that the shrieking Arab stereotype was there to provide a racial thrill, a release of anger towards those holding American hostages. There is no way SNL would portray an Orthodox Jewish woman screaming Hebrew gibberish. If all ethnicities were equally trashed in this manner, then fine. But studying SNL’s timeline, Arabs and Persians are treated much differently than other satirized tribes. The Bel Airabs were but the first explicit example of this tendency.”

 

May I also recommend reading the ENTIRE article for a better grasp of context regarding Season 5 in General; anyway, back to the sketch. In addition to this being a reasonably solid TV parody, it also marks one of the rare times longtime writer/featured performer Don Novello plays a character that’s NOT his signature Fr. Guido Sarducci…And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think it’s BECAUSE of his heavy Italian accent that he actually comes across as a convincing Arabian—which is far more than I can say about Murray, Laraine and Gilda’s performances (though to be fair, Gilda’s attempt at and “Irene-ian Ryan” was kinda cute). Chevy largely plays it straight as an FBI agent who gets the Abdul family in position as they try to take down Tom Davis as a congressman involved in AbScam–I’ll try to come up with a sketch tomorrow where Chevy is more “Involved”. Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter if the sketch is offensive to some viewers or not, as long as there’s a solid effort put in to the sketch and there’s at least one good laugh, the sketch is doing its job—though, again, considering the world’s geo-political climate at the time, they were smart to stop at two editions of it.


I wasn’t kidding when I say that there’s a “Family” dynamic when one works for SNL (or at the very least, I assume there is). Sometimes veterans of the show come by to give a pointer or two to the up-and comers in an effort to make them feel like they’re at home. That being said, I give to you the ONE time (as a host, that is) that Chevy Chase actually looked like he gave a damn about something…almost…

TIM

COMFORTING TIM (Original Airdate: 1/18/1992) – Something else I wasn’t kidding about earlier was the unusual lack of faith the show seemed to have had in Tim Meadows in the Early 90s. Yes, he would reinvent himself in the 2nd half of the decade; but back when he first started, his status on the show could easily be summed up in just one line from the hallowed “Not Gonna Phone it in tonight” (“I don’t have any lines, I’m not in the show, but something tells me that if I were, I’d be rarin’ to go!”). In short, nobody knew what to do with him. So it should come as a surprise to no one that the best they could do is have him play himself—especially in a piece like this one, where Chevy tries to comfort Meadows who is upset for an unknown reason. Chevy tries to pinpoint what the reason is; everything from the common (Are you sick? Family Member sick, etc.) to the increasingly outlandish (“Were you Raped?” “Do you want to Rape Me?” etc.—remember, this is Chevy Asking Tim for this). Ultimately, Chevy pretty much tells Tim not to worry about anything because we all die in the end—which does nothing to help. As Chevy wishes Tim a good show, Tim blurts out that this was the only sketch he’s in this evening—which, quite honestly, would’ve been a better payoff if they revealed more directly that this was the reason Tim was so upset in the first place. But because that last line felt nothing short of telegraphed, the payoff eventually petered out…………..Just like Chevy’s career (save for “Community”…and he wound up borking that, too). And while I feel these two sketches might not be the best examples of Chevy in his natural element, he Does have a 2nd “Best of” tape, and we’ll cover something from that once we get to the “Special Editions”. For now though; the most I can say is that when he’s not being a jerk, at least he helps move some of the stories along thanks to how droll he can be at times. The so-called “Funny” things he does are just a bonus; nothing more.


STAR DANNY

As I said back on the ’82 Tape, you can’t find a host that was more under-served than Danny DeVito–a guy who actually has the distinction of appearing in something that appeared on the show, BEFORE the show ever existed (The “Hot Dogs for Gaugin” short from the Doumanian season was actually filmed in 1972 by an up-and-coming director named Martin Brest…too bad he had to throw everything away by doing “Gigli”). Granted, I always liked the guy, and He certainly made his presence known in the 80s and part of the 90s; yet somehow wound up lost in the shuffle among all the other great 5-timers—either that, or the show doesn’t show much love for people who are relegated to Basic Cable these days. Nevertheless, the guy still has energy that can only come from a Jersey wiseguy, and these two shows from ’87 and ’88 respectively represent the man at his zenith (Not that he’s doing bad, he & Charlie Day are the only reasons why “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is still on the air).

GORBY

REAGAN & GORBACHEV (Original Airdate: 12/5/1987) – For historical context, this was during the point where Reagan calmly, but sternly asked Gorbachev to “Tear Down This Wall”; which eventually happened—but not before the two met up with a series of international summits in each of their respective countries…something that if it took place today, there would be so much spin on the story, you would mistake it for a Bowling Ball going down a freshly waxed track……that was the worst metaphor ever, I apologize. Anyway, after seeing Hartman portray Reagan as cold & calculating in the classic “Mastermind” sketch, it was sort of jarring to see them go back to the reliable “doddering” route for subsequent appearances. Not that that’s too big a complaint, but I always thought that was a wasted opportunity. Either that, or if they went the “Calculating” route too often, Reagan’s people might’ve started to complain—not unlike “Sunny D-stroyer” who probably has a Dartboard with Alec Baldwin’s face on it somewhere…but I’m rambling again. This sketch was actually a pretty basic setup; Reagan shows President Gorbachev (DeVito) around the city while discussing their plans for the upcoming summit; all while Reagan points out various bits of movie trivia that happens around the DC—which is a plus, because I Love Movie Trivia. I don’t know what it is, but the whole sketch seems a little “Dry” to me; for starters, don’t they usually applaud when the host appears for the first time (yes, even back then, that was a thing)? Also, the jokes would’ve probably hit a little harder if the young audience of the 80s was into movies from the 40s & 50s—which would also probably explain why they would have such relics as Robert Mitchum & Angie Dickinson host this season. That, and with all due respect, DeVito couldn’t play Russian to save his life here; he certainly looks the part, but there’s too much “Jerseyness” in the performance. Thank God for Hartman; who in his 2nd season, is already using his “Glue” powers to help make even slightly boring sketches somewhat watchable.


