Millions have laughed at the comedy of Alan Zweibel (b. 1950) without ever knowing his name. Zweibel is a practitioner of the humble, thankless craft of comedy writing, one who commendably fills the shoes of the likes of Al Boasberg, Wilkie Mahoney, and hundreds of others from the vaudeville days whom we have written about in these annals. He broke into the business in their time honored way: he happened to get an audience with Lorne Michaels, and presented him with his personal portfolio of hundreds of jokes. He thereby got in on the ground floor of Saturday Night Live. He was only 25 years old.
Being a hardcore SNL buff (of the original cast, first five seasons anyway) that’s how I’ve long known about Zweibel. He wrote and co-wrote loads of their classic sketches, especially tons for Gilda Radner’s characters Emily Litella and Roseanne Rosaeannadanna, and Belushi’s Samurai sketches, among much else. With that portfolio of one-liners I’d be shocked if he didn’t supply a lot of the Weekend Update jokes as well. Zweibel wasn’t only behind the scenes on SNL, btw. As I’ve mentioned more than once (and will mention again tomorrow, as it happens) I spent several days of my Covid ordeal binging early SNL, and one of my takeaways was that (much like headwriter Michael O’Donoghue) Zweibel is onscreen in a LOT of the sketches (as well as the Gary Weiss films), usually in walk-ons or bit parts with at most a line or two. For one season (1979-80) he was elevated to full cast member, although he remained a minor one. Once you know what to look out for, you will recognize him as part of the texture of the show, the same as his more prominent counterparts.
I mention Zweibel in the same virtual breath as Al Boasberg quite pointedly. Much like that legendary scribbler, Zweibel has written material for most of the biggest names of his generation of comedians. His list of credits is awe-inspiring. After SNL, he wrote for Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever (1981), The New Show (1984), It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (1986-1990, which he co-created), and co-wrote the Dan Aykroyd movie Dragnet (1987). He created and produced the sitcom Good Sports (1991) starring Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal and also The Please Watch Jon Lovitz Special (1992). In the 90s he worked with Rob Reiner on North (1994), I Am Your Child (1997), and The Story of Us (1999). He worked on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2001 and 2002. His Broadway credits include 700 Sundays (2005) with Billy Crystal, and Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (2006). In addition to numerous other books, plays, and screenplays, the most recent being Crystal’s Here Today (2021). You can also see him as a talking head in many documentaries, including the comedy/Holocaust exploration The Last Laugh (2016), which we wrote about here.
Zweibel is still very much a going concern. Viddy his official website here.
For more on show biz history, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,