40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Nineteen (Madeline Kahn)

Host: Madeline Kahn

Musical Guest: Carly Simon

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

Highlights:

The sublime and ethereal Madeline Kahn served as host for this episode.  She was a staple in Mel Brooks movies, such as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Generations X & Y no doubt fondly remember her as Mrs. White in Clue the Movie.  She was a very funny lady, and, as a result, a very willing participant in the sketch comedy of Saturday Night.  RIP, Ms. Kahn.

The “Not For Ladies Only” sketch.  In this sketch, Gilda Radner further hones her “Baba Wawa,” and she interviews Madeline Kahn playing “Marlena Deutschland,” who has a similar speech impediment as Ms. Wawa (again, riffing on Barbara Walters).  The result is an interview of barely understood proportions, where neither woman is able to say “r’s” and “l’s” correctly, and where words are overrated anyway.

The “Slumber Party” sketch.  In his sketch, the ladies of Saturday Night–Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner–play younger versions of themselves, and they’re all having a slumber party at Gilda’s mom’s house.  Madeline Kahn is there too, and she plays the worldly friend, apparently teaching the other three either about sex or about blow jobs or something they only want to do with their husbands, provided they even want husbands.  Laraine’s teenager type keeps saying it’s “so gross” and gagging before later admitting that she would be open to whatever it is.  I think the funniest part of this sketch is all of their little girl voices and Laraine’s “groosss” exclamations.

In the “Muppet Beatle Offer” sketch, Scred the Muppet emerges from the trunk where the poor Muppets were relegated in the previous episode.  He encounters Chevy Chase, who informs Scred that they’ve been canceled off the show.  Scred has a plan, though.  He tells Chevy that the “Mighty Vivog,” the Frank Oz voiced statue from which the Muppets seek wisdom, knows the Beatles and can put in a good word to get them on the show, provided that producer Lorne Michaels agrees to bring the Muppets back. The Mighty Vivog makes his acquaintance with the Fab Four sound convincing, including by handily quoting Beatles lyrics, which also leads Scred to sing a refrain or two.  Chevy, in the end, promises to talk to Lorne.

Singer/songwriter and 70s icon Carly Simon is the musical guest for this episode, but due to her notorious bouts of stage fright, she prerecords her performances of “Half a Chance” and “You’re So Vain.”  The idea of the live show apparently freaked her out, but she still performed in front of the studio audience.

The “Bride of Frankenstein” sketch.  In this sketch, Madeline Kahn plays the titular monster bride, who is being risen from her inanimate state by Howard Shore and his “All Monster Band.” Her awakening segues into a performance of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story, complete with Saturday Night cast members storming the stage in the end as angry villagers.  It was both absurd and endearing.

Chevy Chase began Weekend Update by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re touching yourself.”  Rude.  Am not.  While most of his jokes weren’t that funny in this Update, two things happened that were pretty funny.  First, as he attempted to deliver a Francisco Franco joke by suggesting that the late Generalissimo was attempting to break the world record for not breathing, this punchline struck some audience member particularly funny, eliciting a guffaw, which also caused Chevy to break his normal deadpan.  This brings Chevy’s break total up to 5! Second, Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella returned, this time to oppose those who protest “violins on TV,” suggesting that music is very nice, and that if all musical programs are held off until late, the little babies won’t get to learn about violins and trumpets and other sorts of beautiful sounding instruments.  Of course, Chevy corrected her by noting that her editorial reply was directed to a story about violence on TV, which is, of course, very different.  (“Never mind!”)

The “Super Absorbent Dry Hose” commercial.  In this commercial, Madeline Kahn apparently suffers from sweaty pantyhose problems, and Jane Curtin plays some sort of vendor named Rosie with a Southern accent who clues Madeline’s customer into “super absorbent dry hose,” which acts like particularly absorbent paper towel for leg sweat. After demonstrating how this pantyhose (super) absorbs awkward moisture, Rosie accidentally spills the milk she was using to demonstrate how absorbent the hose was on the counter.  Madeline proceeds to lift up her skirt, sit on the counter, and wipe her butt along its surface, absorbing the spilled milk with the rear end of her pantyhose.  It was absurd enough to get my goat.

The “Final Days” sketch.  In this sketch, Madeline Kahn plays Pat Nixon, former First Lady, who is writing a diary entry about her husband’s peculiar behavior in advance of his inevitable resignation from being President.  Dan Aykroyd plays the erstwhile President, who is “not a crook,” and Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase play the Nixon children, including the son “who really does look like Howdy Doody” and was apparently something of an awkward geeky type, played hilariously by Chevy.  The money of this sketch is, first, John Belushi plays former Vice President Henry Kissinger to scary and humorous effect, which allows the sketch to satirize Nixon as being prejudiced against various groups, calling his VP a “Jew boy” in the process.  Second, Garrett Morris provides an excellent imitation of Sammy Davis, Jr., who was also Jewish and a well known Republican supporter and who appears right on time, though the sketch had veered into absurdity at that point, aside from the fact that this Nixon apparently had “meetings” with the paintings of former presidents hanging in the White House.  Really, it was the Kissinger and Sammy Davis Jr. that did it for me in this sketch.

Madeline Kahn sang a lovely song solo called “Lost in the Stars” near the end of the show.  It was truly lovely. And sad.

Announcer Don Pardo frequently talked over the end credits with his own quips to close the show.  For this episode, he appealed to Lorne Michaels to let him appear onstage and do an impression of the Beatles, because “frankly, he needed the money.”  He then proceeded to sing “She Loves You” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” badly before musing that Lorne, who didn’t seem to want to interject into the credits with a resounding agreement to this proposal, “must not be listening.”

Less Successful Moments

The only real low light to this episode was the film by Gary Weis, which was called “No Reason to Leave New York,” which I think was the title of the Ray Charles song playing over it.  It was a love letter to NYC but included footage of New York sports fans yelling at things.  It didn’t work for me, and not just because I’m not a New Yorker – I think it was a commentary on NYC’s special brand of directness that comes with this big city living or something, and I liked the song, but I was bored watching the segment. Though, overall, he’s been more successful than Albert Brooks.

There were other less funny sketches, but none that struck me as ones that didn’t “work” or were not successful in their execution.  I think anytime the host is really good, the whole show is just elevated up a notch, and Ms. Kahn was really good.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Gilda Radner, for being on fire in this show with her Babwa Wawa; her pig-tailed, sex averse slumber party host; for her consistently on-point if slightly deaf Emily Litella; and for her parakeet impression.  Madeline Kahn and Gilda Radner teamed up to do impressions, and Gilda’s was of a parakeet learning to talk.  Just watch it.

(2nd) Jane Curtin, for her slumber party attendee and for Rosie the hose seller.

(3rd) Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Garrett Morris (tie), for their impressions of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Sammy Davis Jr. respectively.  They were all equally silly and good.

Honorable mentions:

Chevy Chase, for his Nixon Jr. and for leading the “break” race with 5.  The score as of this episode is Chevy 5, Belushi 1, the rest of the cast zero.

Laraine Newman, for her “so groooss” slumber party attendee.

Don Pardo, for a good try, no matter how you slice it.

The Muppets, for the same.

Again, a really good episode with a good host.  Everyone had something great to contribute!

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