by Brendan Wahl
Hosts that are invited back usually means at least two things: A) They were a lot of fun the last time they were there and got along great with the cast & crew and B) They provided for some great laughs and captained a good episode. It should come as no surprise then that Monty Python alum Eric Idle was invited back to the stage for some more laughs at the expense of no one. Idle’s first appearance was a fantastic episode filled with memorable sketches and a wonderful moment where John Belushi mimed Joe Cocker side-by-side with the man himself. Not to mention that Idle was a perfect fit for the madcap goings-on by the Not Ready For Primetime Players and found himself almost becoming an honourary castmember that night (incidentally, Sid Caesar would be awarded a trophy that actually SAID he was an honourary castmember in Year 8).
Joining the Pythoner would be someone else who is pretty familiar with the British troupe. While Neil Innes was best known as playing a member of the Rutles, he was also well-established as having helped the Python crew write quite a few of their songs and sketches during the Flying Circus television show. It doesn’t happen so much anymore, but this is clearly a case of the musical guest being chosen based on which celebrity is running the show as the host. Along with Innes, the main musical guest is Alan Price.
Price, another British musician, was best known for playing the organ for The Animals, who were responsible for hits like House of the Rising Sun. Price would also have some success with a solo career with songs like “I Put a Spell On You,” “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” and a few others. By this point in time, he wasn’t doing a whole heck of a lot though as most of his fame centered in the 1960s.
Will this all equate to another home-run episode from Idle?
Time to investigate!
1. Irish Interrogation (1:57)
As the last straw during the interrogation of an Irish terrorist (Murray), a British military man (Idle) threatens to turn his potatoes into french fries. Murray looks like he is about to break character for the entire sketch but that doesn’t take away from this amusing little cold open. It’s one of the rare instances (well, at least now) of an opening sketch that is not political in the least. The way they got to the opening line was pretty clever too. B+
2. Monologue (4:55)
Instead of the traditional monologue, Eric comes out to introduce Queen Elizabeth (impressionist Jeanette Charles, who also played the queen in The Naked Gun) and the Save Great Britain telethon because they are lacking in funds and seek the necessary reparations. His reasoning? The American people using a language that the British invented and not having to pay any royalties in regards to doing so. Idle also introduces the ‘Kick a Canadian’ contest involving a volunteer constable (Aykroyd), who is kicked by her majesty in the grand opening. This monologue was sheer brilliance. A+
3. American Dope Growers Union (1:15)
Supporting the poor American drug dealer who has to compete with Mexican smugglers, several spokespeople (Curtin, Morris, Murray, Newman, & Radner) sing about looking for the union label when buying your cannabis. This was clearly a parody of something, but regardess it was a funny, quick commercial piece. A
4. The Nixon Interviews (8:59)
Spoofing the infamous Frost/Nixon interview where the former president revealed some intriguing details, this sketch features some brilliant interplay between Idle as Frost and Aykroyd as Nixon. Tricky Dick is portrayed as that of a detailed storyteller of the mundane including some riveting tales of breakfast and Papa Nixon shaving his face in 1921. There is so much brilliant material in this sketch that it’s impossible to go over it all. To say the least, the performances by both our host and Danny are fantastic and there are a couple of amusing side performances like Gilda as Julie Nixon and Curtin as his disillusioned wife, Pat. When the subject of Watergate comes up, there is a huge revelation explained by Nixon but of course they lose the sound and nothing is revealed to the American public. This is an absolute classic sketch. A+
5. Alan Price sings “Poor People” (1:45)
After a quick update on the Save Britain telethon, it’s time for Alan Price. It’s a pretty good little tune that is fast-paced and enjoyable. I don’t really have too much to say about this performance really other than to say that Price is a welcome addition to the show thus far and this song is very, very short. B+
6. Film: Body Language (2:26)
The best film that Gary Weis has ever done. To be fair, Eric Idle can be credited with being half the reason this rules. In this piece, the art of body language is discussed with ridiculous, exaggerated examples from Idle himself, Innes, as well as Garrett, Billy, Laraine, and Gilda. My favourite has to be Eric’s explanation of a prostitute’s body language (“I am available for sophisticated sexual activity at a reasonable rate to be determined by mutual free exchange open-market bargaining”), but this is yet another classic piece. A+
7. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (Part I) (Total: 7:24)
After announcing Update’s win for a Pullitzer Prize in journalism, Curtin announces a story so ridiculously false to completely off-set it. Another funny piece for Jane is a story regarding Roots author Alex Haley being accused of plaigarism, which happened to interrupt his writing of his next classic work of literature, Moby Dick. Commenting on the ruling that declared that the spanking of children in school is constitutional, Bill Murray goes from funny to creepy and back to funny in a hilarious commentary. Murray reverts back to traumatic childhood memories while getting unreasonably excited over the spanking of little girls.
