40 Years of Saturday Night Live! – Season Two, Episode Three (Eric Idle)

Host: Eric Idle

Musical Guests: Joe Cocker; Stuff

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

Highlights:

Eric Idle, best known for being one sixth of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, serves as host for this episode. He’s a sport and a brilliant one, taking lots of abuse from the cast, primarily John Belushi, for being too English and trying to introduce an English sense of humor into the proceedings.  Drag is very uncomfortable for everyone, apparently.  There’s also a moment for Eric to showcase the Rutles, his spoof of the Beatles.  I never realized before, but Eric plays the equivalent of George Harrison in the Rutles, which is fitting, since George was particularly friendly with the members of Monty Python.

“The Real Chevy Chase” cold open.  Chevy Chase is still injured and out of work for this episode.  In answer to this, NBC allegedly posts for a substitute, who may become a permanent replacement for this “flash in the pan.”  As a result, we see a very young Richard Belzer (Law and Order, I think Special Victims Unit) donning Chevy’s blazer and sitting at the Weekend Update anchor desk.  He even starts by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.”  Chevy then calls into the broadcast in a tirade, exclaiming that he invented that line and is the real Chevy Chase.  They argue about who is actually the real Chevy Chase for some time, until Chevy invites Richard to locate a framed photograph of him at the desk.  They continue to argue about the fact that the photograph looks nothing like Richard, until Richard finally becomes fed up and hurls the phone receiver at the photograph, causing it to fall off the desk and break, as Chevy calls over the phone, “Live from New York!”  “The Voice of Chevy Chase” is also featured again among the roll call of Not Ready for Primetime Players.

Eric Idle’s monologue starts a recurring theme for the episode, where he is prepared to sing his rendition of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” but in a voice that sounds not too far off from a Monty Python Gumby.  Jane Curtin then approaches him and encourages him to save the song, his version of which she clearly is not into, for the end of the show, to which Eric sheepishly agrees.

The “Genetic Counselor” sketch.  Eric, after being disallowed from continuing his monologue, heads right on over to the stage with the first sketch where he plays a genetic counselor advising a young couple trying to have a baby, played by Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.  This genetic counselor gives them a lot of two choice options: blonde or black hair; fair or dark skin; feet or pods; eventually leading to an option of having a shrimp head.  Gilda’s mother complains that she doesn’t want a baby with a shrimp head, which sets the counselor off, as he raves about Americans and his difficult job of advising them as he attempts to give them the miracle of life.  His rant is so convincing, or intimidating, that the parents oblige to the shrimp head and many other wacky options.  I want to see this baby.

The “AM-FM” sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd plays a DJ manning both an AM and a FM radio station at the same time.  While the sketch is not, in itself, uproarious in hilarity, it features an able Dan Aykroyd, switching from an over the top announcer on the AM side to a totally loose stoner type DJ on the FM side, delivering the same commercials in both voices while switching on a dime.  I watched it and thought it must be exhausting to maintain the energy throughout this sketch, but Dan deftly and definitely did it.

“The Killer Bees” sketch.  In this sketch, Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner play nurses administering swine flu vaccines for the big health scare of the time.  They are soon accosted by the Killer Bees, headed up by John Belushi, Garrett Morris, and Dan Aykroyd, who are South American terrorist/drug lord types and who are threatened by the threat to the swine flu virus, because apparently viral cells and bees are the best of buds.  Eric Idle is also there to participate in the sketch, but he is clearly not South American. In fact, he is very, very English, and the two ladies catch his use of words like “bloke” and start to question his national origin.  As a result, the sketch goes meta – John calls for a stop to the sketch, suggesting that Eric is “too English” to be in it and is ruining it. Laraine Newman then enters from off stage to try to encourage poor Eric, left alone, standing on the stage and feeling excluded, who is cheered by her compliment so much, he invites her to his dressing room with obvious subtext.