Like I said when I started this thing, I did not own every single one of the tapes in the Starmaker collection. In fact, for a number of these entries, I’m actually finding out about the edits they made for the first time by looking up the tapes on various ebay pages. That being said, I was hugely disappointed when one of my favorite sketches—the one where DeVito shoots Lovitz, and then Lovitz just keeps saying “YA SHOT ME!” over and over—does NOT appear on the cut for DeVito’s ’88 episode. Even more disappointing, another sketch I wanted to cover that’s actually on the tape is not available in either Video or written form. So on that note, it looks like we have no choice…not only is this a sketch where DeVito Doesn’t appear, but we Must use Sex to sell…

SEX TONIGHT

SEX TONIGHT (Original Airdate: 12/3/1988) – In this thinly-veiled “Entertainment Tonight” spoof (right down to the sound-alike theme music), the show talks about—what else—Sex. Sex, and the people who are having it at exotic LoCals, being reported as though it’s another news item like Sports, Weather or Traffic. On paper, this would actually sound like a good idea for a parody…were it not for the creation of the REAL “Sex Tonight” decades later in the form of TMZ (To say nothing of the internet itself…and NO, that’s not click bait, it’s just a song from “Avenue Q”…pervs). Before we go any further, I’m going to jump ahead to the 15th anniversary special to point out a quick segment introduced by the late, great Jan Hooks that actually has something to do with this sketch. Apparently in her “SNL Moment”, Hooks took the time to mention that it was this episode where she broke the show record for “Portraying the most whores in a single episode”; among them is the person she portrays in this sketch—Famed toppler of a televangelist, Jessica Hahn, who according to Hooks “While not technically a Whore was still deemed acceptable by the judges”. The strange parts of that bit was that Hooks seemed bizarrely proud of that, AND for beating the record allegedly held by Buck Henry—but like many things, I’m sure that was just a throwaway joke. Anyway, this was somewhat run-of-the-mill for any SNL talk show sketch—sex filled or not—but there are a few saving graces; Carvey’s reliable Casey Kasem giving us a countdown of euphemisms for Masturbation from the 19th Century. Hartman scores again as Wilford “Diabetus” Brimley promoting a line of Sex Chairs for Senior Citizens (which isn’t as disturbing as it sounds). And then you’ve got Hooks’ editorial at the end about how there should be MORE sex on TV “because kids will learn about it sooner or later”…which considering this was the year all the TV networks temporarily lost their Standards & Practices departments, it wasn’t that far-fetched for it to happen while everybody’s guard was down. Still though, the sketch is a metaphor for Sex itself—it starts out with a lot of promise, but then it winds up petering out after 8 minutes………….Or so I’ve been told.


STAR GOODMAN

Not unlike Alec Baldwin, John Goodman was what I would like to call an “Evergreen” host; From 1990 to 2001, he would host the show and come through in the clutch every time that he did—ESPECIALLY in/around 1998 when it seemed like he would come in every week just to play Linda Tripp or some other person. With the exception of a recent appearance in 2013, Goodman has largely stepped away from 30 Rock both for Health Reasons and to appear in a number of notable movies. More power to him, but he probably wouldn’t have had that power if he didn’t go through the 8H machine a couple of times first. Since I already covered a number of sketches from this episode previously, and the other half of them are recurring, that only leaves one…

DITKA

THE MIKE DITKA TYPE-A CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (Original Airdate: 12/2/1989)Nothing says the holidays like “Iron” Mike Ditka (played slightly “Burt Reynolds-ish” by Hartman), celebrating it with his family…a family that seemingly both fears and respects him while trying to maintain some good cheer—and it goes just about as well as you would expect thanks to Ditka’s title “Type-A” personality. As much as readers from the Chicago area both fear and respect Coach Ditka to this day, there’s a good reason why you don’t see this sketch re-run on the various Christmas specials that have played over the years; Partly because it’s a little dated, also partly because the only way you might get some of the jokes is if you’re either a football fan, from Chicago, or both. Want Proof? When I first saw this as a kid, there was a part where Ditka introduces his special guest; Jan Hooks as the widow of Brian Piccolo. At that age, I had no idea who he or what the movie “Brian’s Song” was, so it understandably flew over my head the first time. It’s also a pity I’ve already covered most of Goodman’s episode elsewhere; because with this sketch remaining, the only thing worth talking about aside from Hartman as Ditka is the inescapable fact that John Goodman is, and will always be Santa Claus. I don’t want to say this was a part he was born to play, but considering his famous frame (as well as his later voice over work playing Santas of all types), forgive me for feeling the portrayal is a little too on the nose…except when he’s fighting with Ditka at the end, then it gives Santa total justification to be stern & violent 1000 years from now. This of course leads to one more reason why this never makes the cut on SNL’s Christmas specials, the sketch is too much of a downer (and considering they’ve allowed a “Debbie Downer” Christmas sketch into the fold over the years, that’s saying a lot). Christmas is supposed to be about fun, joy and happiness—not bitterness, anger or dysfunction (Well…Most of the time, anyway). As far as Christmas sketches go, this one sticks out like a sore thumb…or a Jay Cutler interception (Ba-ZING!).


