40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Twelve (Dick Cavett)

Host: Dick Cavett

Musical Guest: Jimmy Cliff

Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”

Highlights:

Dick Cavett hosted this episode.  At the time, he had a popular talk show, where he chatted with many famous and influential people, from rock stars and movie stars to world leaders and politicians.  He is best known, or was at the time, for a conversational style and dry glibness that helped his guests to open up, and some of his interviews are legendary, including one he had with John Lennon.  For those keeping track, he also had a bit role in the movie Beetlejuice.

Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff was the musical guest, and he was given three spots.  He sang “The Harder They Come,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” and “Wahjaka Man.”

The “Voodoo Doll” cold open.  In this cold open, after Chevy Chase is called to the stage from lounging around with a few groupies backstage, he meets Garrett Morris in the corridor.  The bit has him acting like the big star of the show and apologizing to Garrett for him not being in the show that much this week, as well as Garrett gamely agreeing that, yes, Chevy is the star and not to worry about Garrett because of it. Chevy also reveals that he’s worried about a pain or injury in his back that he has been suffering through, so he doesn’t think he’ll be able to do the “fall of the week.”  Once Chevy leaves for the stage, and Garrett is behind the closed door of his dressing room, we see Garrett pull out a voodoo doll, chant “Chevy, Chevy, Chevy, Chevy,” and stick pins in places, including his back.  This action also “forces” Chevy to fall spectacularly off the stage.

The “Hunter” sketch.  This sketch starts off funny and novel but then descends into tedium.  Jane Curtin plays Ann, who is dating Chevy Chase; he likes to go hunting, but she has been reading a book about how to be a “proper woman” in a relationship.  The trouble is, Chevy Chase’s character Michael is not very good with a firearm.  He accidentally shoots first the dog, then the mailman, then Ann’s son Duke (played by John Belushi), and then her daughter Patti (played by Laraine Newman).  All the while, Ann keeps forgiving him, because that is what a “good woman” is supposed to do. Fortunately, he also accidentally shoots her and then himself, so the resolution was quite satisfying.

Weekend Update featured another fine editorial by Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella, decrying “eagle rights.”  “Who’s next?  Pigeons?” she cries, among other exclamations, until Chevy Chase points out that the original story was about the Equal Rights Amendment. (“Never mind!”).

The “Dance to the Nation” sketch, which stretched the boundaries of absurdity.  In this sketch, Jane Curtin plays Betty Ford, then First Lady, who performs interpretive dances to letters written to her by ordinary American citizens seeking her counsel, after which she provides a gingerbread, naive piece of advice.  One of the letters, though, bemoans the fact that the alleged writer is married to a “turkey,” and Betty is unable to provide advice, hearing the phantom cries of her daughter suggesting that someone has their foot stuck in the sink again.  Guess who that is.

The “Looks at Books” sketch.  First, the sketch features Chevy Chase as host rather than Jane Curtin, since she just left the stage as Betty Ford.  Second, Chevy Chase is interviewing Dick Cavett, who plays the “Nebraskan Pimp,” and who has just published an autobiography.  While the joke centers on the fact that there’s not much action of any type in small town Nebraska, the absolute biggest laugh of the whole show came when Dick Cavett, who admits that he doesn’t make much money pimping out his one prostitute, his girlfriend, because he won’t let her past third base to do that “fancy city stuff,” explains that he wrote the book to make extra money and thought it was kind enough that he was invited on the show and how nice the audience was, considering that no one was laughing at him.  The joke went meta, though, and caused our host to break, since the real audience was laughing quietly enough, perhaps, not to be heard, which also caused Chevy to break and the two to barely finish the sketch whilst holding back giggles.  I also get the sense that many of their reactions to each other were improvised.  This bit wins the award for being the best sketch of the episode.

Apparently, the breaking bug was contagious.  John Belushi performed a recurring sketch in this episode called “H&L Brock,” about a firm of “tax fraud specialists.”  The sketch was largely unfunny; he was doing his best dry accountant impression while suggesting all the illegal services that could benefit potential H&L Brock customers. The problem is, in the final sketch, something caught hold of him, and HE broke, causing him to make a funny face at the camera and to laugh while the crew members around him also broke down.  AND THE SKETCH IS REDEEMED!  Well, at least this least part of it is.

“Saturday Night” solicited home movies from viewers and aired one during this episode called “The Apple Follies,” which was about an apple burlesque, with all the patrons being apples, though the local police was comprised of plums.  The burlesque headliner, a singular apple, peeled itself.  Plus, local headlines suggested that the director terrorized his cast – and then it cuts to the director eating the apples.  All in all, it was a solid, surprisingly smile-worthy home movie.  Good job, random American.

Less Successful Moments

The “Dick Cavett’s School of Auto Refinishing and Upholstery” as well as the “Dick Cavett’s School of Hydroplane Operation” sketches featured Dick Cavett talking about these absurd correspondence courses.  What we find out in this episode is that Dick Cavett may be too dry in his delivery to perform sketch comedy, and I literally fell asleep during each one.  In fact, I watched this entire episode over three days because I kept falling asleep.

The “Our Town” sketch, again, featured Dick Cavett playing the narrator character a la Thornton Wilder’s classic play, only he was waxing eloquent about “our town” New York.  Again…very dry.

The “Cavett Lookalike” sketch, the failure of which was not Dick Cavett’s fault.  A guy, played by humorist Marshall Efron, who was portly and stout and who looked nothing like Dick Cavett, went on and on about how he did.  This is actually a pretty common SNL sketch basis, but this Efron dude wasn’t very funny either.

All of the “H&L Brock” sketches except the last one, as stated above, were also dry, on top of the already rampant dryness.  In fact, this entire episode was a bit lackluster because it did not vary in tempo quite so much.  I love dry humor, but not for a whole hour and a half!  Plus, they replayed the “Felina Cat Food” commercial.  Seriously not funny.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Chevy Chase, for his best fall so far, courtesy of voodoo; for his inept hunter; for his always enlightening Weekend Update; for his letter reading during “Dance to the Nation;” and for his sublime hosting of “Looks at Books.”  Also, even though Dick Cavett started it, his break total is up to three.  So, the breaking tally is as follows: Chevy Chase 3, John Belushi 1, the rest of the cast 0.

(2nd) Jane Curtin, for being a far too understanding girlfriend who died a most painful death after watching her entire household get decimated by the unsafe use of firearms and for her truly magnificent depiction of a dancing Betty Ford.

(3rd) Gilda Radner and Garrett Morris (tie).  Gilda for Emily Litella, who I admit is a favorite of mine, and Garrett for making his one appearance of the show during the “Voodoo Doll” cold open really count.

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 4, 2015

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