40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season One, Episode Twenty-Three (Louise Lasser)

Host: Louise Lasser

Musical Guests: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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

Highlights:

Louise Lasser served as host for this episode.  As a Gen Xer (or Gen Yer, depending on how one breaks it down), I had never heard of her.  Her claim to fame at that time was as the star of a short-lived sitcom called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.  She was also married to Woody Allen, prior to his being married to Mia Farrow.  She has shown up in some projects over the years, most recently in HBO’s Girls (which I don’t watch). She was not a very successful host.  On review of this episode, I can safely say that her sketch appearances predominantly brought the show down.  She was tonally different, clearly uncomfortable (for various reasons, which she has described in interviews), and tended to meditate on very similar jokes.  She also failed to have chemistry with the cast.  As a result, there are few highlights from this episode.  Apparently, this was her only appearance on the show.  Hey, sometimes, live television is difficult for people.

The “Back from Vacation” cold open.  In this cold open, the entire cast appears onstage to announce their triumphant return from hiatus, though John Belushi is notably absent. It is implied by one of the girls that John feels a bit threatened by Chevy Chase; it seems they have something of a rivalry going, and John feels that Chevy’s getting all the attention.  This is obviously fake, but when John finally does appear, in a baller’s white suit and shades, Chevy takes steps to make up.  They hug it out, then commence to do this interchange of five-givings that culminates in a rough end, when Chevy’s over exuberance causes John to punch him in the face and send him flying off the stage. Again rocking the meta wave…

Louise Lasser’s monologue was unremarkable but for the end, in which she seems to have a meltdown indicative of her television character and leaves the stage in tears, locking herself in her dressing room.  First, Gilda Radner tries to reason her out, then Dan Aykroyd poses as some law enforcement official to scare her out, and finally, Chevy Chase resurrects the land shark (Jaws…on land!) to coax her out, which works. Unfortunately, the end of it really landed with a thud.

The “Human Hair Potholders” commercial.  This could rank as one of the most disturbing sketches of all time.  In this commercial, performed live, Laraine Newman dons famous Charles Manson follower Squeaky Fromme again to chilling effect, while Jane Curtin plays another Manson follower named Sandra Good.  They are in jail, in religious/cult garb with tattoos on their foreheads, weaving potholders from their own hair, which they are advertising for sales.  Sandra explains that they must do this or punish themselves, which causes Squeaky to start hurting herself.  At the end of the commercial, Squeaky Laraine stares into the camera in a way that is really not funny and kind of turns one’s blood cold and says, “You better buy them, you little piggies, I’m not kidding!”  Also, we learn that neither of them have any hair left; they’re bald as cue balls.

The “Cathode Ray” musical sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd plays some dude with TV shaped glasses who wants to introduce a segment celebrating the wonders of television hardware.  This segues into a doo-wop ode to TV’s, with Laraine Newman singing soulfully about diodes and gamma rays and Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner serving as her backup singers.  There’s also an overlay explaining that eight people in the whole world understand all the terms being sung in the song.  Mostly, I was impressed again with Laraine’s fastidious performance; she’s got a great voice.

Chevy Chase began Weekend Update by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and boy, are you glad to see me!” There were some decent jokes lobbed at then presidential party nominees Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, but the best part of Update featured a roving report by correspondent John Belushi at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, back when there were two Olympics, the summer and the winter version, per every four years.  He interviews a Russian gymnast played by Gilda Radner who lost some of her notoriety given the tour de force performances and finishes of legendary Russian gymnast Nadia Comenici.  Belushi speaks in a Russian accent and translates the gymnast’s Russian into English, though she unmistakably utters in English that she would like to impale Nadia with a balance beam (or something to that effect), which Belushi then translates to be a much nicer statement of well wishes and congratulations, despite the fact that the audience heard her true feelings.

The “John Belushi Wardrobe” commercial.  In this commercial, Belushi is trying to hock the clothes off his back for a reasonable price – John Belushi originals, his signature look.  He really needs the cash, he says.  After all, he’s an underpaid late night television actor.  He tries to sell some of his vinyl records too.  He had some great selections!  Though he only played Grand Funk Railroad once.

The “Jimmy Carter” sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd debuts his Jimmy Carter impression, which, as he explains in the sketch, involves him surveying a room back and forth while he’s talking and then, when pausing, making unwavering eye contact with the camera. He ended the sketch with his trademark toothy grin that seems somewhat non-human in nature.  He didn’t say anything particularly funny, but it’s a decent impression, and one must track the Presidential impressions; they’re really the backbone of Saturday Night Live, if you think about it.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans, Louisiana, served as musical guest. They played a ragtime number called “Panama” and were a hoot.  Since more than half of them appeared to be quite old at the time, I surmised that most of them are probably not alive today, but I wonder if the Jazz Band perseveres.  Also, I really want to get to New Orleans someday.

Less Successful Moments

The “Louise & Dog” sketch.  This involved Louis Lasser having a very grown up conversation with a golden retriever named Maggie, like she was breaking up with the dog, over a “fetch” incident.  I was bored out of my skull, and I felt really sorry for the dog, who was panting heavily, no doubt overstimulated by having to perform for a live studio audience.  To me, this one crashed and burned.  Totally DOA.

The “Diner Sketch” film.  Billed as “A Film by Louise Lasser,” this featured Louise talking to various other actors, again about serious grown up things, and repeatedly forgetting her lines.  She even implores the present Lorne Michaels to excise her from the proceedings.  If this was supposed to be funny, I totally missed the joke.

The “Mary Mary” monologue. In this end monologue, Louise Lasser, as her famous television character Mary Hartman, talks about her real Louise Lasser life and her infamous public arrest for drug possession, which occurred as a result of a public disturbance that she created when trying to buy a dollhouse or something.  Frankly, it dragged the pace of the show down considerably, and may have been cathartic for her and awkwardly funny for an audience of that time but induced me to doze.  I can’t see it as having been all that meaningful even to a 1976 audience, much less a 2015 one.

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Laraine Newman, for her bone-chilling Squeaky Fromme and for her more than competent musical ode to television innards.

(2nd) John Belushi, for his too-cool-for-school delayed entrance in the cold open, for his role as a Russian translating correspondent in Weekend Update, and for trying to sell the clothes off his own back.

(3rd) Dan Aykroyd, for taking on Jimmy Carter.

Honorable mention:

Jane Curtin, for being the more sane Manson follower, for being somewhat slutty in the “Girl Talk” sketch (where she talks about seeing a boy’s penis with her best friend played by Gilda Radner), and for being a totally decent backup singer to Laraine Newman.

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · March 17, 2015

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