Goodman’s 2nd show in 1990 was a little more refined–as is the case when any host makes a return appearance; there was still a fair share of recurring moments (Church Lady and her mother–a thankless job by Goodman–taking on Saddam Husein, Wayne’s World ft. Madonna’s “Justify my Love” video & the Debuts of “Pat” and “The McLaughlin Group”). But even though this is Goodman’s tape to shine, I still need to do a bit of a make-up call by way of a sketch where he doesn’t appear…

JAGGER

MICK JAGGER’S WEDDING (Original Airdate: 12/1/1990) – An eternal partier from Aurora, IL; a “Cawfee” loving New “Yawker” who tends to get all verklempt; a life-long Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and (as of this writing) a heavily disguised British comedian hosting a revival of a cheesy variety show. Still another person I have yet to talk about while doing these things is the one & only Mike Myers, who in this case gets to show off one of his better impressions as Mick Jagger prepares to get hitched to Jerry Hall after over a decade of fooling around. But instead of playing up the Rock angle like some might’ve expected, the piece somehow turns into an odd “Father/Son Talk” between Jagger and best man Keith Richards (Carvey), even though the joke is pretty obvious that Mick Freakin’ Jagger doesn’t need to learn about the birds and the bees. And yet, somehow the scene sort of works just because of how innocently Myers is playing Jagger—almost childlike (this is gonna sound nuts, but with the makeup, he kinda reminds me of a young & British Ashton Kutcher with feathered hair). Unfortunately, this sketch would’ve retained its poignancy a little better if the real Jagger & Hall didn’t split up 10 years later, and Hall is now in the clutches of Rupert Murdoch (It happens). Certainly a hidden gem for both Myers & Carvey, but considering it’s the friggin’ Rolling Stones they’re spoofing, things could’ve been a little less low-key.


STAR GOULD

(Apologies for the Picture Quality)

Moving on now to Elliott Gould; another Charter host who—with the exception of “Friends”, the recent “Ocean’s 11” movies, and an upcoming dumpster fire on CBS called “9JKL”—hasn’t really done anything of significance since 1980 when he begrudgingly hosted the first Doumanian show…A Small Price to pay for him selling his soul to Bill Cosby around the same time, but that’s besides the point (Truthfully, I’m more shocked that that was a Disney Movie). Back in his heyday, Gould was actually a bankable leading man; and he used that bankability to help get SNL off the ground during its first season. Of course, this was at a time when the show was still trying to find a firm grip on its identity…

GILDA

ELLIOTT & GILDA (Original Airdate: 1/10/1976) – This was another one of those “Runner/3-pack” sketches that happened through the episode, though in this case there are actually 5 parts; Starting at the end of the monologue, Gilda enters the stage to chat a little with Gould and to tell him that she “Had a nice time” with him a few nights ago. The conversation goes about as charmingly awkward as most RomComs tend to be; but because of Gilda’s charms, it’s forgivable for the most part. You don’t see Part 2 on the Starmaker tape because it segues into musical guest Anne Murray’s performance, but the general gist of it is that Gilda is jealous of an off screen lady-friend of Gould’s. Part 3 has Gilda introducing Gould to her mother (Incidentally played by the mother of the late Madeline Kahn), showing signs that the relationship is beginning to get serious…so much so that by Part 4, the two of them are casually discussing the notion of them getting married…which they do by the end of the show. Although this was the first season and there was a lot of experimenting to do, this was still quite the rarity on the show—an actual linear “storyline” that would take place throughout the episode; while at the same time, it does little to nothing to affect the show’s overall integrity. You see that, Tom Green, THAT’S how you do that. Granted, these storyline sketches pale in comparison to Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus in ’86, but you could tell that even in the early days of the show they were willing to go the extra mile in that regard. But then you have the flipside of these sketches—if you do them too many times, THEN it will become distracting enough to mess with show integrity, which is probably why (with the exception of some pre-recorded pieces) you don’t see many “Runner” sketches on the show anymore. As for this one in particular, they certainly matched Gilda’s personality—Sweet, awkwardly charming, yet still somewhat compelling.


Considering Gould’s tape was one of only a few that I never owned or watched, we have to take a look at one of the more “Obvious”, non-monologue, non-opening sketches that I know for certain was at least advertised on the tape (I wish I knew what else was on it, but I only have a picture of the front cover, no backside). Thankfully, though, the sketch is not only another “Hallowed Ground” moment, but it stands the test of time as one of the “bests” in a number of categories…

STARTREK

STAR TREK: THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE (Original Airdate: 5/29/1976) – So many elements make this one of the greatest SNL sketches of all time. For starters, it’s one of the best sketches that Michael O’Donoghue wrote for the show, or will ever have written that wasn’t a “Least Loved Bedtime Tale” or “The Bizarro World”—unlucky for him, he lost out on an Emmy for Writing over Marilyn Suzanne Miller’s “Young Lovers” sketch. It’s one of the best performances of John Belushi’s career; though while brushing up on the “Belushi” book, it almost amazes me that he was able to turn in the performance that he did in the final live version after (allegedly) blowing  it several times in rehearsal. It’s one of the greatest TV Parodies the show ever had, even doing so much as literally and figuratively breaking down the 4th wall by the time everything was said & done. Most importantly, it’s also one of the greatest “Biting the hand that feeds you” moments SNL makes towards NBC—even though the subject of the sketch was canceled almost 10 years before this sketch happened. Each of these elements, plus some special attention to detail (I.e. the set pieces & sound FX), near-accuracy in performances from Belushi, Chase & Aykroyd, the first of MANY cameos over 40 years from longtime SNL staffer/Sulu Cosplayer Akira “Leo” Yoshimura, and the overall sense that the audience is eating it up more intently than any other sketch that aired in the first year (or to that point in show history); and when you think about it, why not? After all, the same audience that was eating it up probably grew up watching the original Star Trek series when they were kids; this was probably just a way for Star Trek to grow up alongside them; only for the subsequent motion pictures to follow them into adulthood. The sketch resonated so strongly, that of course it will go down as one of the greatest SNL moments ever.


