Thursday, December 11, 2008

When 'SNL' Was Funny

A long time ago, in what seems now like it was a galaxy far, far away, the television program 'Saturday Night Live' actually used to be funny. It was funny, like 'belly-laugh out loud' funny, and it was that way pretty much week-in, week-out. I am talking here about the first few seasons, representing my high school days of the mid-late 70's, when the show first came on the air. These were the days when Gilda Radner was doing her Emily Litella character on the news with 'Cheddar Cheese', er, Chevy Chase. When Bill Murray was giving her Lisa Loopner character those special 'Christmas noogies'. When Garrett Morris was shouting out the 'News for the Hard of Hearing'. When John Belushi and Dan Akroyd were the 'Blues Brothers'. When Jane Curtin was using new 'Shimmer' as a floor wax and a desert topping. When immortal characters roamed the hallways: the Killer Bees, Roseanne Roseannadanna, the Samurai, Baba Wawa. We learned about the 'Luck of the Irish', what your 'Uvula' is, how to operate the 'Bass-O-Matic', that trees can be killers, and that the next knock on your door could be coming from a 'Land Shark'. We thrilled at Andy Kauffman's performance of 'Mighty Mouse'. Radner married Elliott Gould on-air after falling in love earlier that episode. Father Guido Sarducci kept us updated on religious developments from the Vatican, while 'Two Wild and Crazy Guys' did the disco club scene from an ethnic perspective. There were outstanding humor videos presented by Gary Weis and a new young comedic talent, Albert Brooks. There was SNL's own kiddie character, 'Mister Bill', who got into adventures with his friend Mr. Hand, his dog Spot, and his nemesis Sluggo. Chase's 'President Ford' stumbled and fell, while Akroyd's 'Jimmy Carter' lusted in his heart. In those days, SNL understood that it was humorous to make fun of both Republicans and Democrats, which made you a true comedy show and not just the typical idological vehicle that it has now degenerated into. Whatever your politics, you may be relieved to learn that Generalisimo Francisco Franco is indeed still dead. And SNL was not above drumming up support for worthy causes either, as shown when Eric Idle's episode-long telethon to 'Save England' raised $20 for the queen. And why didn't they feature Laraine Newman more? Was she just not funny? Well, at least she got regular turns as the youngest member of the 'Conehead' family. The guest hosts in those early days were a 'Who's Who?' of the star galaxy: George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Paul Simon, Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Rob Reiner, Richard Pryor, Candice Bergen, Elliott Gould, Desi Arnaz, Dick Cavett, Dudley Moore, Raquel Welch, Madeline Kahn, Norman Lear, Ralph Nader, Hugh Hefner, Ray Charles, Robert Klein, and a 14-year old Jodie Foster. Heck, even 'The Juice' hisself, O.J. Simpson, hosted an episode in Season 2. And the musical guests, from Carly Simon to Billy Joel, from Meatloaf to Van Morrison, from The Rolling Stones to The Grateful Dead, almost every big name took the stage and performed. But the show was never able to land the one act it really wanted most, The Beatles, despite a financially large standing offer to John, Paul, George, and Ringo to perform in a reunion on the show. Saturday Night Live still lives on Saturday nights, but it is a shell of it's 1970's greatness. If you haven't had the pleasure, pick up some of the old episodes and watch for a real treat, back when SNL was funny.

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