Host: Richard Pryor
Musical Guest: Gil Scott-Heron
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
Richard Pryor, one of the all time great comedians, hosted this episode. As a result, every monologue and sketch was charged with commentary on race and society, in keeping with Pryor’s primary genre of comedy. It is safe to say that such an episode would probably never make it to air in its entirety today.
By special request from Richard Pryor, during the “Restaurant” cold open, though Chevy Chase still got to perform his “fall of the week,” Garrett Morris delivered “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
The “Samurai Hotel” sketch. This marks the first appearance of a trademark John Belushi character, a samurai who performs daily, mundane tasks while mumbling in fake Japanese and gesturing with his katana blades. In this sketch, Chevy Chase plays a patron seeking a hotel room for the night and asks who will be handling his bags. John’s samurai calls for the “boy,” who turns out to be another samurai played by Pryor. The sketch is slow to start until these two start dueling, complete with fake Japanese “yo mama” jokes.
The “Looks at Books” sketch. In this episode, host Jane Curtin interviews Richard Pryor playing an author who donned “white face” to write about the White experience. The sketch, essentially, plays with reverse stereotypes in a direct way. What’s more, he announces that his next project will be to write about being a “Jewish American Princess” and to get a sex change to live the experience.
The “Word Association” sketch. In this sketch, Chevy Chase plays a job recruiter interviewing Richard Pryor for what turns out to be a janitorial position. In this interview, Chevy’s interviewer invites his interviewee to engage in word association…and while it starts off benign, it descends into a battle of evermore hostile racial terms, including the worst of all of them. While the punchline was hilarious, it’s again a marvel that nothing of this type would ever make it to air today.
The “Black and White” sketch. In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd plays the racist patriarch of a family, who complains that the “Black Problem” is taking over everything. As each of his family members get up to leave the table for a moment (as played by Jane Curtin, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner), they “return,” replaced by Black actors, as a seeming fulfillment of the father’s worst nightmare. Heady stuff!
While Weekend Update settled into something of a routine in this episode, Chevy Chase introduced a long-running Update gag line by reporting on the “death” of Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain. This would lead to Chevy repeating the line “Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain is still dead” for many Updates to come. In addition, the “Editorial Reply” of the week featured a regular character of Gilda Radner’s, Emily Litella, providing an impassioned reply to something she misheard. When anchor Chevy corrects her, the Emily character famously replies, “Never mind!”
Jim Henson’s Muppets in “The Land of Gorch” sketch. This episode found our main Gorch residents drunk as skunks, as was the statue from which they often seek advice.
The “Exorcist II” sketch. In this sketch, Pryor and another Black actor play priests who have been summoned to exorcise a little girl, a la Linda Blair, played by Laraine Newman. Neither one of them seems very committed to the tasks – Pryor’s priest is simply scared, and his counterpart is quick to need a “break” – until the possessed girl starts insulting their mamas.
Gil Scott-Heron is the musical guest; he was a soul and jazz poet and is often credited as being the father of hip hop. He sang “Johannesburg” and “A Lovely Day.”
The cast also wished Richard Pryor a farewell onstage during his “goodnight,” with food and wine. Nice.
Less Successful Moments
There was another Pong bit. It was not funny. I don’t get why they kept drawing from that well.
And then: the Albert Brooks film. I think the basic premises might be funny, but he so often is not. I hope they get better in later episodes…
They also reused the “New Dad” commercial – sigh – and the “Spud Beer” commercial (potato flavored beer, which you have to turn off all your senses to enjoy). Perhaps, I just don’t get the humor of 1975.
There was a guest performance by Shelley Pryor, who is in no way related to or involved with Richard Pryor, and she performed a beat poem called “Christmas Carousel.” I’m sure it was cute, but I got bored.
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) John Belushi, for his quick to learn samurai and awkward son in the “Black and White” sketch.
(2nd) Laraine Newman, for a pretty spot-on impression of Linda Blair with a twist.
(3rd) Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd (tie), for playing the racist white guys in sketches where the jokes were on them, i.e. “Word Association” and “Black and White,” courtesy of Richard Pryor.