Tom.
Motherfuckin’.
Hanks.

STAR HANKS

To recap all that he has done both on and off the show since 1985 would probably be an article in itself that will have to wait another day. In the meantime, these two episodes not only represent Hanks just as he was about to make it Big (no pun intended), but he also became a World-Class host and a friend to the show thanks in part to slipping in and out of sketches like a fitted glove—all the while, he performs as though he’s simply a part of the cast and not a holier-than-thou kind of host that feels he or she needs to be the center of attention. What Phil Hartman was to the cast, Tom Hanks can certainly be considered more of a Limited Edition “Glue”. And since I speak of both men in the same sentence…

MEMORY

MR. SHORT TERM MEMORY – THE HOSPITAL (Original Airdate: 2/17/1990) – I’m going to cheat a little here; granted it’s not a recurring character in the “traditional” sense, but Hanks did play him 3 times and I always hoped he would do it again in his later years. This was actually one of an ongoing “type” of sketch that was in vogue during the “Silver Age”; that being that certain sketches (no matter if it recurs or not) gets their own jaunty theme song as though it was SNL’s take on sitcoms from the 50s & 60s—complete with cheesy “Reaction” still-shots. No complaints about that, but the one thing that sort of bugs me is just how these “theme songs” tend to over-telegraph the premise of a sketch to a point where you ask yourself if you should be watching this in the first place? Thankfully, the jokes are not only kept fresh in each situation, but they also fly fast and furious ultimately resulting in something “Abbott & Costell-ish”—something that actually comes in handy in this case; Hanks essentially plays Costello to Hartman’s Abbott. The jokes fly even faster because of Hanks’ gimmick of him losing his memory every 5 seconds, and Hanks winds up shining because of it—everything from constantly bugging the nurse (Victoria Jackson), to calling 911 While in the hospital, to the thought that a perfectly able-bodied Hanks is the one in medical need even though it’s Hartman in the bed. The timing of each of these short term reactions that Hanks shows off is not only a mark of his talent, but it also makes me wish Hanks did the “wacky” type of comedic movies again—seriously, he’s at maximum levels of critical acclaim, a “David S. Pumpkins” movie won’t hurt him in the slightest.


Hanks hosted his 3rd time in October 1988; the Season Premiere of Season 14, no less. The Writer’s Guild Strike just recently wrapped up, everybody had a renewed sense of energy, it was also an Election Year, so you knew they had to fire on all cylinders in order to set the pace for the year ahead. Luckily, Hanks had already proven himself to be a textbook host—the fact they asked him to do it again after a fairly recent appearance a few months earlier either shows that they had someone special, or they were scrambling to find someone on short notice during the strike. Thankfully it was more of the former over the latter, even if some of the things he did were slightly questionable…

JEW

JEW, NOT A JEW (Original Airdate: 10/8/1988) – A few notes before we go any further; Number 1, I was born & raised Jewish and have heard just about every “Jew” Joke and insult there has ever been since the dawn of time—so trust me when I say this sketch is about as “offensive” to me as flannel pajamas. So, ‘ya got that, everybody? I’m Jewish and I’m not offended at all by this—in fact, it’s yet another game show sketch I should’ve placed in the honorable mention list. Now that we got that out of the way; although I liked the sketch, the whole thing just felt a little too low-key. This sketch was apparently written during the brief time when (for cost-cutting purposes) NBC had actually abolished the Standards & Practices department for about a year—which is also apt because without that happening, we wouldn’t’ve been treated to “Nude Beach” the following week. At the same time, this sketch might’ve been written out of necessity not just because of the S&P abolition, but also because they might’ve had to rush new material in a post-strike world; this one seemed pretty easy to write. Aside from Hanks rattling through the rules about Jewish bloodlines, a way-too-on-the-nose joke about Ed Koch and a “You Make the Call” bit on Dodgers great Sandy Koufax (complete with a joke recycled from “Jewess Jeans”), one of the things that always stuck out for me was the fact that one of the contestants was named “Knundsen”—if that name sounds familiar, you need to wait about 3 years to hear that name again; which also begs the question of if Tom Schiller had anything to do with writing the sketch…probably not, this sounded more like something Smigel would’ve done. The sketch was OK, but given the circumstances the whole thing felt like instant soup you would make in a microwave—the flavor is there, but it was hastily made; so it wasn’t too nourishing (Believe me, as cliche as it may sound, we Jews KNOW about soup).