Eric Idle then tries to sing “Here Comes the Sun” again before Jane Curtin runs onstage to put a stop to it, reminding him that he can sing it at the end of the show.  Eric remembers this arrangement and introduces the musical guest…

…who is rock and blues singer Joe Cocker (RIP).  He sang “You Are So Beautiful” and later “Feelin’ Alright,” backed by ubiquitous backing band Stuff and accompanied by John Belushi, sporting his Joe Cocker impression. Thankfully, Belushi did not roll around on the floor, but when the two were set side by side, it was brilliant to see just how spot-on Belushi’s impression was and to hear how good of a singer he was.  Joe seemed into it too.

Stuff also got to perform “Foots” on its own, sporting its funky rock, rhythm, and blues type sound.

The “Farewell” sketch.  Gilda Radner appeared as Baba WaWa, her speech impeded rendition of journalist Barbara Walters.  In this appearance, Baba gave a farewell speech to NBC as she prepared to make the switch to ABC, where the real life Barbara Walters would remain for the rest of her career.  I cannot tell you what she said; I can only say that it’s hard not to laugh at this impression.  Gilda sounds nothing like Barbara, but the merciless speech impediment impression is hysterical.

Jane Curtin returned to the Weekend Update desk in place of Chevy Chase and informed Chevy’s lady friend that she didn’t know when Chevy was coming back, though he should be back soon, and that, no, she didn’t know where the batteries were!  Infer as you like.  After saying, “I’m Jane Curtin, and here now, the news,” this Update was rather benign and unmemorable, though Garrett Morris served as correspondent, reporting from Florence, Italy, to indicate that Michelangelo’s David was vandalized and circumcised.  When a local rabbi was asked to comment, he could only agree that it looked good.

The “No Beatles” spot.  In this spot, executive producer Lorne Michaels appears before the camera to report that while the Beatles never took him up on his offer of $3,000 to appear on the Saturday Night show directly, he agreed to let Eric Idle host on his promise that he could convince and bring the Beatles with him to appear.  In fact, Eric took the $3,000 under the guise that the Beatles wanted to be paid up front so as to buy new clothes for their appearance, except that Eric messaged back to say that the appearance was off because they couldn’t get Ringo re-sized in time.  Lorne then bemoans that Eric took the money in order to bring the Rutles, which is not the same, so he feels betrayed and is out $3,000.  We then are treated to a Rutles performance and a clip of Eric playing his dual role of documentarian reporting on the Rutles, a la the Rutles films.

Eric Idle sallies onto the stage again, this time in the get up of one of the “Bruces,” the Crocodile Dundee type Australians who sing songs on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He’s about to sing a song about animals, but Garrett Morris intervenes and indicates to Eric that the song is “too deep” for that point in the show and encourages Eric to save it for the end of the broadcast.  They really didn’t want him to sing!

The “Dragnet” sketch.  In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd, in a precursor to an eighties film remake of the Dragnet TV show that he would star in with Tom Hanks, plays Sgt. Joe Friday, complete with voice-over, while Eric Idle plays his partner, Saturday Morning. They are two hard-hitting detectives called to a case – but they are dressed in drag.  Not good drag, mind, but dresses and purses and such.  They say they are in plainclothes, undercover, but Saturday Morning seems really concerned about his/her frock. Anyway, they receive a call that someone is impersonating a police officer, so Gilda Radner plays a cop who drives them, poorly, to the scene, where they encounter Garrett Morris, also dressed in drag but unwilling to enter the scene to investigate because he has a run in his pantyhose. When they enter the home upon Laraine Newman’s invitation, indicating that they wish to investigate the possibility of someone impersonating a police officer, she attempts to disclaim that she even has a husband until her supposed husband, John Belushi, appears, in the same dress as Eric, I mean, Saturday.  Except! John wants none of it.  He stops the sketch again, bemoaning the fact that English senses of humor and American senses of humor are two totally different things, and that drag isn’t as accepted or as frequent in America and is simply not funny.  He also decries any possible criticism, saying it’s “not a homosexual thing or anything;” it’s just not funny, according to John, suggesting that the Brits seem to breathe drag humor (or something to that effect).  If you think about it, Python was surely fond of their pepper pots. Aykroyd then tries to cop to Belushi’s way of thinking, even though he seemed pretty game in the sketch, but he isn’t feeling his Jack Warren impression either.  When they can’t figure out what to do with the sudden injection of free time they’ve found themselves enjoying, Eric invites Dan back to his dressing room with obvious subtext while John calls after Dan, saying, “you know what they say about doing it once…”

