Host and Musical Guest: Paul Simon
Special Featured Guest: George Harrison
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner – i.e. the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”
Paul Simon returns to host and, essentially, to play a second gig in the form of the Saturday Night show. And he brought a friend! And his friend is none other than former Beatle and favorite of mine (well, really, one of four favorites), George Harrison. This would prove to be a stellar appearance, particularly from a music perspective, for viewers then and now. To think, this episode aired a mere six years after the Beatles had broken up. In the interest of symmetry, for those not in the know, Conan O’Brien had, on his show in September 2014, a “George Harrison” week in anticipation of a box set that was released featuring George’s Apple Records years, and Paul Simon served as a guest and tribute singer to the late George, reproducing, albeit not well, a performance rendered by the two legendary musicians in this episode. I’m so excited just to write about it!
The “Backstage” cold open. First, in our pre-filmed cold opening announced by the live voice of Don Pardo, we find our host, Paul Simon, walking up to 30 Rock, arriving early because of some “costume” he has to get into that will take him a half hour before start of show to manage. As he’s entering the building, he finds Chevy Chase, who apparently was all talk about leaving the show, playing guitar and in modestly messy apparel, singing folk songs for change like a street performer. Paul and Chevy are famously best friends, so, perhaps this was a cheeky sendoff from friend to friend. Anyway, the interchange was feigned awkward, and Chevy was oddly happy-go-lucky for someone without a formal credit as a cast member. So, Paul leaves his singing friend, long before they could conceive of “You Can Call Me Al,” and later finds producer Lorne Michaels talking to none other than Mr. Harrison, who is, hilariously, razzing Lorne about the $3,000 Lorne has been offering the Beatles to reunite on the show. First, Paul Simon interrupts their conversation to protest about wearing the “costume,” which Lorne insists will be just fine and will work great, much to Paul’s chagrin. Paul is very, very reticent, worrying about his integrity as an artist, but agrees to go put on the nondescript costume. Meanwhile, Lorne tries to explain to George that the $3,000 was really meant for four people, i.e. $750 per Beatle (he didn’t make a crack about Ringo this time), which George, in his George way, mutters is pretty “chincey” and something of a ripoff where he’s concerned. Yet, at Lorne’s convincing, George is pretty game to say, “Live from New York!” At least Lorne got one Beatle! I think he should have paid George, really.
Paul Simon then comes onstage for the monologue dressed as a turkey. The episode aired on November 20, 1976, right around Thanksgiving, so, you know, festive. He starts to sing “Still Crazy After All These Years” but can’t get through it, mortified as he is in light of being dressed as a turkey. He leaves the stage in a huffy manner, prepared to confront Lorne Michaels, who thinks the turkey costume is top-notch. Paul gets mad, though, particularly when he can’t fit through backstage doorways due to the span of his turkey feathers. It’s a pretty well-known, even legendary, bit, actually, and worth a few giggles.
Since Paul Simon is a musician and everything, he also served as primary musical guest and sang, solo, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (which, gag, Miley Cyrus sang less aptly during the 40th anniversary special, even though Paul Simon was there to sing for himself, wonderingly); “Something So Right,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” all by himself and without the soaring harmonies of Art Garfunkel, which lent an almost eerie quality to the song, though it was still beautiful in its simplicity. In addition, treat of all treats, Paul Simon and George Harrison sang two duets, first of George’s classic Beatles tune “Here Comes the Sun” and then of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Homeward Bound.” And it was ah-mazing. Seriously, what a wonder to be in that studio for that performance. It was perfection, really. Two men, two expertly played acoustic guitars, and two beautiful songs. Magnifique!
The “Baba WaWa at Large” sketch. Gilda Radner recreates her speech-hampered Barbara Walters impression for this segment, in which Baba interviews outgoing Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, hilariously rendered again by John Belushi. While he wasn’t at his best, she was on fire, now mimicking Barbara Walters’ special brand of point-blank questioning, which Mr. Kissinger, in this sketch, frequently answered with clipped, one-word answers. This one is better viewed than described.
“The Twilite Zone” sketch. This sketch was a mixed bag. The highlight of the sketch was Dan Aykroyd’s impression of Twilight Zone narrator Rod Serling, which was pretty convincing, even though Aykroyd injected his creepy, toothy smile into the proceedings. The premise of the sketch was that Rod Serling, producer, lures three young, naive actresses of similar skills and talents, as played by the women of Saturday Night (i.e. Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner) to a hotel room, or, really, a motel room, where Garrett Morris creepily brings them room service. I think the point of this sketch is that Aykroyd’s Rod seeks to entice some young actresses to do naughty things in exchange for parts in his TV show, but the sketch landed with a thud and without driving that point or its aims home. The women screamed and gasped a few times, and Rod came into pour drinks. It was all about Aykroyd’s impression, truly, for the purpose of being a “highlight.”