STAR BUCK

OK folks, not gonna lie, this was probably the most difficult tape I had to do research for so far. Not because I had already used up some sketches from his episodes (though granted, that doesn’t help), but because no matter which picture I was looking up, I had absolutely zero clue as to which specific episodes were on the tape—assuming I’d track down the “Starmaker” tape in the first place; 9 out of 10 times, I had found various releases from “Warner Home Video” back when they had very limited distribution rights to the show—that wouldn’t work because those tapes had full-length episodes. I can only ASSUME that Buck Henry’s first episode from 1976 is on this tape because it already featured on the 1976 “Annual” tape (and if you’ve been following along this far, you know by now that Starmaker has a habit of “repeating” episodes on other tapes.). The second episode is even more dicey to figure out; going by the alternate “Time-Life” release, I see screen shots of a “Nerds” sketch in one corner, and what I can only assume is an “Uncle Roy” sketch in the opposite corner. So going by That Alone, I’m going to take a guess and say that the 2nd episode was from 1978, but I’m not sure if it was Late season 3 or Early season 4—and if anybody out there used to collect these tapes, please let me know if I’m right or wrong about any of this; otherwise the sketch after this one will be totally random, and I run the risk of doing a “Make-up call” once this is over.

 

In the meantime, here now is at least one sketch from the ORIGINAL 5-Timer; and another one of Comedy’s unsung heroes…

STUMBLE

OPERATION: STUMBLEBUM (Original Airdate: 1/17/1976) – As I mentioned all the way at the beginning of this Starmaker page, SNL’s political humor began with Chevy Chase doing what I can only describe as a “Non-Impression” of then President Gerald Ford tripping all over the place because (god Forbid) the Real Ford made a simple faux pas that could realistically be blamed on the rain. At the same time, the Ford impression ushered in the idea that if one joke works an entire sketch, you better believe that same joke will be pounded down over and over until the audience wants to change the channel and watch a late night movie instead. So for this edition of what the show called “An Oval Office”, they try really hard to at least add some depth to the existing joke. They do this by having Chevy strategize a PR plan with Buck as Press Secretary Ron Nessen (AKA, somebody [INSERT TRUMP PR PERSON OF THE WEEK] WISHES s/he could be more like) in an effort to downplay just how much of a klutz Ford is and emphasize that he’s doing the best he can to Make America………you know the rest. From there, Chevy pretty much undoes anything that’s planned thanks to said stumbling, but not without Buck & the rest of the Male cast trying to go along with just how messed up the President has become thanks to a number of crashes in the halls of the White House; even going so far as having the Secret Service tear up their clothing so they look similar to the President’s—of course, that’s just the 2nd half of the sketch. The first half is another example of just how “Abbott & Costell-ish” some early sketches could be; Buck is the exasperated straight man, Chevy is the idiot who gets all the laughs. Although the same joke of Ford’s stupidity over and over causes more harm than good, you could see that at least they are trying to 1-up themselves from all previous attempts to this point. There would still be a LONG way to go until Political humor would be perfected on the show, but at least this was a step in the right direction.


OK, since I still don’t know what the 2nd episode on the Buck Henry tape is, I’m going to flip a coin. Heads, I’ll cover a random sketch from his May 1978 episode. Tails, a sketch from November of ’78; continuity be damned…(*FLIPS COIN*)…

SODOM

SODOM CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (Original Airdate: 5/20/1978) – One of the Hallmarks of Buck Henry’s hosting appearances is the fact that he seems more than willing to put himself into sketches that even undignified people wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Need someone to abuse a Stunt Baby and/or Puppy? Buck’ll do it. Need a perverted uncle who takes unsettling pictures of his nieces? Buck’ll do that too. Needing to be called a Douchebag while in Victorian-era wigs? Hair & Make-up’s just ‘round the corner, Mr. Henry! So it should come as no surprise that Buck & co. would do a sketch like this, where he and the cast would defend the “virtue” of the biblical town of Sodom (I guess the set designers couldn’t afford to make a second set for Gomorrah). Once you get past all the obvious jokes about Sodomy and all it entails, What REALLY makes this sketch clever is the fact that this was actually a timely metaphor for the conditions New York City were in at the time this aired. You have to remember that back in the 70s; New York was on the brink of bankruptcy, crime was at an all-time high, sex & drugs were pretty much everywhere you turned, living conditions were deplorable if you weren’t a wealthy Manhattanite, and some critics even argued that the city was a “Modern Day Sodom & Gomorrah”—at least until Ed Koch was elected mayor. So, not only was this sketch more than a fitting metaphor for present day—give or take 4000 years—but it was also one of those sketches that “Held a Mirror” to itself and showing that New York was not the first city (and certainly not the Last) to go through an image crisis. In the sketch, they do this by trying to emphasize more “Touristy” attractions; Parks, Theater, Restaurants, etc. and downplay other “Sodom-like” elements (I.e. Human sacrifices and…oh, I don’t know…THE SODOMY).To further nail the comparison down, I have to give bonus points to the very end of the sketch where the female cast sing a quick jingle about Sodom set to a tune that would be strikingly familiar to New Yorkers & out of towners alike. They tried to make the censors go nuts with all the talk of sodomy, but as it turns out this was actually a pretty subtle piece of social commentary—something that I wish the show would do more of today (not counting “political” humor).


