by Brendan Wahl
Why do we love Saturday Night Live? Is it because every show is different? Is it because every episode has a magical wacky twist that makes each individual sketch entirely original every single night? No, hardly. It’s because every show has the same basic set-up, maybe screws with the format every once in a while, usually tosses in at least a couple of recurring sketches/characters, and tops it off with a couple of musical performances. It’s a tried-and-true formula that has stood the test of time and has proven that people like repetition, as much as we’d like to deny that fact. This episode, however, stands out because it takes the regular formula of the show and jiggles it a bit to get something slightly different.
Charles Grodin did not do well on talk shows. He was always thought of as someone who was easily annoyed, was very fidgety, and always looked like he would have rather been somewhere else. However, this was all an act by Grodin as he was pulling Borat-like stunts on the audience before Borat was even a teenager. Grodin was also known for being in the film Rosemary’s Baby at the time.
Joining Chuck is SNL favourite Paul Simon, making his second appearance as musical guest (he pulled double duty in Season 2 and he was technically just the “host” in Season 1). Simon would appear on the show somewhat frequently during the years (although his next appearance wouldn’t be until Season 5) and was a very good friend of Lorne Michaels, so he was a sort of go-to guest that Lorne could have on the show. Paul would also get to join in on the experiment that is Charles Grodin, but more on that later.
1. Unprepared Host (3:05)
-Grodin, Belushi, Morris, Radner
As John paces around, Gilda tries to calm him down while they await the arrival of their tardy host. When Chuck eventually shows up, he brings some gifts for the cast and is dumbfounded by the announcement by Belushi that he needs to have a monologue prepared. Clearly, Grodin is not at all ready for the show as he is not even aware that the program is live and that there is a studio audience. The fun begins as John is exasperated at Chuck’s unprofessional behaviour and begrudgingly opens the show. B+
2. Monologue (1:21)
Like a deer in headlights, Grodin stumbles through his monologue and admits to having never seen the show, but says he heard it’s “a really cute show.” There’s not much more to this, but it does set up a running theme for the show. B
3. Update Promo (:41)
A serious newsman like Dan Aykroyd is ready to constantly be on the lookout for news stories 24 hours a day and 7 days a week whether he has paper in his typewriter or not. B
4. Return Of The Coneheads (5:03)
-Aykroyd, Curtin, Murray, Newman, Radner
The sixth appearance of the Coneheads sees them participating in Halloween festivities including Connie’s (Newman) attempt to convince her parents (Aykroyd & Curtin) to allow her to go apple-bobbing. Before Connie can leave though, the Coneheads’ neighbours/block parents (Murray & Radner) come over to the house to inquire as to why the family from France was giving out beer and eggs to trick-or-treaters. More goofy fun from the pointy-headed family and the sketch was relatively short for a Coneheads piece. A-
5. Chuck’s Film (2:10)
Grodin plans to promote his new heist flick, but takes way too long to introduce it and thus, he only gets to show about five seconds of the film. Grodin asks if he can sing his song, but Lorne Michaels’ voice comes over the PA and he asks Grodin to speed it along and just introduce the musical guest, so he obliges. This is another funny continuation of the Grodin storyline thanks to a very convincingly bad performance from our host. B+
6. Paul Simon sings “Slip Slidin’ Away” (4:27)
The always-reliable Simon strums away on one of his top hits. Simon also gets some accompaniment from The Persuasions, who perform ample support to Paul’s dazzling tune. A
7. Consumer Probe (4:39)
An absolute classic. Joan Face (Curtin) welcomes sleazeball extraordinaire Irwin Mainway (Aykroyd) to demonstrate his line of unsafe Halloween costumes. Aykroyd is on top of his game here as Mainway, the ultimate unlikeable character, seemingly uncaring of any criticisms he has received but is also quick to defend himself with ridiculous reasons. There are some classic costumes like Invisible Pedestrian and Johnny Combat Action Costume (with a real, working rifle), but the best is Johnny Human Torch (a bag of oily rags and a lighter). Curtin is perfect foil for Danny in this near-perfect sketch that acts as a companion piece to the Irwin Mainway sketch from last year with Candice Bergen. A+
8. Anyone Can Host (1:42)
This week, it’s Bill Murray’s turn to hype the Anyone Can Host contest while Mr. Mike tears up some postcards in the background for silly reasons like “uneven margins” and “unattractive stamp.” This week, we get a bit more of a jokey sketch involving the contest and Mr. Mike provides a few funny zingers. B+
9. Samurai Dry Cleaners (2:38)
-Grodin, Belushi, Radner
Chuck finally shows up in a proper sketch as he and Gilda arrive to pick up their dry cleaning from Futaba (Belushi). They run through the usual motions with the character, but the sketch is thrown for a loop when Charles breaks character several times and even reads the wrong lines at one point. Gilda signals for the sketch to end early as she and Charles leave the set and Belushi is visibly upset. A-
10. Weekend Update with Dan Aykroyd & Jane Curtin (8:53)
Also: Garrett Morris and Bill Murray
