SNL Retro: Jack Burns/Santana (3/26/77)

Posted: September 28, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

(Season 2, Episode 17)

While the main goal of Saturday Night Live has usually been to get someone to host who has some movie, show, special, or album to promote there have been a number of notable exceptions. Most of these exceptions are the obscurest of hosts the show has ever featured. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome… Jack Burns.

Just who in the hell is Jack Burns, you ask? Well, Mr. Burns was comedy partners with George Carlin for a couple of years in the late fifties/early sixties before teaming with Avery Schreiber when they met each other in Second City, a huge comedy breeding ground for tons and tons of current SNL players as well as decorated alumni. Burns also had a very unpopular eleven-episode stretch on The Andy Griffith Show as Don Knotts’ replacement essentially. He also acted as the head writer for the first season of The Muppet Show, which I guess he would’ve been doing at the time but you can hardly equate the reason for him hosting Saturday Night Live to being a writer on a show about muppets that was hardly popular yet. While Burns did some stuff in the past, he was hardly relevant by this point.

Joining Burns is Santana, a talented band who most famously did the tune, “Black Magic Woman.” For years I thought Santana was a singer’s name who merely did all his own guitar work but thanks to the magic of the internet and learning, I discovered that it was actually a band that changed its members more than I change my underwear. Okay, more than I change my status on facebook. Okay, more than I… oh, forget it.

On with the show!

The Show:

1. Belushi’s Demands (3:38)

After having Lorne convince the brass to let Belushi open the show on his own, John puts the network down for treating him like a troublemaker and says that now a secret trust has developed. That is quickly turned on its head though as Bluto declines to say the opening line until he’s good and ready, knowing full well that the show can not start until he does. John makes some demands and takes the show hostage, so to speak, which is made even funnier due to Belushi’s natural charm and fantastic comic timing. A

2. Monologue (3:13)

Burns does some stand-up material after introducing himself as coming from “the home of retired comedy teams.” Ol’ Jackie touches on the practice of confession for Catholics, the candor of football coaches and marine corps instructors, but they all involve “touching yourself.” Jack eventually breaks down and does it, but of course it’s nothing like anyone expected. This was about as square as a host can be. C

3. The Farbers Meet The Coneheads (7:04)

This would begin a long tradition of joining recurring characters up. Because if one character/group of characters is/are funny, joining them up will be double-funny right?! Anyway, in this bit, the Farbers (making their first proper sketch appearance) invite their new neighbours, the Coneheads (Aykroyd, Curtin, & Newman) over for some dinner. The family from France are up to their usual hijinx while the overly conservative Farbers try to keep up with their habits. Larry (Belushi) tries to keep up with the Coneheads in a funny overlaying joke while Bobbi (Radner) scolds him. B+

4. Santana perform “Black Magic Woman” (4:02)

Sure enough, the hit that made them famous is played here and done with gusto. It’s quite an entertaining performance from a band that is (arguably) not known for too many other hits. B+

5. Marine Wedding (2:49)

A couple (Aykroyd & Curtin) is wed by a straight-laced marine preacher (Burns), who puts both parties through a strenuous workout on their way to eternal happiness with one another. This is a perfect vehicle for Burns, who is very convincing in his role, but that’s not to knock Aykroyd and Curtin’s wonderful performances as well. Best sketch of the night. A

6. A Town Without Pity (4:18)

Indira Gandhi (Newman) and her young one (Belushi) must vacate the premises after losing the election but not before bursting into a musical number. What seems like a quick one-note bit gets extended even longer when Eliot Ness (Aykroyd) arrives on the scene and makes sure that the new leader’s (Morris) regime gets off to a smooth start. They even do the cow-dropping gag. The audience seemed to like it, but to me this sketch just fell completely off the rails. C-

7. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (Total: 5:23)

After having a very one-sided discussion with a cardboard cut-out of Harry Reisener, Jane talks of some amazing David Frost/Richard Nixon revelations that were… not caught on film. After another zinger involving Roman Polanski and a remake of Little Women, Jane does an amusing piece about Ernest Borgnine and Karl Malden doing a TV show together represented by a picture of two bulldogs.

8. Leech-Tab 100 (1:29)

It’s the breakthrough in curing headaches! Yes, putting a leech on one’s face will instantly cure your pains. It looks like they used real leeches on Bill Murray’s face and Danny does a different kind of spokesman — a kindly old man. Despite its down-home appeal, it feels a little lacking. C+

9. Weekend Update (Part II)

Jane announces the Oscar winners early on after admitting that one of the writers stole the ballots from Price Waterhouse. She wasn’t very accurate, but I wonder what would have happened had they all been correct. No guests this week so we get a short, but decent edition of Update. B