STAR MARTIN

On the “Mt. Rushmore” of SNL hosts, Steve Martin deserves a place somewhere between Hanks, Baldwin & Buck—but don’t make me choose which president is compared to which host, because that would mean Trump would be on there, by proxy. Point is, Steve was already a pretty popular comedian by the time he hosted his first show in ’76. But if his memoir “Born Standing Up” was any indication, 1978 was the time when his fame (and the show’s) was about to reach the stratosphere. Nowhere was this more valid than in the iconic April 22nd, 1978 program that introduced the world to “The Blues Brothers”, “King Tut”, the continuing story of the “Festrunk Brothers”, Steve Dancing (in the dark) with Gilda, and the overall sense of a really good mood once the show wrapped for the night. So, if you’ll “Excuuuuuuuusssssseeeee Meeeeeeeeee” for a second, I want to talk about another moment I really enjoyed from this episode…

BARBER

THEODORIC OF YORK: MEDIEVAL BARBER (Original Airdate: 4/22/1978) – Although this sketch Did have a sequel the following November of ‘78, I would like to consider this as a “stand alone” sketch; partly because this was one of many sketches over the years that should only have worked just one time (“Puppetry Class” & “Tonkerbell”, I’m looking in YOUR direction). Nevertheless, one of the areas where SNL usually excelled over the years was in “Period” sketches—ones that don’t take place in modern-day times and certainly don’t use any modern-day anachronisms, Kevin Hart! A sketch like “Theodoric” works because the date/time the sketch takes place in lends to its overall atmosphere, almost making any humor an afterthought. I say “Almost” in this case because the sketch still happens to be funny thanks in part to Steve’s 70’s swagger blending in with the rest of his surroundings. This is especially true when Steve’s Barber/proto-Doctor is trying to treat his customers/patients in increasingly disturbing ways; From giving Aykroyd a standard haircut and bloodletting, to treating Murray’s Dark-age “Honker” by hanging him upside down and applying leeches, to draining a little too much blood from Laraine. This ultimately ends with Steve giving a bit of a soapbox speech about how there should be more science than guesswork when it comes to medicine; culminating in a passive NAH! (A joke that Martin repeats not only in the sketch’s sequel, but in a completely different sketch months earlier) Long story short, the comedy and (more importantly) the atmosphere of the sketch is what makes this memorable—too bad they couldn’t leave well enough alone.


Up until this past season (and also Adjusting for audience & paradigm shifts over the decades), the Season 5 premiere hosted by Martin in October 1979 was the series highest rated episode ever—a high that would only drop precipitously because this was also the year where Aykroyd & Belushi left and the term “Featured Player” became part of the show—to say nothing of the overall burnout the cast/crew would eventually experience by the end of the year. Nevertheless, Martin still brought his A-Game; and along with that, a little “thank you” gift to a certain online publication some 30 years ahead of time…

WTH

WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? (Original Airdate: 10/13/1979) – One of my favorite online publications is “The A.V Club”. Not only do they go into great depth about all things pop culture, but they could probably run circles around me while wearing Jet-Powered Sneakers when it comes to discussing SNL—they’re THAT good, and I only wish I could reach their level someday. I bring them up, because there’s a certain section of their episode reviews that they write about whenever they talk about the last sketch of the night (AKA the “10 to 1” sketch). Appropriately enough, that sub-section is called “What the Hell is That Thing?!”; the origin of which can be found in what I can only call “A Sketch”. Pretty much, for 2 solid minutes, Martin & Murray stare directly into the camera (though Jury’s out if it’s the Camera itself they’re wondering what the Hell it is), and the best I could describe them doing is waxing philosophically while amping up the “Redneck” voice. It almost plays as though it was some sort of low-rent performance art’ yet because of just how head-scratchingly bizarre the piece is, this ultimately becomes a sketch that even Andy Kaufman would be jealous of—It’s that weird, people…and I’m just gonna let the sketch speak for itself this time.


HOSTS

Eddie Murphy returned to SNL a conquering hero in Christmas of 1984 (coincidentally, I was a month old when this aired); and when he returned, he brought back all the old favorites; Mr. Robinson, James Brown (briefly in a “Relatives of the Rich & Famous” sketch), Gumby (which does not appear on the Starmaker tape), and of course, Buckwheat returning from the dead. At the same time, he also managed to squeeze out a few more memorable moments that helped solidify his position not only as a superstar, but as the show’s first savior—and he did so with possibly one of the most stinging pieces of social satire the show has ever had…

WHITE

WHITE LIKE ME (Original Airdate: 12/15/1984)(WARNING: Possibly inflammatory entry) I’ll be honest, I’m probably greatly unqualified to talk about the cultural and societal impact this sketch had on certain audiences without getting a bunch of angry letters—especially in light of some recent events still fresh & raw in people’s minds as of this writing. So for today, I’m going to defer my thoughts to this article I found via the New York Daily News 2 years ago that does a better job of talking about the sketch’s impact on society than I ever will; this one excerpt in particular caught my attention…

 

“To dispute that white privilege exists, is to dispute the very basic idea that privilege exists, in any form whatsoever. That argument, of course, is preposterous. The problem is that privilege does not like to be exposed and people prefer to think that everything they achieve in life comes exclusively from their own hard work and ingenuity and never from the benefits of an unequal system they were born into. In an ideal, just world, that concept is true, but this world is far from ideal. In America being white comes with very real privileges…

In 2015, white privilege actually looks a lot like the fake SNL world — only worse…While many white people ignore the very existence of white privilege or even go so far as to claim it’s a figment of the black imagination, Toure, a cultural commentator and author, recently held a very interesting discussion on the topic. In it, white friends and strangers alike confessed to a wide variety of benefits, large and small, that being white has afforded them. It was a fascinating read. Ultimately, acknowledging that white privilege is a real thing is the first step to dismantling it for a more fair and just society.”

