Host: Steve Martin
Musical Guest: Kinky Friedman
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
Venerable comedian Steve Martin performed the first of many SNL hosting gigs in this episode; in fact, he is one of only a few actors and actresses who have hosted the show the most (I don’t know where he falls in the order directly, but I’ll be tallying that statistic throughout this watch project). This particular appearance was, for the most part, unremarkable, but, in many ways, he felt like one of the regular cast, for better or for worse – and I don’t blame the worse on him.
The “World Series” cold open. In this cold open, the men of Saturday Night play baseball players in a locker room receiving an apology talk by the coach, played by Dan Aykroyd, who is taking the loss of the World Series by his team, which looks to be the Yankees, so personally that he hangs himself at the end of the talk for his players to see. They wander out of the locker room mostly unaffected by the sudden suicide of their coach. The most notable aspect of this cold open is that, for the first time, Chevy Chase did not fall. He did not even mimic falling. Aykroyd was dangling from a fictitious hangman’s noose, but Chevy did not fall. This could signify the beginning of the end…or, at least, be a clue to Chevy’s limited future on the show from this point forward. To be continued…spoilers…
Steve Martin gave an excellent monologue, which included him playing the banjo. The rhythm and pace were taken from his stand-up routines. I can’t reproduce everything; the best stand-up comics are so stream of consciousness that jokes flow in and out of and overlap each other, and Steve is one of the best. Plus, he plays the banjo. “Hey, he’s good!” Indeed.
The “Jeopardy 1999!” sketch. This sketch is funny for so many reasons. First, this is one of those quaint sketches wherein writers and performers imagined what would be 20 years into the future to be so much more futuristic than it actually was. Everyone apparently wears curly white afros and seems to be numbered clones or something. Steve Martin plays the host, Art F114, while Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman, and Chevy Chase serve as the contestants. The lines are delivered, and the game is played, rapidly, which actually causes Steve to stumble over his lines quite a bit. In fact, more than once during this episode, I had the notion that some of the cast and our illustrious host might have been enjoying some recreational refreshments backstage. One of the Jeopardy clues also points to something close to the notion of identifying a Saturday Night cast member who washed up and faded quickly. The question: “Who is Chevy Chase?” which Chevy Chase’s character answers correctly. It was a bit screwball all around and somewhat awkwardly rendered, but it provided a few good laughs (and may have planted the seeds for my all time favorite recurring sketch, Celebrity Jeopardy, from the nineties cast).
Satirical country singer Kinky Friedman served as musical guest and sang “Dear Abbie.” I had never heard of him and was not impressed by the appearance, but I’m not a big fan of country music.
Chevy Chase started Weekend Update by saying, “Good evening, I’m Rod McHugh.” Wait, what? I DON’T GET IT. Just kidding. The jokes were standard fare for this Update, though Chevy graciously welcomed Jane Curtin as a featured regular on the segment, in lieu of her prodigal anchoring skills during his absence, while championing the equality of the sexes in these male dominated times. Jane launches into a fairly straight-laced report about fluorocarbons, which prompts Chevy to do his regular bit of making faces behind her back, which is not nice. Also, Al Franken pops in to read Chevy’s news sides over Chevy’s shoulder, about which Chevy is not so keen.
The “Beatniks” sketch. The whole cast participated in this one. It centered on one of those old cafes that attracted beatniks during the sixties. Dan Aykroyd plays Herbie Gleason, the cafe proprietor, who speaks in a raspy voice and introduces all of the acts. Steve Martin plays a beat poet, Laraine Newman provides an interesting interpretive dance, Chevy Chase plays a Latin singer, Garrett Morris plays a blind blues singer that might have formed the basis for David Alan Grier’s blues singer on In Living Color – there is something for everyone! The sketch was a bit long, but it was fun to see everyone involved.
The “Ramblin’ Guy” spot. Though less funny than the monologue, it was another chance for Steve Martin to perform some stand-up stuff, which is always welcome.
Less Successful Moments
The “Looks at Books” segment. Though normally funny, this Looks at Books spot fumbled for an unexpected turnover. Hard-hitting hostess Jane Curtin interviewed Steve Martin as the author of a book studying the effects of sex on athletic performance. Something went wrong in this sketch – you could almost hear the crickets in the audience. Maybe Steve lost his place in the cue cards, or maybe the jokes were particularly and disastrously unfunny. The whole sketch revolved around showing a bunch of sports clips: successful sports players had not had sex, according to Steve’s author, while those who made mistakes had had sex at some point before doing so. It was a concept that could have been potentially comedic but failed in the execution, which was really disappointing, considering the players involved.
The “Mary” sketch. Good God, Lemon. I do not know what motivated anyone to write this sketch. Steve Martin plays a news anchor who inadvertently murders a co-worker, played by Laraine Newman, by putting Drano in her coffee in order to help her clear her sinuses. His boss (John Belushi) and other co-workers, including office bitch Jane Curtin and office gypsy Gilda Radner, as well as concerned co-worker Dan Aykroyd, happen upon this discovery and urge Steve’s character to make a full confession. This sketch was also a non-starter; Steve affected one of his “doofus” personae, and Jane Curtin’s waspish jabs at the newly deceased, of which her character was not overly fond, were mildly entertaining, but mostly, the whole sketch suffered from weird pacing and the actors stumbling over their lines. At one point, it seemed like Belushi totally forgot his. I’m all for dark humor, but something was missing in this one – the comedy, mostly.
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) Dan Aykroyd, for doing the heaving lifting (or hanging) during the cold open; for retaining his champion status during the “Jeopardy 1999!” sketch; and for his excellent beatnik cafe proprietor, which added something special to that sketch.
(2nd) Laraine Newman, for her spunky Jeopardy contestant; for her ethereal interpretive dance during the “Beatniks” sketch; and for being the unfortunate manslaughter victim by sitting still throughout the entire “Mary” sketch.
(3rd) Jane Curtin, for earning at least a small iota of Chevy Chase’s respect and a promotion to featured correspondent on Weekend Update and for being the funniest character in the “Mary” sketch, which is really saying something.