10. The Story Of The Squatters (5:06)

In the early 1800s, the Squatters (literally) search for a home while traveling over land that is inhabited by others. After finding a place to rest, the Squatters (Aykroyd, Belushi, Curtin, Murray, & Newman) are soon joined by an Indian (Radner) and a runaway slave (Morris). But just before they could quite settle down, a colonel (Burns) arrives on the scene to take their land for railroad property. There’s a lot of puns made here involving the word ‘squat’ and it’s pretty flavourless, but there are very brief moments of humour. C

11. Executive Suicide (5:05)

After coming into the office for a routine note-taking, Sherry (Newman) finds herself recording the suicide note for her boss (Burns) but of course she is so dense that she doesn’t realize it. The real kicker to the sketch though is when Burns screws up the jump and Newman removes her wig, complaining about the host’s professionalism. Soon after, all the other castmembers come in one-by-one for what was supposed to be a heavily-detailed ensemble sketch but of course Jack just stands there dumbfounded, pissing off the cast. Pretty funny piece. B+

12. Gary Weis Film: Jack is Rocky (2:44)

Directly after the preceding sketch, Jack introduces a film highlighting his strenuous workout in getting ready for the show. After a particularly rough-looking first day, Jack does the yolk-eating, running, meat-punching (although it is a fairly small piece in comparison to the one Sly worked with), and the traditional pose at the end of course. It was a little pointless like most of Weis’ films, but watchable. B-

13. Ask Big Daddy (2:54)

Continuing in the tradition of Walter Cronkite (Murray) interviewing politicians, this time his subject is General Idi Amin (Morris). Of course, Cronkite is not a willing subject and is tied up while Amin gives ridiculous excuses as to why the callers’ relatives have been killed or have disappeared. A very quick bit, but it was only okay. C+

14. Home Movie: Mirage (1:49)

A man walks endlessly in the desert and eventually pants and begs for some liquid refreshment, which he finally sees as a soda machine. The twist at the end is fairly amusing. B

15. Pantygrams (3:19)

Aykroyd’s Ricardo Montalban impression is in fine form here but it is wasted with this pointless commercial that advertises a telegram service using women’s underwear. The only genuine funny moment here is Bill Murray getting a message from his mother and creepily admiring it. Otherwise, this is yet another one-joke sketch whose thin premise gets stretched out too long. C

16. Santana perform “Europa” (4:07)

A purely instrumental number this time, as Santana makes creepy orgasm faces while playing the guitar (like usual), but he deserves those moments of ecstacy as he delivers another entertaining number. B

17. Drunk Comedy Writer (5:23)

As Jane and Gilda (playing themselves) sit at a table in a quiet little spot, they are interrupted by long-time comedy writer Gags Beasley (Burns), who sloppily claims that he is off the booze and has been for 20 years. There is plenty to laugh at here as Gags first mistakes the girls for being castmembers on Laugh-In, questions if he urinated in his pants on several occasions, and relives his glory days of knowing the very essence of comedic structure. Burns is funny as well in this very well-written sketch. B+

Jack receives some flowers from the cast and wishes everyone aa goodnight while the cast joins him on-stage.

This episode can be best summed up with one word: uneven. It’s very hard to grade an uneven episode like this because of one big reason. The stuff that didn’t work was pretty bad while the good material was good to great. Jack put forth a modest effort and was an alright host for the most part. Granted, his monologue was bad but then again, how often is the monologue a home-run for the show unless you’re a Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin for example. While his roles were pretty much the same throughout the show (he was basically playing himself or military personnel), his performance as Gags Beasley was pretty fun and made for an entertaining bit.

Santana was a good musical guest and held up their end of the bargain quite well. While their first number, “Black Magic Woman,” is one of my absolute favourites, “Europa” was also a fun romp and the instrumentals were quite good of course. Santana is an acquired taste though of course, so I understand if it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Overall, this show was not nearly as bad as disasters like Gordon/Berry or the Mardi Gras special, but it was fairly uneven and as such, it comes as no surprise that Jack Burns was never heard from on SNL ever again. The cast held up alright although after Bill Murray’s coming out party last week, he doesn’t seem too prominent on tonight’s episode, appearing in a number of sketches but barely having any real funny parts, despite another good impression of Walter Cronkite and a funny bit in the lame Pantygrams sketch.

Notes:

Hey folks, it used to be called simply Saturday Night, but now this is the first episode of the show that is officially known as Saturday Night Live! I bet you no one would be able to guess the host of the first officially-named Saturday Night Live episode in a trivia question though.

John and Gilda cracking up at the end of that Farbers/Coneheads sketch was pretty cute.

That must have REALLY hurt to squat like that for an entire sketch. Kudos. The piece was still pretty lame though.

I’m surprised some of these bits made it past dress, particularly the Squatters, Town Without A Pity, and Pantygrams. I wonder what was cut.

Anyone else find it a little off-putting that Bill Murray’s big moment was last week yet he felt awfully underused on this week’s show?

Host Rating: B

Musical Guest Rating: B+

Show Rating: C+/B-

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