Today is Gilbert Gottfried’s birthday. In honor of the day, a little post about…not a forgotten show, but a forgotten season of a well known show, season six of Saturday Night Live, the first season without the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
The cast of the notorious Jean Doumanian season (which was swallowed up by history for reasons we’ll get to) included Gilbert, Joe Piscopo, Denny Dillon, my fellow Rhode Islander Charles Rocket (who was positioned as “the new Chevy Chase“), Gail Mathius, and Ann Risley. Also during this season Eddie Murphy, still a teenager, was hired as an adjunct cast member.
Now this cast was a blip. Almost no one alive seems to remember it, and meeting someone who does creates an instant bond. It’s like, “Oh, you also fought at Iwo Jima? We are forever brothers!” There are a couple of reasons why I’m among them. One is that I was a sophomore in high school. Enough said on that score, right? And this 14 year old thought Gail Mathius was the cat’s pajamas, hoo boy! But here’s the main thing. My buddy Steve had the first video-cassette recorder any of us had ever seen. The school had video tape machines, but they were black and white and reel to reel. This was color, and easy to use cassette. I don’t even know what format it was. It wasn’t VHS or Beta or videodisc, it was some prototypical format. His dad had borrowed the thing from his top secret job. Steve only had one tape, and he taped two things….which my buddies and I watched over and over and over for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time. I consequently have these two things burned into my memory for all time. One is the Roger Moore James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. The other is the premier episode of season 6 of SNL, hosted by Elliott Gould.
And it’s a good thing I have it committed to memory. It’s like spy stuff. That stuff ain’t anywhere and you’ll never SEE that stuff anywhere. It’s like Song of the South, man, it’s like the Star Wars Christmas special used to be — buried. That whole season was so dreadful they fired the entire cast except Piscopo and Murphy as well as the entire writing staff after 13 episodes. Charlie Rocket had gotten fired even earlier for saying “fuck” on the air. I remember watching that one live as well. My sister was having a party; we all heard him say it. So…very few people have seen this notorious baker’s dozen of SNL episodes. It generated headlines like this:
But check it out: this dude got access somehow and recaps that whole first episode on his blogpost here. It’s where I got the screen shot at the top of this post. All hail, Existential Weightlifting! I remember Gottfried’s contributions to this episode very well, especially that skit with Denny Dillon: “So! Vots it All About, vith Pinky and Leo Vaxman!” We used to do impressions of that.
Echoes! Echoes of bygone catastrophe.
To learn more about show biz history (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc