News this morning of the passing of 93 year old Walter Mondale, former VP and first of many disappointing democratic Presidential candidates during my voting career, put me in mind for the second or third time in a month (after not thinking about him for decades) of former Saturday Night Live cast member Gary Kroeger (b. 1957). Like meself, Kroeger has been a recent guest on Todd Newton’s Host with the Most Podcast — one of the reasons he’s been occupying some small space in my consciousness of late. Tipping the scales, I usually post about performers on their birthday — Kroeger’s was just a week ago. Close enough for government work, as they say.
Kroeger had just graduated from Northwestern University when he was inexplicably cast on SNL during the Dick Ebersol years (1982-85), in the aftermath of Lorne Michaels’ triumphant original cast and the distastrous cast that followed. He was on the show from 1982 through 1985. He was likable, good-looking, and funny enough, although hardly any sort of history-making comedy giant. In an ideal world, I would cast him as a straight man to funnier comedians. He understands comedy, he’s talented, and he’s game. He’s just kind of “straight”. In a Carol Burnett cast, he’s your Lyle Waggoner. That said, among the cast at the time, he was the perfect person (or, let’s say the natural person) to play 1984 Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale. After all, Mondale was from Minnesota; Kroeger is from Iowa. Mondale had dark hair. Kroeger has dark hair. Mondale was boring; Kroeger…has dark hair. The other major Kroeger sketch everyone remembers is one where he and Julia-Louis Dreyfus played Donny and Marie, and at the climax…they started making out! That was way over the top. That was the kind of thing they had resorted to on the sixth season. Incest! They’ll be rolling in the aisles in Utah — with apoplexy!
After SNL, Kroeger rapidly vanished. He hosted some game shows, guested on shows like Murder She Wrote and the revived Columbo, and was in the 1994 all star comedy film The Radioland Murders. In 2016 he made a bid to get into Iowa politics, first as US Congressman, then as a State Congressman. His goal was not attained, thus reinforcing a trusim I have been articulating for years: Gary Kroeger is no Fred Grandy.
However, he was Walter Mondale’s Vaughn Meader, I wish him thoughts and prayers on this saddest of sad days.
For more on entertainment history, including TV variety please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.