40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Fifteen (Jill Clayburgh)

Host: Jill Clayburgh

Musical Guests: Leon Redbone; The Singing Idlers

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


Jill Clayburgh, a dearly departed stage and screen actress of several decades, hosted the show.  She has been nominated for Academy Awards and has won an Emmy, but today’s audiences might remember her as Ally McBeal’s mom or the matriarch of Dirty Sexy Money.  She is also American Horror Story actress Lily Rabe’s mother.

The “Chevy and Lorne” cold open.  In the funniest part of the night, Chevy Chase bursts through Lorne Michaels’ office door (while he’s chatting up some unknown actress) and refuses to perform the fall of the week anymore because it’s ceased to be funny, in his opinion, and Chevy just doesn’t want to do it.  He threatens to quit the show, even, citing the fact that he’s had other offers and the whole nine yards. Lorne convinces him to return to the stage and redo an earlier version of the fall.  The camera follows Chevy through the backstage corridors and down through the studio audience, including as he climbs over some spectators’ laps, to get to the stage.  When some unknown audience member makes a crack about having to see this “fall” again, Chevy storms right back up to Lorne’s office but trips and falls nearly every third step, before finally collapsing in front of Lorne’s desk and shouting “Live from New York.”  Chevy’s physical comedic talent elevated this cold open to something epic.  Unfortunately, this episode went downhill from there.

“Great Moments in Herstory” was a recurring sketch in this episode, where Jane Curtin would narrate a flashback to a time in history when women made some kind of, in this case, absurd difference.  The first segment featured Laraine Newman as Sigmund Freud’s daughter (with Freud played by Dan Aykroyd); the second featured the hostess and Gilda Radner playing some silly French women; and the third featured Laraine Newman playing Indira Gandhi, talking to her father (played by John Belushi) about wanting to have her own gun.  The sketches themselves fell flat, and the second segment wasn’t funny at all, but what carried them to any length or reason to pay attention was Laraine’s almost fastidious attention to her accent and characterizations.

Blues and soul singer, best known for ragtime remakes, Leon Redbone served as the primary musical guest.  Younger generations may know him as the voice of Leon the Snowman in the movie Elf, in which he also performed a duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanel in the end credits.  In this episode, he sang “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Big Time Woman.”

The “White Guilt Relief Fund” commercial.  In this commercial, Garrett Morris matter-of-factly describes how his ancestors, many of whom were slaves, were brutally treated by the White man, and he advertises that he set up a fund to which those suffering from White guilt can contribute. The fund is in care of Garrett exclusively, and Don Pardo is a contributor.

Weekend Update found Chevy Chase saying, “Good evening, I’m Chevy Chase, and you can’t.”  Gilda Radner as Emily Litella waxed on about the Supreme Court’s decision about a “deaf penalty,” as she was particularly offended because she didn’t want to be punished for her own difficulty in hearing.  Of course, Chevy corrected her by indicating that the Court’s decision concerned the death penalty (“never mind!”).

The Singing Idlers, apparently the Coast Guard’s a capella men’s chorus (who knew?), sang “Semper Paratus” and “Sea Cruise,” backing Jill Clayburgh on lead vocals.  It was somewhat cheesy, but hooray for the Coast Guard?

Because the Muppets weren’t available this week, apparently, Chevy Chase created his own puppet show called “The Milkman,” in which he used just his hands, playing some licentious housewife and the visiting milkman.  Things got a little kinky in this performance, since I think the housewife was giving the milkman a hand job. SOMEBODY STOP ME!

Andy Kaufman returned – he lip synced to a record of “Old MacDonald” with the help of some audience participants.  It was cute, if not necessarily funny.

“The Mr. Bill Show” film.  This is the first appearance of a very famous Saturday Night Live recurring character that started as one of the home movies solicited for the broadcast, for which zero compensation was paid, see.  Subversive and clever! Mr. Bill is a man made of clay who starts off in fairly mundane situations with his dog Spot, only to find himself endangered and often tortured by “Mr. Hands,” the clay-maker, and Sluggo, a clay villain.  Mr. Bill is often mangled, and he cries “oh nooooo” in anguish as it happens.  He reappeared at several points throughout the show’s history and went on to enjoy commercial success beyond SNL.  This first film was a bit rough, but it was enjoyable to see Mr. Bill’s debut.

Less Successful Moments

The “Jill Carson, Guidance Counselor!” sketch.  Now, there were funny moments in this protracted sketch, but the overall sketch ran on for too long at minimum and descended into snooze city at points.  In this sketch, Jill Clayburgh plays Jill Carson, a guidance counselor who is invested in a good-for-nothing student named Julio Alvarez, played by John Belushi.  I think she’s boinking this student too.  Anyway, despite warnings about being too involved with such a layabout from the football coach/opera mentor Chevy Chase, and Julio’s hilariously poor parents played by Garrett Morris and Gilda Radner, she chases after Julio, until he pulls a gun on her and shoots her.  What this was supposed to be a parody of or what it was supposed to be mocking, I’m not sure. Maybe something from the 70s?  And I enjoyed Gilda and Garrett as a married couple with a bunch of children named Julio.  But the sketch meandered until it lost its bite, and I just didn’t care what was going on, much less wanted to laugh at it.

The “Grable and Lombard” commercial.  Jill Clayburgh was in a TV movie in the 70s in which she portrayed Carole Lombard.  In this commercial, performed live at the show’s close, Lombard was marrying her secret lover, Betty Grable, as played by Jane Curtin. They’re pronounced wife and wife and go in for a kiss but are stopped by the show’s end and, no doubt, television censors.  I think you had to see the TV movie for this to be funny.  My reaction was “what just happened?” and “what a weird way to end the show.”

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Chevy Chase, for his epic sequence of falls during the cold open, for Weekend Update’s continued new mixture of revamped old jokes, and for “The Milkman,” in which his hands did all the talking.  All the DIRTY talking.

(2nd) Laraine Newman, for saving two of three Great Moments of Herstory with great characterizations of a German and an Indian woman, respectively, that were only moderately offensive.

(3rd) Gilda Radner and Garrett Morris (tie…again!).  Gilda for Emily Litella (my perennial favorite) and one half of Julio’s woebegone parental unit; Garrett for his opportunistic White Guilt Relief Fund and the other half of Julio’s woebegone parental unit.

Honorable mention: Lorne Michaels, for not facing the camera once during the cold open. Talk about camera shy!


One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 7, 2015

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