Another funny exchange with Don Pardo opens up this week’s edition of Weekend Update, followed by a funny piece on a so-called authentic Bigfoot film by Curtin. In fact, there’s lots of good jokes by both anchors this week including a picture of the Mona Lisa appearing during a story about Cher Bono and the FDA changing its name. The Dancing N stops by early on to drop off a bulletin (“No bulletin today. I just felt like dancing.”) Dan & Jane then join in on the fun briefly before Bill Murray stops by to give a negative review of one-man shows, dismissing them as being excuses for an actor’s ego trip. It’s another terrific performance from Murray with his smarmy Update commentaries and it’s a great ironic piece as well in tune with Bill’s delivery. We also get “News for the Silent Movie Buff,” which features Aykroyd telling a story with exaggerated gestures while words float by on the screen. It’s a simple little piece, but entertaining all the same. Also, Special Agent Willard Jackson (Morris) stops by to comment on the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really lead to any real evidence and in fact, all Jackson can provide is a number of bones from people like Amelia Earhart. It’s another terrific edition of Update. A
11. Simon & Garfunkel (5:57)
-Grodin, Simon, Art Garfunkel
Sitting on stage alongside Simon and donning a big orange wig, Charles croons along with the musical guest, singing “The Sounds of Silence.” Of course, Grodin doesn’t even know the words and has to slowly follow behind Simon’s singing. Paul’s deadpan performance here is perfect as he is offput by Charles’ terribly off-kilter performance. Paul eventually leaves Charles on stage, but this only causes our host to attempt to perform a solo, before he is interrupted by Art Garfunkel himself. Another classic segment. A+
12. The Killer Bees (7:51)
-Grodin, Aykroyd, Belushi, Morris, Murray, Radner
This is the straw that breaks Belushi’s back. After earlier ruining his Samurai sketch, Grodin points out the interesting bee costumes and how their antennas are incredibly distracting while he tries to perform. And then Belushi snaps. Donned in his Eli Wallach-like apparel, Belushi delivers an impassioned speech about how Grodin has ruined the scene and that he is the “lamest host we’ve ever had.” It comes to the forefront that the host missed the dress rehearsal and the antennas flopping around makes the “serious” speech that much funnier. A
13. The Judy Miller Show (4:47)
-Curtin (voice), Radner
Gilda debuts her spastic child character Judy Miller, who is so bored by herself that she hosts her own variety show in her room, showcasing a number of different characters and skits, based on her childlike interpretation of various world events and pop culture. This is a highlight reel in itself for Gilda, who finds a balance between cuteness and hilarity that hits the perfect note. This is yet another perfect sketch in a series of them tonight. A+
14. Professional School Of Football (2:03)
A spokesperson (Morris) advertises his new book that will help one become a football player so that they can date movie stars and be famous. I enjoyed how Morris kept going back to the constant groin injuries in football. B
15. Paul Simon sings “You’re Kind” (2:39)
More goodness from Paul here, as he sings a slower tune this time with the help of some backup harmonica and some good instrumental work from the Persuasions. It’s no wonder that Simon was a perennial favourite of the show. A
16. Hire The Incompetent (4:15)
-Grodin, Murray, Newman, Radner
Charles introduces a string of testimonies from several “incompetents,” who have lost their jobs because of prejudices against their stupid decisions. From Murray’s stint as a bag boy and putting eggs underneath heavy stuff, Newman not helping her pilot boyfriend as an air traffic controller, and Roseanne Rosannadanna (Radner) explaining that she got in trouble for putting hair in people’s burgers. It’s the debut for Roseanne and it’s a funny one too, as she would make lots of funny upcoming appearances. Charles almost gets suckered into admitting his poor hosting abilities, but catches on and finally gets to perform his song, a quick ode to life. It’s another great sketch to end the show. A
Even continuing the joke into the goodnights, Chuck & the cast seem distanced from each other after Grodin says that it was just a gag. He thanks the cast, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and awkwardly waves goodnight.
Here’s the thing about this episode. Apparently, the truth is that Charles Grodin truly DIDN’T show up for a lot of the rehearsals. Rather than fighting it and having a mediocre show with an only somewhat-motivated host, the show went a much different, more unique route. Charles was instructed to ad-lib many of his lines and thus create a much more authentic atmosphere of a show gone horribly wrong in a live setting thanks to a completely unprepared host. In that regard, Charles was a very effective ringleader and turned in a very convincing performance as someone that had no business being in this environment.
Paul Simon was a fantastic musical guest and his one sketch with Grodin really showed his ability to do some deadpan acting as well. In fact, that moment with Simon & “Garfunkel” ranks up there as one of my favourite moments in the show’s history. The Persuasions also showed up to back Simon and they provided some ample support as well.
It’s difficult to single out the most effective player this time, but I’m going to narrow it down to two people: John Belushi and Gilda Radner. From Belushi’s performances in the show and his eventual meltdown in the “Killer Bees” piece, he really had a large part in the unique running theme and held it together well. Gilda acted as Grodin’s guide throughout the night, however, and also had a big part in this episode. She managed to debut her Judy Miller character as well and that in itself was probably the best performance of the night.
This episode was, quite frankly, a classic.
“Hey Glenda! Hey Blunjy!”
“Invisible Pedestrian. Not for blind kids.”
I wonder how many people in the viewing audience totally bought into this hoax.
Host Rating: A-
Musical Guest Rating: A
Show Rating: A+