8. Oxxon (1:14)
Spoofing Exxon of course, an announcer (Don Pardo) comments on how expensive the commercial was to make and that it can be used as a reason as to why gas prices are so expensive. Pretty clever little parody actually. A-
9. Weekend Update (Part II)
Emily Litella (Radner) stops by to do a commentary on “air solution,” but can’t contain herself due to her joke being one of the worst ones ever. When sharing her preoccupation with the man in her life, Jane learns that her love is Tom Snyder of the Tomorrow show. Litella then butchers “I Will Follow Him” and is interrupted by Jane of course, but without the little added snide remarks by our newscaster at the end. Another really solid edition of Update this week; even Litella was bearable. A-
10. Heavy Wit Championship (6:12)
Introducing a boxing match of a different sort! Aykroyd plays ring announcer to a battle of comedic timing between British funnyman Ray Grimley (Idle) and the Undisputed Champion Mohammed Stallion (Belushi). Instead of punching each other, they trade barbs to see which one will crack. Aykroyd and Murray then play announcers and call the thing just like the typical boxing contest along with strategy and a blow-by-blow analysis. It’s a fun sketch with some amusing moments, but overall it kind of falls short. C+
11. “Ron Nasty” (Neil Innes) sings “Cheese and Onions” (1:21)
As the number to save Britain flashes on the screen, Innes sings a funny ditty as his John Lennon-like personality from the Rutles. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud song but it is quite fun to listen to in all of its homage glory to the Beatles. B
12. The Battle of Britain (8:17)
Due to budget cutbacks and to illustrate the fact that the British still need financial help, the Battle of Britain is a series created on a $900 budget that features most of its “action” through a letter read by a possible war-time widow (Radner) from her beau, Rodney (Aykroyd). The constant flashbacks to Rodney and his wife in happier times started out amusing but became quite hilarious when additional characters are added only making the entire situation even more ridiculous. Idle has a fairly small role in this bit actually, playing one of Rodney’s airmen along with Billy. Absurd gold. A
13. Neil Innes sings “Shangri-La” (3:18)
Sporting a glittery suit and some big, fake ears, Innes sings a fun bouncy tune named after the perfect society known as Shangri-La. During this performance, there’s lots of colourful background images like some odd cardboard cutouts and some back-up singers in bright costumes. Very inventive. A
14. Plain Talk (1:47)
This one takes the cake for the absurd. Eric hosts a talk show where he and his guest (Aykroyd) simply carry on the tone of a normal conversation using words that absolutely don’t fit in at all. It’s quite a marvel to watch both performers run through this sketch without faltering once despite saying all this nonsense at a machine gun-pace. A+
15. Trans Eastern Airlines (3:53)
Sherry Norwalk (Newman) has no problem doing anything for the passengers in first class due to their tendency to threaten her with a gun before making their requests. This sketch works for reasons unknown as it essentially consists of people pointing guns in a valley girl’s face and making simple requests. It also may be because all of their requests are common complaints one would make on an airline and its fun to see the passengers finally get the upper hand. What also works is that Newman sells this life-threatening act as a pretty harmless thing. A-
16. Alan Price sings “In Times Like These” (2:35)
A much different song from his previous one, this is more akin to Innes’ second song. It’s catchy, bouncy and has an infectious spirit that makes it very enjoyable. Also, the lyrics are quite good and it doesn’t hurt that Price has a good voice on him as well. A
17. Save Great Britain Telethon (1:17)
Unfortunately, the telethon has actually LOST twenty dollars so Bill Murray makes a last-ditch effort to save Britain by chugging a bottle of grape juice. Murray makes it about halfway through before giving up and Idle chases him off in anger. B+
All of a sudden, the phones are ringing off the hook when the show comes back for the goodnights as the queen herself has been sold… to Exxon. I love the fact that the total includes John Belushi’s vest. Idle then comically fumbles the announcement for Daylight Savings Time before the cast joins him onstage for the traditional goodnight waves and hugs.
Eric Idle came back in full force! After a superb first showing, Idle delivered again this time with a superb performance as host, particularly in bits like “The Nixon Interviews” and “Plain Talk.” Idle is a perfect mesh for the cast and also doesn’t mind serving a sketch while not always having to be the center of attention as could be seen in the brilliant “Battle of Britain” piece. Idle’s Monty Python sensibilities also help when it comes to Dan Aykroyd in particular as those two seem to have the best chemistry together throughout this entire episode.
As for Eric’s guests, Price and Innes, both men were constantly entertaining during their appearances. While Innes extended his appearances to a couple of roles in the fantastic Gary Weis film (!), Alan Price was limited to his musical performances. While “Poor People” was good, his second song was even better and had a much more enjoyable and rollicking tune. Neil Innes was in the same boat. While his performance as Ron Nasty was certainly not a throwaway, “Shangri-La” was loaded with lots of entertaining stage direction, lyrics, costumes, and some good singing on the Brit’s part.
The cast was more than game for this week, but Dan Aykroyd shined in particular here mostly starring opposite Eric Idle. He more than dominated the episode but even so, this time it appears the other castmembers got quite a bit of screentime for the most part.
Runners are rare in most episodes of Saturday Night Live, but the “Save Great Britain” pieces are the cream of the crop.
The apple doesn’t fall too far from the Monty Python tree. Michael Palin would later prove to be well-suited for the show as well.
The Frost/Nixon sketch isn’t just a great sketch. It may be one of the best ever on the show. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but I stand by it.
Unfortunately, I don’t see Shelley Duvall continuing this winning streak of episodes into next week, but I’ve been surprised before.
Host Rating: A
Musical Guest Rating – Alan Price: A-
Musical Guest Rating – Neil Innes – A
Show Rating: A