Host: Buck Henry
Musical Guests: Bill Withers; Toni Basil
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
This episode’s host is Buck Henry. His biggest claim to fame: he wrote the screenplay for the film The Graduate, but he’s also made some acting appearances. During his monologue, he waxes ad nauseum about the fact that he is not a comedian, nor was he probably the producers’ first choice for host, while subtitles underneath agree that he was not, in fact, the first choice and provide a lengthy list of people the producers called first. Though he participated in sketches, he was most often the straight man.
Bill Withers, a soul singer most popular in the seventies, sang “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Toni Basil, who is best known for her eighties pop hit “Mickey,” performed a song and dance number called “Wham Re-Bop Boom Bam.”
The “Samurai Delicatessen” sketch. This is one of the most famous of the “Samurai” sketches featuring John Belushi as a samurai performing otherwise ordinary or mundane tasks while wielding his samurai sword. In this sketch, he owns a deli, and Buck Henry comes in to order a sandwich while making small talk about football and such, as Belushi’s samurai slices, dices, and spews fake Japanese, occasionally grunting in his customer’s direction. This sketch is often used in “best of” compilations. Because it’s funny!
The “An Oval Office” sketch. In this sketch, Chevy Chase persists with his not so great impression of then President Ford, further depicting him as a class one bumbler. Buck Henry plays his aide, who the “president” keeps telling to “come in and sit down,” even though the aide is already seated right beside him. The money of this sketch is the ensuing press conference, in which the aide and Secret Service men played by John Belushi and Garrett Morris emulate the President’s every bumbling move in an effort to downplay it, leaving it a choreographed mess of obliviousness and clumsiness. It’s one of the better parodies of poor President Ford, the only President never to be elected.
The “Citizen Kane II” sketch. The sketch itself is actually not that funny, being one long riff on a terrible pun derived from the final word/concept of the original movie (“Rosebud”). What is funny is that Chevy Chase, who plays some acquaintance of Charles Foster Kane (played by Dan Aykroyd in the sketch), breaks when speaking to an interviewer played by Buck Henry and Kane’s nurse, played by Laraine Newman, which starts an avalanche of giggles for these immediate three actors and then results in barely held straight faces for the rest of the sketch, all the way through the fake credits. Also impressive: this sketch was filmed entirely in black and white.
Jim Henson’s Muppets in “The Land of Gorch” sketch. Two words: Muppet sex. Yup, and there went my childhood. This is the day the innocence died.
The “Mechanics Bedtime Story” sketch. In this sketch, Gilda Radner plays a little girl being watched by her father, Dan Aykroyd, while her mother, Jane Curtin, goes out. She begs for a bedtime story, but the father, a car mechanic, can only equate each of her promptings (“is there a bear?” “is there a witch?”) with what happens in his garage while fixing automobiles. Not only is Gilda sweetly funny as the little girl, but the punchline of the joke, in which she accurately assesses a mechanical problem on a car before leaving for bed, is delivered well.
The “Who’s Funny?” film by Gary Weis, which is a welcome replacement for films by Albert Brooks (sorry, not sorry, Albert Brooks). In this film, Buck Henry searches an upstate town in New York for its funniest “man.” His discovery is both cute and right on.
The “Why Call It Dope?” sketch, in which Chevy Chase tries to inject a joint into his arm, as if it was heroin. Dope is dopey. Like crack is whack.
The “King Bee” performance. In this performance, Howard Shore and his All Bee Band back John Belushi, singing a bee’s original blues number called “King Bee,” with Dan Aykroyd backing on harmonica. Behold: the birth of the Blues Brothers in bee form. Also, it’s best to be benignly alliterative when talking about bees.
Less Successful Moments
The “Suicide Prevention” cold open. Chevy Chase falls, answers a hotline too late, and bang, a gun fires. Suicide is such a knee slapper, but hey, live from New York and all that (sarcasm). The audience’s laughter was noticeably lukewarm too.
The “American Constipation Society” commercial, which was performed live. In this–I guess it was supposed to be a public service announcement–Buck Henry is constipated, or so it’s implied, and Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and Garrett Morris play various acquaintances (or his wife, in Curtin’s case) who do nothing but make allegedly funny euphemisms about not being able to poop. This falls flat for two reasons: 1) of all the things they did talk about or show on the air, such as racial slurs, rolling joints, and Muppet sex, they couldn’t say the word poop? and 2) all of the euphemisms seem much closer to referring to the idea that Buck Henry’s character was impotent rather than constipated. Maybe that was the point. Or, maybe I was just bored. I’m sure someone would think this sketch is funny, but potty humor is not my favorite. I would rather suffer through clever sex jokes, and sex seems far more taboo than poop. Personal preference, maybe, but I didn’t find all of the euphemisms as funny as the characters did, even though constipation is “no laughing matter.”
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) John Belushi, for his meat-slicing samurai, his quick-thinking Secret Service agent, his odd assistant in the “Citizen Kane II” sketch, and his tour de force performance of “King Bee,” which radiated Jake Blues but was also clearly a great influence on another Saturday Night Live performer gone too soon, Chris Farley.
(2nd) Chevy Chase, for his truly lost President Ford, his dopey dope-head, and for injecting life into an overlong, slightly esoteric “Citizen Kane II” sketch by breaking. For those keeping tally, he is winning the “break” race, two to zero (with the other six cast members being at zero so far). Though, he also gets a demerit for the break because, um, stay in character, Chevy Chase.
(3rd) Dan Aykroyd, for his murderous Citizen Kane (I forgot to mention that this Citizen Kane killed people for tabloid headlines), for his open minded mechanic father, and for his bad-ass harmonica, the nascent Elwood Blues, behind “King Bee.”