This sketch segues into the “Drag Racing Today” film, which at first appears to be about race cars but morphs into Dan Aykroyd and Eric Idle, in drag again but this time wearing fishnets, stirrups, and boas, while running a leg race.  At the end of the leg race, Dan questions whether John Belushi might be right; is it funny?  Do Americans get it?  Eric suggests listening for audience laughter, but Dan reminds Eric that this is a film, not a live performance. So, Eric gives up, and they walk off into the sunset. Presumably.

The “Talent Spot” sketch.  In this sketch, Garrett Morris plays boxer Ken Norton, who lost to Muhummad Ali in the ring.  He’s ranting and raving about how he should have won that fight, suggesting that his bathrobe and other articles of clothing that he wore, he wore better than Ali.  In fact, in his heart, he believes he could have won the match because he can sing also opera, which then leads to Garrett singing an aria.  He is not a great impressionist, but the man can sing.

Oh, and Eric finally sings “Here Comes the Sun,” which served as a musical refrain throughout the episode anyway, popping up in sketches like “The Killer Bees” and “AM/FM.”  He continues to sing it like a Gumby, but the whole cast (sans Chevy Chase) joins in at the end, doing their best gumbies as well.  Precious.

Less Successful Moments

“The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” sketch.  In this sketch, John Belushi narrates as the famed French underwater explorer, though he is describing being submerged in a toy submarine, which is clearly on a line being lowered into a tank of live goldfish.  This is not the bad part.  The bad part is when the sketch morphs into a fish food commercial called “Pets and Pettings” or something like that, as hosted by Eric Idle, who is describing the proper way to feed fish.  In true Pythonesque fashion, the proper way to feed a fish is by erratically dumping a five course meal into the fish tank, but he did this live!  With live goldfish in the tank!  All I could think was SAVE THE GOLDFISH!  SAVE THE GOLDFISH! He dumped wine and coffee into it! I’m no PETA representative, but that was animal abuse!  I hope the goldfish were allowed to live their three week lives!  POOR GOLDFISH!

The “Cufflinks of the Gods?” sketch.  In this sketch, Laraine Newman plays some sort of archaeologist or anthropologist who has discovered ancient, giant cufflinks, or who is describing such a discovery.  While I get the aim of the sketch, I also found it boring and sleep-inducing.

The “Pong” sketch returns.  Even though Tom Davis and Al Franken provide the voices, THIS SKETCH NEVER WORKED.  They are lousy at Pong.  There is just no excuse.  I don’t even care what they were talking about.  These guys probably could not handle Pac Man or Asteroids when those games came along.  YOU MOVE THE THING UP AND DOWN.  Stop with the Pong sketches!  (I know I’m yelling at forty years ago, but these things annoy me.  They are NOT FUNNY).

Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players

(1st) Dan Aykroyd, for his schizophrenic DJ; for his killer bee; for being willing to dress in drag twice; for his better-than-he-thought Sgt. Friday; for his American spy in the “Behind the Lines” sketch (a riff on Allied actions during Nazi times); and for stabbing himself in the mouth during the “Epifix” commercial, where he played a pharmacist advertising a headache cure that involved driving the syringe into one’s mouth.  It wasn’t funny – in fact, it was horrifying – but Aykroyd was on fire in this episode by putting everything on the line all over the place, including his own safety and sense of manliness, if he had one at the time.

(2nd) John Belushi, for his loving homage to Joe Cocker as Joe Cocker stood right beside him and for providing the funny meta moments of the episode, even though he was so totally wrong about British humor.

(3rd) Garrett Morris, for his report on the circumcision of David; for his best Latin killer bee; for making wearing a dress while examining one’s pantyhose on a motorcycle look good; and for his operatic prowess, boxing be damned.

The MVPs belonged to the boys this episode…

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One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · April 1, 2015

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