 

…And you can read the rest of it in context here; you’re more than welcome to agree/disagree. Like most of the all-time great sketches (and especially with the filmed pieces), the concept itself is probably the most basic, most fundamental, most simple one…yet the overall end-product of the sketch makes things all the more complex. Murphy begins by telling the audience that there are two America’s; one black and one white. To prove that point, he goes undercover as a white man to see how the other half lives—not unlike a certain book published years earlier that showed a white guy living in a Black man’s world; an unrelated but similarly themed book decades later, or to a far lesser extent, Richard Pryor’s version of whiteface all the way back in 1975 (But don’t call this a sequel to that). SNL’s make-up department went above and beyond the call of duty to make Murphy look so convincing as a white man, that he wound up revisiting that kind of craftsmanship in some of his later movies—In short, if it weren’t for this sketch; Murphy would never have teamed up with Rick Baker all those times in passing years…So in a sense, we have this sketch to partially thank for “Coming to America”, and partially to blame for “Norbit”. While the overall joke of Murphy playing a more than convincing White man was worth the price of admission, I have to wonder what the sketch would’ve been like if everything wasn’t as “rehearsed”. Like, what if “Mr. White” was set loose into the city without a script and he interacted with regular, unsuspecting people on the street in a non-controlled setting. How would the tone of the film then change? If something like that were done today, I’m sure there would be a viral video of the activity somewhere. Finally, there’s the million dollar question; Could a sketch like this work today? IMO, it’s not impossible for a sketch of this caliber to exist (Quite honestly, Dave Chappelle’s episode last year was about as close as we got in the past 30 years); but considering just how PC the world has become since 1984, they would probably do so with the most extreme of caution (I.e. make sure you say the “Right” words so that nobody gets offended)—therefore, a lot of the “Danger” in the sketch would probably be lost, and the sketch’s overall message would be blurred. For now, let’s just be grateful that once upon a time, SNL had the balls to do something that was as much entertaining as it was a social commentary, and everybody still had a good time watching it. And since we just spoke about a polarizing moment, I promise that the next sketch will be far happier in tone.


Since I already spoke about one of the sketches from Murphy’s 1982 episode, I instead want to talk not about a sketch, but rather a “moment” from the same episode that BLEW MY MIND when I first saw it…

 

 

 

GOODNIGHTS (Original Airdate: 12/11/1982) – Words cannot begin to describe this moment, but like that’s ever stopped me before. As you know, Eddie hosted this episode because Nick Nolte (*INSERT REASON OF CANCELATION HERE*)—and for the most part, he carried himself pretty well throughout the show; as he does, naturally. Just as the show is getting ready to close up for the night, in comes Steve Martin—who pretty much hijacks and negates the previous 90 minutes of the show by calling Murphy out on the fact that they couldn’t get anybody else to do the show even though there were plenty of people available. Murphy doesn’t have to say a word (and he technically doesn’t) as he lets Steve do his thing—up to and including (possibly) the last “EXCUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSEEEEEEE MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” he would ever do in Public—having retired from the Standup circuit to focus on movies at that point; in fact, I think the appearance might’ve been to plug “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, but that’s just a guess. What was more important than the appearance itself was the fact that SNL was still trying really hard to stay true to its roots at this point in history—sure, Ebersol’s crew were trying to do their own thing, but they still had an audience to entertain. Why else would Belushi pop out of a bathroom, Bill Murray & Fr. Guido Sarducci spend Christmas with us, and just after this episode have Lily Tomlin appear for her 3rd & final time (unless they ask her to plug “Grace & Frankie”)? Martin’s appearance here was less about the surprise, but more about bridging generation gaps…something I wish was slightly more effective when Murphy & Martin would team up Again a mere 17 years later to do “Bowfinger”. Nevertheless, this moment makes me smile, and still does to this day.


STAR LILY

Lily Tomlin’s inclusion in the “Host” tapes is sort of questionable. She only hosted the show 3 times—Twice in the Early seasons, and once more in 1983. I guess because she was considered one of the “Charter” hosts of the show that giving her a bigger spotlight on home video sort of makes sense. Then again, Eddie Murphy hosted twice (Once as a cast member), and HE got a tape, so who’s to say what’s fair? Anyway, Tomlin’s 1975 episode is identical to the episode on the 1975 “Annual” tape, so on the outset there’s some slim pickings to talk about. So with very little choice in the matter, I have to invoke the wise words of one Mr. Cage. (EDIT: Fixed the link, the last one was kinda choppy)

BEEBOP

BEE-BOP (Original Airdate: 11/23/1975) – (No Video/Transcript) When the show began, there was a palpable sense of “What are we gonna do?” At most, there was going to be a rotating host, a musical guest or two, films by Albert Brooks and Jim Henson’s Muppets. But because you can’t exactly “Preview” a Live show, the audience remained in the dark about what Exactly we would see until the show finally aired—or at least, that’s how it was back then before the internet and the term “Spoiler Alert” was invented. So with that—and apologies to The Go-go’s—we’ve got The Bees. They were never “Funny”, nor were they ever supposed to be funny…they were just “There”. For the bulk of the first season and sporadically after that, The Bees were the show’s first recurring characters that simply seemed to show up at the most random of times in the most random of situations. Whether it be(e) waiting for their offspring to be(e) born, or have them tell Rob Reiner that this was the only idea the show had at the time, or have them be(e) a prototype for “The Blues Brothers”; at best, The Bees were the show’s duct tape during the early days—stick ‘em anywhere, and at least there won’t be(e) any leaks. Which brings us to this closing number from the first Tomlin episode; there wasn’t anything necessarily funny about this either, but it looked like they were having a good time anyway as Chevy, Gilda, Laraine & Garrett join Tomlin in some aptly named “Bee-Bop” accompanied by the show’s original Band Leader Howard Shore and his All-Nurse Band (who dress that way because of an earlier performance of “St. James Infirmary” that is not on the tape). Speaking of Shore, that’s quite the circuitous route to take in one’s career; to go from dressing in drag to winning Oscars for his work on the “Lord of the Rings” movies; That’s what I call “Paying your Dues”. For the most part, it’s just Lily & the Bees scatting up a swarm, closing the show, and having a good time doing it—That’s all, nothing else. At the same time, this took place during the “Experimental” phase of the show; just because it wasn’t funny doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining; and if that means part of the cast sacrificing part of their dignity, so Be(e) it…And I swear I will Never make another “Bee” pun as long as I live.


