SNL Retro: Karen Black/John Prine (10/16/76)

Posted: June 18, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Episode 4)

It seems like any episode that would have to follow the previous one with Eric Idle would be doomed to fail. Despite having a week off after Idle/Cocker, Stuff, one would think that the cast would be riding high on that wave of success and perhaps not have that same raw ability to pull off two gems in a row. However, I would not ever rule the Not Ready For Primetime Players out.

This week, Karen Black becomes captain of the comedic ship as it were and hopes to land in some funny waters. Okay, my analogies/similes/metaphors are terrible. Let’s move on.

Karen is a pretty good actress mostly known for Airport ’75 at the time of this show airing but also in quite a bit of exploitation fare. Karen has an indescribable quirk about her that makes her stand out from other bland celebrities but by now, she just looks like a haggard old woman. Oh, and at the time I guess she had become a mother fairly recently.

Joining her is country and folk singer John Prine, who was promoting a Best-Of album at the time. While I don’t really know much about Prine, he was apparently quite an influence on many singers at the time including Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan of all people. Prine was of a rare breed on SNL as well: a man with a single guitar and a song-story to sing/tell. While the show almost always relies on rock or Billboard chart-toppers today, in the early days they dabbled in some of the more relatively obtuse musicians that have appeared on the show.


1. Wheelchair Bound Chevy (1:06)

Jane reminds the audience that Chevy injured himself in the first show and then despite some trepidation about losing Update, Jane introduces him back to the show being wheeled out by Belushi. And of course, John dumps him out of the chair, causing the fall. Pretty lazy way to start the show. I don’t even know how to rate that, so let’s go with a C+

2. Monologue (2:45)

Did Don Pardo just say Karen Block? Well…anyway, out comes Karen with her young son and lectures the audience on the history of motherhood (along with some helpful drawings). The only redeeming part of this dull monologue is the kid’s foiled attempts at going after momma’s milk. C

3. Baba Wawa At Large (3:38)

This time, Baba (Radner) interviews the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi (Newman). Instead of going straight to the controversial political topics, Baba first asks, “where did you get the cwothes?” When discussing Gandhi’s horrific political regime, Wawa’s speech impediment is used for laughs and Gandhi’s feeble cover-up by referring to the prisons as schools also makes the sketch work somewhat. B-

4. Debate ’76 (8:14)

The second of the Ford/Carter debates sees Ann Wrabel (Black) lead the questions for the two candidates. Much like the last sketch, there are lots of highlights here from the odd hypodermic needle jutting out of the president’s arm the entire time to Gerald interrupting the national anthem, thinking that he is playing “Name That Tune” to Carter (Aykroyd) telling Liz Montgomery (Curtin) that “right now in my mind I’m wearing a leather mask and breathing into your ear.” Much of the focus of the sketch is on Ford’s ridiculous comment about the Poles not being under Soviet domination and it was a frequent easy target for the early days of SNL. B+

5. John Prine sings “Hello In There” (3:43)

Sporting a mess of hair, a plaid collared shirt, and a story to tell, Prine soars through his slow folksy tune. It was good enough, but Prine’s strange facial tics and lack of presence kind of took some points off. B

6. Weekend Update with Chevy Chase (Part I)

“Good evening. I’m Chevy Chase and I don’t like you.” Talk about art imitating life. In Chevy’s first time at the desk since the premiere, he relies heavily on some amusing swine flu jokes and again drops Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

7. Triple Trac (1:31)

It’s a repeat of that terribly outdated commercial of a razor with… THREE BLADES! C+

8. Weekend Update with Chevy Chase (Part II) (total: 5:14)

Some more amusing stories, but nothing gut-busting. Although there was a good bit on King Tut’s grandmother and the closing incomplete story was hilarious for some reason. B+

9. Green Cross Cupcakes (2:37)

Yes, it’s the cupcakes that DON’T cause cancer! Because of research done on rats where all they ate were the cupcakes and none of them became infested with cancer, it proves that they are completely healthy for people. A couple (Black, Belushi) report that there are no connections between cupcakes and cancer and a scientist (Chase) comically reinforces the point. Yeah, this was…alright. C+

10. Film: A*M*I*S*H (5:08)

An Amish family (Belushi, Chase, Curtin) learn of a bank being held up about thirty miles away and proceed to walk all the way over there to prevent it. Most of this piece works especially once they get to the actual bank a few days later and the teller (Aykroyd) is flabbergasted. B+

11. Love Russian Style (5:32)

An ensemble sketch featuring Catherine the Great (Black) dealing with a peasant (Belushi) begging for assistance, her assistant (Aykroyd) who likes to hum dramatically along with the peasant’s stories, and her lover, a Mr. Ed-like horse (voiced by Chase). I’ve read a couple of other reviews where they praise this sketch and I agree that it’s somewhat fun and cruel, but it’s not a classic. B-

12. Film: Nightclub Owner (4:16)

Gary Weis presents his newest film, a profile on an aging nightclub owner who tells a pretty tasteless story about a comedian performing in front of “adult retarded people” and then talks about his various facial and motor tics. Not a bad little use of time. B+

13. John Prine sings “The Bottomless Lake” (3:43)

This one has a much more catchy tune and I actually liked this song more than the first one. “Said Ma to Pa, ‘Ma gad this car is gonna fall into the bottomless lake!” A-

14. Lunch Counter Reunion (6:29)

This has to be a Miller piece. In this sketch, two twentysomethings have a sort-of reunion at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. The only thing is that Ralph Bort (Aykroyd) was the obnoxious captain of the A.V. Club while Patti Rivers (Curtin) was a cheerleader and so there is really nothing they can catch up on. Easily the best sketch of the night. A

15. Film: The Mr. Bill Show (1:58)

Still a home movie, Mr. Bill makes his second appearance and gets duped into physical and mental torture from Mr. Hands and the evil Sluggo. Business as usual. B

16. Karen Black sings “Ten Cents a Dance” (2:35)

Our host sits atop a piano and sings a boppin’ little ditty about the hardships of working as a taxi dancer. B

17. Tribute to American Coinage (3:32)

Karen then tells everyone that the cast will pay homage to small change, but when it turns out that the whole charade is just there to get a message out to the people that Belushi is stealing people’s money, the pay-off is well worth the setup. B+

No goodnights, as the credits merely roll over the opening pictures. Must’ve ran out of time.

Well, Karen was certainly no Eric Idle. While she wasn’t a bad host or anything, she was certainly not a comic genius like our host the week before. Miss Black certainly didn’t mind taking a role that was not flattering as in the “Love Russian Style” sketch but on the other side of the coin, she added a weird quirk and accent to her moderator character in the “Debate ’76” sketch that sort of derailed it a bit.

John Prine was a good musical guest with one good and one great number but absolutely no chance of ever coming back and you could tell without watching any other episode. This type of scruffy storytime musician would never find its place in post-modern SNL and that even begins within the first five years.

My favourite performance of the night was Danny’s in the Miller piece at the end, but I mean how can you not like a Miller piece and Aykroyd in one of them? It was just like mixing cheesecake and pickles. Actually, scratch that analogy. That sounds disgusting.

Host Rating: C+

Musical Guest Rating: B

Show Rating: B-

  1. […] Karen Black/John Prine […]

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