40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Seventeen (Ron Nessen)

Host: Ron Nessen

Musical Guest: Patti Smith Group

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


You might be asking yourself…who is Ron Nessen?  I know I did!  Well, as it turns out, Ron Nessen was then President Gerald Ford’s press secretary, and since President Ford was up for reelection in 1976 (an election he lost, by the way), Mr. Nessen agreed to come on the program and host to show the American public that the President was willing to “laugh at himself.”  What I must say is that Mr. Nessen, though no comic tour de force nor a particularly good actor, was ready and willing to aid in the show’s consistent jabs at the President and to generally make a fool of himself in the process. You gotta respect the guy for that.

“The Dead String Quartet” cold open.  This cold open sketch concept was featured in an earlier episode; it involves string musicians, played by John Belushi, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, and Chevy Chase, as dead corpses holding instruments, who topple over like dominoes and cause Chevy, the cellist, to fall off the stage.  I mean, I suppose this is funny in a macabre way, but the highlight of this cold open in this episode was that, instead of Chevy recovering to announce “Live from New York” as he did just about every week, there was a filmed cameo of President Ford providing the weekly announcement.  Good job and RIP, Mr. Ford.

The “Super Bass O’Matic ’76” commercial.  In this commercial, which was reproduced pound for pound in the 40th anniversary special (with 40 years added to the ages of the players), Dan Aykroyd plays his trademark shyster salesman, advertising a blender that grinds up sea bass and turns it into a repulsive pink liquid.  He talks rapidly, turns red, and sweats, with all the excitement that a fish grinder can generate.  Meanwhile, Laraine Newman supplies his testimonial, and she takes a sip and opines, “Mmm, that’s good bass!”  Aykroyd’s teeth are really straight, and he’s on high octane energy in his performance, though liquid fish doesn’t exactly inspire laughter from this viewer.  I don’t like fish, though.

The “An Oval Office” sketch.  This is a second version of this sketch, featured in an earlier episode, only instead of Buck Henry playing the aide, Ron Nessen is playing his real role in a fake way. Chevy Chase, in his not so good impression of President Ford, is back in his oval office, hitting a golf ball around with a tennis racket and generally being too much of a bumbler to function in life much less in his job without his trusty press secretary to guide him.  While I can’t reproduce every joke and bit in this sketch, because it was particularly jam-packed given who the host was, there were quite a few meta barbs tossed the President’s way that were even subversively critical, yet Mr. Nessen played right along without flinching.  It was brilliantly uncomfortable and the best kind of political satire.  All political satire should have a real political representative in it, really.

The “Fluckers” sketch.  This…this sketch is pure Saturday Night absurdity at its finest. “Fluckers” is the trademark go-around for Smuckers, the famous jam and preserves brand, whose slogan is, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.”  Jane Curtin initially advertises Fluckers with the same slogan; however, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and John Belushi take turns bringing jams with them that have increasingly revolting names, including things like rat parts or larvae or whatever, and insist that with a name like <insert name here>, it also has to be good.  Finally, at the sketch’s climax, Garrett Morris brings in the creme de la creme of inappropriately named jellies and jams; in fact, the name is so disgusting, it can’t be repeated on television, which is the slogan Jane recites to end the sketch, after the other players are driven away, too revolted by the name of Garrett’s jam to continue their game of one-ups-man-ship.

Influential rock legend and proto-punk artist Patti Smith and her Patti Smith Group were the musical guests.  They sang their cover of Them’s “Gloria” and a cover of The Who’s “My Generation.”

Weekend Update proved to be a string of Chevy Chase’s best cracks aimed at President Ford, in an unusually long barrage, most likely for Mr. Nessen’s benefit, though the President provided a pre-recorded cameo for this segment.  In addition, Gilda Radner as Emily Litella, reappears on Update at the desk with Chevy and complains vehemently about Presidential Erections.  Now…stop. Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s not what you think.  She waxes on about how Lincoln’s already got a memorial, and how it would be really expensive for Presidents to keep erecting things. Of course, Chevy corrects her and informs her that the story to which she was replying concerned the presidential election.  “Oh, that’s very different,” she says, frowning.  And then, of course, smiles. “Never mind!”

The “Autumn Fizz” commercial.  In, hands down, the best sketch of the night, as the commercial was performed live, Gilda Radner advertises a “carbonated douche” that “cleans and effervesces,” since women enjoy being “fresh and clean,” as Chevy Chase, her apparent lover, comes to lay seductively near her in bed.  While she is describing the flavors of this effervescent douche, including strawberry, apple, and egg cream (ewwwwww), she belches.  I…just…can’t.  I’m laughing as I type this.  It was so wrong in all the right ways.

The “Tomorrow” show sketch.  While the sketch itself was only “meh,” it featured Dan Aykroyd’s debut of his impression of former talk show/late night host Tom Snyder, interviewing Mr. Nessen about President Ford.  The other highlight of this sketch is that Mr. Nessen is asked to detail things like the president’s before-bed rituals, which include reading horror stories from “Grand Rapids Ghosts.”  President Ford grew up in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Wuddup, GR, represent.  Power to the people, ’76!

The “Men’s Room Urinal” home movie.  In this week’s home movie from a random viewer, it featured four men, standing at urinals in a public restroom, and singing a four-part canon, which caused non-singing men to run out of the restroom in all sorts of hilarious ways. The voices were lovely, and it was a high brow concept in a low brow setting.  Good job, random American.

This episode featured a special guest performance by a guy we all know and love, Billy Crystal, only he was going by “Bill Crystal” at the time.  He would crop up on Saturday Night a few more times throughout the years.  Though he was billed as a stand up comic, his entire spot found him doing an impression of a jazz singer he met through his dad.  It wasn’t so much funny, but it was very impressive.  He stayed in character the entire time, to the point that I actually forgot it was Billy Crystal for a minute.  “These are the jokes, kid.”

Less Successful Moments

The “Supreme Court” sketch.  In this sketch, Jane Curtin and Chevy Chase play two lovers about to do it, in their own bed on their own time, until all nine justices of the Supreme Court, including Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chief Justice John Belushi, appear to inform them that certain licentious acts are illegal, even if between two consenting adults.  They spend the entire sketch watching the couple under the covers, ask them to remove their high heels (both partners), and have side bars to rule on whether any of their behaviors are legal.  I know what the sketch was going for: commentary on the overreaching power of the Court and its effect on the private lives of citizens; however, it was executed poorly, rambled on for too long, and fell flat because it lacked that element of realism that makes satire work.  The only funny moment was Chevy removing his high heels.  It was pedantic satire; and really, to be fair, they should have been satirizing Congress, though I suppose fitting 400+ men in a fake bedroom onstage might be difficult.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase (tie).  Gilda, for drinking her douche (hopefully not the egg cream one) and for cleverly referring to erections multiple times on the air as the always funny Emily Litella.  Chevy, for his clever and biting reappearance as President Ford, for continuing the motif in Weekend Update, for rocking a pair of high heels for kinky sex with an entire Supreme Court watching, and for being willing to make love to a woman who drinks her douche.

(3rd) Dan Aykroyd, for bringing unparalleled enthusiasm to the advertisement of the Super Bass O’Matic and for his Tom Snyder, which is awkwardly hilarious.


One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 9, 2015

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