While the Presidential Debate sketch of ’76 is the obvious highlight of this episode, I already spoke about it elsewhere. Instead, I want to show you what a difference a Year could make…

LILY

LILY’S ENTRANCE (Original Airdate: 9/18/1976) – (No Video/Transcript) By this point in the proceedings, a year has passed since the show premiered. Rookies become stars, said stars and writers get Emmys, and probably the most telling of all, egos get fluffed up higher than clothing cleaned with a bottle of Solo Detergent (Remember that?). So it should really come as no surprise that this is the sketch that kicks off season two—though incidentally, this has less to do with the cast, and more to do with Ms. Tomlin’s stardom getting to her head…which is strange, because you would think with Chevy in the scene Plus the fact that he won one of those Emmys during the summer that the sketch would be more about him than about him trying to cater to Tomlin’s needs. Either that, or they were looking for yet another unique way for Chevy to fall without over-inflating his ego—which strangely enough involves a “Little Person” in Tomlin’s Entourage………You figure that one out. The whole thing seems a little out of character for Tomlin; she hardly seems like the type who would let glitz, glamour & fame get in the way of artistic integrity (a lesson she would learn and then teach some 7 years later). At the same time, this sketch would pretty much set the pace and the tone for the year to come; now that the show has achieved a certain level of popularity, it could only get bigger from here.


STAR ROBIN

Mid-August is a bittersweet time of year around here; Summer is about to end, weather is about to get a little cooler, and it is also a reminder that the world misses one of its true geniuses—It’s Robin Williams time once again. Not unlike some of the other hosts you’ve seen so far, it surprises me that Williams has only hosted the few times that he did. Nevertheless, he brought the house down every single time. While there are a few good moments from his 1984 episode; it’s the ’86 and ’88 shows we will be looking at—AKA, the point in his career where he was about to hit one of his many Zeniths…

REAGAN

REAGAN’S PRESS CONFERENCE (Original Airdate: 11/22/1986) – Williams plays Ronald Reagan for the first, last and only time here. For the most part, he does his part to be the kind of doddering impression that countless others have done before & since. What makes this particularly interesting is the fact that on the next live episode that December, we get the famed “Mastermind” sketch—a complete and total 180 from what we see here (Nevermind the fact that two different performers are portraying Reagan). Back to the subject, though, this is Robin Williams we’re talking about here–What can he do that’s different from Hartman? Turn a Press conference into a scripted improv game, of course. The main joke of the sketch is that Reagan needs to be fed via earpiece his answers to the press via his aides regarding the Iran Contra scandal. And of course, since a piece of seemingly complicated technology is involved, the inevitable conclusion is that it malfunctions somehow; leading to “Hilarious Results” (Not to sound cynical or anything, but when you mix something old like Reagan with Modern technology, even Stevie Wonder would see what the outcome will be). So where does “Scripted Improv” come in? Ask yourself if during the sequence where Reagan’s earpiece picks up other radio signals if something about that looks familiar. Long before “Whose Line is it Anyway” made it one of their games, the act of a “Quick Change” scene had actually been performed in various improv groups for decades. Williams is pretty much being forced to take to a different level here thanks to SNL’s notoriety to tell performers to stick to the script (Maybe that’s why Williams never came back after ’88, it was too conforming for Williams to work under). Yet at the same time, the changes happen so fast that the audience would probably never notice and think it was just Williams doing his thing.


DAD

PROUD DAD (Original Airdate: 1/23/1988) – One thing SNL knows how to put together are sketches that try to depict normal, everyday situations (I.e. “Slice of Life” sketches) and do so in a way that gives the audience a sense of relatability. At the same time, One thing you gotta give Robin Williams credit for was his innate ability to go off on a tear no matter what situation was thrown at him—even if the events in question were more scripted than improvised. Combine “Slice of Life” with Williams’ performance ability, and you wind up with something that is both funny and relatable at the same time. Such is the case when he’s showing an expecting couple (Hooks & Carvey) video of his & wife Victoria’s son’s birth—an idea that if it were done today, would probably be filmed with multiple GoPro’s and streamed Live for the entire world to see. Williams does what he does best by delivering a few choice zingers while the in-labor Victoria is holding the camera (Seriously, a GoPro would’ve been less of a strain if they existed back then.). I also liked the cab ride to the hospital; partly because it’s anybody’s guess if the guy driving it was either an SNL staffer, a guy hired to drive that was in on the bit, or a totally random stranger who had no idea what was going on; either way, I’m sure driving Williams around was a high point in his life. Surprisingly, in spite of Williams’ energy, the sketch itself seemed pretty low-key and matter-of-fact; but just enough so that the sketch’s relatability still shined through.

 

On that note, this wraps up our look at the Host tapes in our Starmaker collection. Starting tomorrow, We will temporarily stop our Starmaker coverage to begin “Update Week” on our main page, and then I’ll be taking a few Days off for a Business trip (sorry to spring that on you at the last second, but so did my workplace…I’ll explain later.). With any luck, we will return Tuesday, 8/29 to pick things up on the “Classic Years” tapes; so with that, “Stick around, We’ll be Right Back (in about 10 days)”


To Be Continued on 8/29/2017…