Jane Curtin’s Weekend Update in this episode began with the camera zeroing in on Jane while she tried to open what appeared to be a birth control pill dispenser. After she realized awkwardly that the camera was on her, she said “Good evening; the news,” and segued nicely into the top story about the effectiveness of oral contraception versus diaphragms, though, Jane indicated, scientists were reporting that diaphragms are much harder to swallow than the pill. Other stories included one about how the Republican party was soliciting suggestions from the public to change the party name, after former California governor and future President Ronald Reagan allegedly proposed doing so. When Jane reported some of the suggestions, many of them were presumably explicit and bleeped out, except the name “The Supremes.” Jane also reported about a “Harry Reems,” one of the cast of “Deep Throat,” who was having some sort of party or fundraiser wherein he introduced a new cocktail named after himself. Jane joked, “The cocktail contained no beer but still had a head,” prompting Jane to quip, “Sorry, mom, it’s my job!” in light of the inappropriate penile joke. A filmed segment featured correspondent Laraine Newman reporting from a diner frequented by Nazi war criminals, many of whom were wearing regalia and armbands with swastikas in the background. Laraine reported that residents of Long Island, where the diner is located, treat the Nazi war criminals like any other immigrant group seeking refuge from persecution. Also, in what appeared to be a running gag, Jane reported that Morris the cat, of Meow Mix fame, tried to commit suicide after he learned of the death of Smokey the Bear. His suicide note was apparently, pound for pound, the Meow Mix jingle (“meow meow meow meow”), which Jane gamely reproduced by singing it. Jane reported that Morris tried to end all nine of his lives in a variety of gruesome ways, including locking himself in a garage with a car running and shutting himself in an oven, but Morris could, sadly, only think of eight ways to kill himself and was recuperating at a hospital after his failure to completely end his life. As a result, Jane and Weekend Update solicited home viewership to write-in with suggestions for a ninth way for poor Morris to commit suicide, whose decision as to the winning choice was “final.” Jane further reported in this broadcast that it was the first anniversary of the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who received well wishes from a worldwide collection of folks, including “homesick for NBC” Barbara Walters. Finally, Garrett Morris, acting as science correspondent, provided commentary about a strain of gonorrhea that had become resistant to penicillin, which Jane indicated was true in eleven United States, all of which were visited by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Garrett analyzed the sample DNA of a gonorrhea victim, which was depicted as an old-time cartoon, lampooning the onslaught of the sexually transmitted disease. When Jane asked Garrett where he got the sample DNA, Garrett, uncomfortably writhing in his chair from presumably contracting said STD, replied simply, “Loretta.”
The “Crackerbox Palace” film. In a definite precursor to music videos, thought not the first of its kind, since the Beatles as a collective were kind of doing this thing once upon a time, George Harrison brought a film of him singing his single “Crackerbox Palace.” Directed by Python member and previous Saturday Night host Eric Idle, it featured the erstwhile Beatle in some very silly and absurd – one might say Pythonesque – adventures and situations.
The “Tomorrow” sketch. In this sketch, Dan Aykroyd sports his impression of late night talk show host Tom Snyder. His guest is Paul Simon, but it is apparent that Tom Snyder, in this rendition of the television personality, has no idea who Paul Simon is. He first believes that Paul is the singer of a song about driving trucks that plays at the top of the sketch. Aykroyd’s Snyder then confuses Paul with Neil Simon, the playwright, and finally with another singer named Paul, before Mr. Simon becomes angry and leaves the stage, while Aykroyd’s Tom Snyder tried to play off his mistakes, in a frighteningly accurate portrayal of Mr. Snyder. The execution of this one was actually somewhat brilliant.
George Harrison brought a second film or music video to another single of his, “This Song.” Both of the filmed tracks are on his Thirty Three and 1/3 album.
Less Successful Moments
While there were less funny segments in this episode, none of them could be considered “less than successful” because every sketch accomplished what it set out to do and did so providing at least some laughs. Perhaps, I’m getting soft.
Most Valuable Not Ready For Primetime Players
(1st) Dan Aykroyd, for his more than passable impressions of Rod Serling and Tom Snyder.
(2nd) Jane Curtin, for an overall hilarious Weekend Update (ten points to Gryffindor for the original opening) and for hocking “Quarry” cereal in a top of show commercial, which was basically chunks of mined rocks, full of minerals and such. She played a perfectly straight-faced spokesperson and could have probably made a career out of it if she weren’t so darn funny.
(3rd) Gilda Radner, for continuing to finely hone her Baba Wawa.