Friday, February 09, 2007

"Live From New York...."

Years ago, my two brothers and I were watching television one night my freshman year of high school. That gives you an indication of how raucous my life was back then. We turned to channel 5, the station NBC uses in Chicago, expecting to watch a newsmagazine show we liked called "Weekend." We were surprised to find that our regular show was not on; instead, Richard Pryor,whom we liked, was hosting some sort of comedy show with a bunch of people we'd never seen. There was a bit in which Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor played a psychiatrist and patient doing a "word association" activity while trading racial slurs. A guy named John Belushi did a bit called "Samurai Hotel." It was irreverent and hilarious, and we were hooked immediately.

It turned out that we had missed the first six episodes of Saturday Night Live, a very, very funny show.

A few weeks later, we talked my father into staying up with us and watching it. It happened to be the episode with the "Bass-o-Matic." My father was hooked too.

Saturday Night Live these days is painfully unfunny, and it really should be euthanized. I've been waiting forever for the first few seasons to come out on DVD. The wait is over, at least for the first, and maybe best, season. It was released, with surprisingly little fanfare, a couple of weeks ago.

The first season had, for my money, many, many of the pieces that would make the show legendary. One I remember very well was from the episode the British comedy duo Peter Cook and Dudley Moore hosted. It was called "Lifer Follies," and it involved Peter Cook as a director casting the play "Gigi" in a prison. There were killer bees, land sharks, Mr. Bill and inspired guest hosts like Dick Cavett and Desi Arnaz.

Here's an episode guide from that fabulous first season.

13 comments:

Bubs said...

The Rob Reiner/Joe Cocker was the firt episode I remember. Those were great.

I remember in season 2 or 3, when Elvis Costello first appeared, my mom (who started watching the show with me and my brothers) thought it was an Andy Kaufman spoof.

Johnny Yen said...

I thought my brothers and I were going to hurt ourselves laughing a couple of seasons later when Belushi actually went behind Cocker while he was performing and did his Cocker impression.

I was watching the Elvis Costello one-- I was just alluding to it on Dale's blog. They had quite the kickass musical line-up for a few years. Remember the big uproar when Mick Jagger licked Ron Wood while they played one of the songs from "Some Girls?"

I remember another bit, where Garrett Morris was portraying Jesse Jackson, in a kerfuffle over the lyrics of "Some Girls" (which I guess actually happened). He states that Mick Jagger sings "black girls just wanna (sic)have sex all night" (the actual lyrics were "get f*cked all night), and then demands to know where those girls are, because he can't find them! My god, were they funny at one time.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Actually, the show is still funny sometimes. Most of the time, though, it's the commercial parodies, or the digital shorts, or TV Funhouse that's funny, as opposed to the live sketches.

But I still watch it every week. I love me some Amy Poehler.

Erik Donald France said...

I remember! My sister Linda got me hooked with her social gang, "The Neighborhood." Hysterical and yeah, a lot of great music, too! (small world: Gilda Radner attended one of the day schools I work at).

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I haven't watched SNL in many years. You're right; it's time to let it die. But damn it used to be funny.

Alasdair said...

one of my all-time favorites:

President Reagan delivered his budget this week, and after much consideration, I've come to the conclusion that homeboy don't know what he's doin'

Dale said...

The thing that people tend to forget is that even during the classic years, there was a lot of filler and unfunny schtick, it was a 90 minute show and sometimes, even during those first few years, a lot of 'miss' stuff. Still, some classics for sure too and I remember it fondly. Our music teacher in junior high pushed us all into watching it within it's first few weeks and I loved it. SCTV - same syndrome: a lot of pain and a lot of brilliance too.

Amy Poehler is worth the investment! Clearly Vikkitikki has some excellent taste!

Yasamin said...

sadly the dick in a box digital short is the first funny thing i've seen from them since the Butabi brothers in their roxberry bit. even then.. the laughs were sparse.

i think the new crap has completely killed the love and want for the original hilarity of belushi pryor rudner chase all those that were freaking outstanding.

Leazwell said...

I saw ads on television months ago offering those early shows so I am surprised you just recently saw an offer.

Did SNL spawn Monty Python or visa versa?

Johnny Yen said...

Vikki-
I should watch it soon. The last time I watched it, I was speechless at the awfulness.

Erik-
I remember in that high school that the Monday ritual was to talk about the previous Saturday's SNL.

Gilda created so many memorable characters, didn't she?

Barbara-
Agreed

Alisdair-
"I'm Chevy Chase, and you? You're merely a statistic."

Dale-
Yeah, there was the occasional bit that didn't work, for sure. But in recent years they'll create characters and running bits that don't work at all, and keep them going week after week.

I loved SCTV! Remember the Godfather spoof, with Eugene Levy as "Floyd the Barber" coming to the Don for a favor?

Yasamin-
I read a few years ago that basically SNL is looked at as a place to develop later film projects. Sad, given how great they were in the old days.

Leazwell-
I guess that shows how much television I watch.

I remember watching a documentary on Monty Python a couple of years ago, and they had some of the original cast members of SNL talking about what an influence Monty Python, which was first being shown here in 1974 or so, was on them.

Toccata said...

I remember watching the Rev. Jesse Jackson read Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham" like it was a sermon. I just thought it was too funny.

Steve Martin and Gilda Radner doing a ballet version of a bar pick-up scene.

It feels like years since I have watched.

lulu said...

What really brought home for me how much it has sucked in recent years was seeing an SNL marathon or Comedy Central a while ago.They played the episode where Belushi wandered around the graveyard explaining how everyone had died, and saying something like "Everyone thought I would be the first to go." It was very sweet and poignant, (and ironic). The next episode they showed featured Molly Shannon doing that horrible Catholic school girl, armpit sniffing character. ugh.

Johnny Yen said...

Toccata-
That was priceless, wasn't it? Do you remember when he had the big picture of uberconservative Jeanne Kirkpatrick and recited Rod McKuen's "Jeanne?" It had been a hit song form Oliver in the late sixties or early seventies. It was pretty damned funny.

Lu-
They had bits like the Will Ferrell cheerleader bit that was never, ever funny, and yet they would do them week after week. I was astounded, when I saw Will Ferrell in movies like "Old School" and "Kicking and Screaming" how funny he actually was.

Although I did like the Blue Oyster Cult "cowbell" bit when I got the Best of Christopher Walken SNL set a couple of years ago. Saw a kid in the restaurant with a "more cowbell" shirt, and got a good chuckle.