Host: Dyan Cannon
Musical Guests: Leon & Mary Russell
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 was hosted by Dyan Cannon, a television and film actress who has been active now for several decades and who has received high profile award nominations. Most famously, she was one of Cary Grant’s five wives, even though their marriage lasted only three years; she had his only child. I can’t name anything that she appeared in that would be famous to people of generations younger than the ones allowed to stay up past midnight in 1976; she’s made some TV appearances and such. In this episode, she played along willingly enough but broke character quite a bit, frequently laughing at the antics of the show’s cast. As a result, this episode was particularly hit and miss, and there are fewer highlights.
The “Chevy’s Repeat Fall” cold open. The episode starts with a confusing moment, in which Chevy is already down on the ground and saying “Live from New York,” but director Dave Wilson cuts in on the studio loudspeaker and informs Chevy that he fell too early, that it wasn’t caught on camera, and that he’ll have to do it again. Chevy protests, arguing that the studio audience saw it, and that he doesn’t want to fall again, since he fell off a ladder. Ultimately, Chevy complies, though with Dave first suggesting to pad for time and then hurrying Chevy along because time is running out. Chevy then haphazardly plummets off the ladder in another painful-looking fall. He manages to smile every time, though, when he’s announcing “live from New York.”
The “Sugar Free Zing” commercial. In this commercial, performed live, Laraine Newman is a blindfolded taste tester of “Sugar Free Zing,” a new diet soda (was the Pepsi challenge a thing yet? This show was so ahead of its time). Chevy Chase is the announcer instructing Laraine to taste the beverages before her. Despite Laraine’s “yuck yuck” persona being instantly winning, she is also taste testing the apparently orange “zing” against a cup of phlegm. Which is purple in this sketch. Gross. She was, understandably, definitely a fan of the Zing, exclaiming, “I’ll never have to drink phlegm again!”
The “Hearing Test” sketch. In this sketch, Dyan Cannon is administering a hearing test to Garrett Morris, Gilda Radner, and Jane Curtin. The earphones where they hear those tones (remember those tones?!) are supposed to be sound proof, and then those receiving the test are to raise their hands corresponding to the side on which side they hear the tone. The trouble is, a couple of robbers played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd invade the place (why? ABSURDITY, of course), and their gunfire both 1) confuses the students into raising their hands every which way; and 2) proves fatal to the teacher and all of the students. Gilda’s the last one standing, but she dies a most painful death. This one’s all about the absurd, though I wasn’t laughing uproariously or anything.
Dyan Cannon began the show with a monologue in which she sang a song about having a dream in which a man on a white horse emerges from the sea and comes to take her away. So, a recurring sketch throughout the show centered on members of the cast interrupting Dyan, as she was introducing segments and sketches, attempting to make her dream come true. Dan Aykroyd tried with some pun or homonym to horse, Garrett Morris attempted to bring Dyan “whores” played by Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner (not a horse), and John Belushi rode “Horace” piggy back onto the stage. This last go-round was the funniest, because John and Horace weren’t quite stable, and John definitely broke, causing everyone else to do so too. That’s two for him.
Leon & Mary Russell, who I have never heard of really and seemed to fuse country and R&B (it was an interesting combination), sang “Satisfy You” and “Daylight.” Also, were they married? I think so. John Belushi also emerged during the second performance with his Joe Cocker impression, accompanying the Russells on “Daylight,” complete with wild beer drinking and collapsing face down onstage.
The “Next Week” introduction, in which Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner introduce next week’s host, the return of Buck Henry, who happens to be standing right behind them, which is only hilarious because Laraine channels her teenager from the Madeline Kahn episode and keeps saying that Buck Henry is “sooo grooossss” complete with gagging. Poor Buck Henry.
Chevy Chase began Weekend Update by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow. And you’re not.” Other than the intro, the jokes fizzled quite a bit in this Update but for two bits (oh and but for the fact that he suggested that Francisco Franco of Spain prefers “underground” movies now…so much black comedy in this episode). The first came when Laraine Newman, roving reporter, introduced Garrett Morris playing Maynard Spees, a gas station attendant from the middle of nowhere who proclaimed to have found eccentric film director Howard Hughes’ last will and testament, a document that was apparently missing for quite some time. The will decreed that Howard L. Hughes should bequeath his missing millions to Maynard, until Laraine pointed out that Mr. Hughes was Howard R. Hughes, and not H. L. Hunt, some pharmaceutical manufacturer to which Maynard tried to refer. “Hey, look, I’m just trying to make a little money, alright?” Maynard proclaimed. Garrett Morris also returned for an end of segment hard of hearing interpretation. Garrett was definitely the MVP of Update in this episode.
The “Funeral” sketch. In the funniest sketch of the episode, Chevy Chase plays a preacher giving a eulogy during a funeral for a lost loved one of Dan Aykroyd, Dyan Cannon, and Gilda Radner in a veil. Unfortunately, Chevy’s preacher has the hiccups and can’t stop hiccuping as he recites the somber eulogy. The sketch then becomes a succession of attempts by the nonplussed grieving to get him to stop: they try to scare him, tickle him, kiss him (Dyan’s doing), dump water on his head, and all sorts of tactics, until finally, fed up, Gilda, after unveiling her face and making funny faces to, I guess, disturb the hiccuping reverend into quitting, punches him in the face. It didn’t work, but it was highly satisfying.
The “Bathwater of the Stars” commercial. In this commercial, performed live, Dyan Cannon plays “Cindy Cleavage,” who is soaking in a bubble saturated tub. Dan Aykroyd’s shyster salesman, in this bit called Roy Waddamaker, peddles bathwater of the stars; you can purchase and then bathe in, rinse in, or drink bathwater used – yes, used – by the big time celebrities of the day. At one point, Aykroyd pulls out a rat or something, and I don’t remember why, but he loses hold of it, and it falls in the bathtub. It was clearly an unscripted moment, and Dyan starts laughing uproariously. Yet, as a stellar example to his cast mates Chevy Chase and John Belushi, he never broke character. Also, the sketch was gross, but that part was funny.
At the end of the show, Dyan Cannon’s dream comes true, when a shirtless Chevy Chase, apparently wet from the sea, comes into the studio riding a white horse. At one time, he was kind of sexy. Maybe.
Less Successful Moments
The “Orange Juice” commercial. Performed live, this featured Jane Curtin as a Floridian hocking orange juice deep within war-torn Beirut, Lebanon. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi play Arab terrorists speaking horrible fake Arabic, and they end up executing Jane Curtin, complete with a black bag over her head and tied to a wood post. It seems SNL has repeatedly come back to this subject, lampooning terrorists and executions, since they stirred controversy recently by lampooning ISIS. Maybe it was funnier in the seventies, but the lens of 2015 prevents me from laughing here. Sorry, everyone.
The film by Gary Weis, featuring this really odd couple who are vacationing at Niagara Falls. I didn’t even understand what was happening. I don’t think they were very nice people, and they wanted to keep their marriage alive or something. I checked out but remembered the film enough as a low point of the episode to include it here.
The “Cresk” commercial. Performed live, this featured Gilda Radner as Claire, who is visiting her local drugstore, proprietor Mr. Goodman, played by John Belushi. What we find out is that Claire’s little boy was run over by a bus and killed, but Mr. Goodman convinces her to buy “Cresk” toothpaste for her son, since it now features formaldehyde. It was a very odd commercial, and I kept thinking to myself, “What if this kid is buried or cremated? How could she even use this toothpaste? Why would she even fall for this?” Plus, it was about a dead kid. I just didn’t have it in me to laugh at this one, especially when my brain tried to apply logic where logic need not apply.
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) Chevy Chase, for being so game to fall off a ladder twice (allegedly); for convincing Laraine Newman to drink phlegm; for making it through the funeral sketch without breaking (and taking a lot of abuse); and for being Dyan Cannon’s sea-based prince on a white horse and not looking bad shirtless (in 1976) in the process.
(2nd) Laraine Newman, for drinking phlegm…or purple milk (shudder either way); for being a whore with the best of them; for persisting in her “soo grooss” judgments; and for her crack investigative reporting in Weekend Update.
(3rd) Gilda Radner, for her survival skills during a hearing test; for being a whore with the best of them; for punching Chevy Chase’s preacher in the face; and for not punching John Belushi’s drugstore clerk in his.
John Belushi, for breaking character (even though it was really just him, but he caused a giggle party) while riding “Horace.” The breaking score now is Chevy Chase 5, Belushi 2, and the rest of the cast zero.
Garrett Morris, for being the MVP of Weekend Update.