I've always found it amusing that Saturday Night Live always introduces its musical act as the "special guest" of its host. It's never just Miskel Spillman and musical guest Elvis Costello: it's always Miskel Spillman and her musical guest Elvis Costello. To me, this always conjures up the image of a geriatric Spillman in a limousine speeding down Manhattan trying to convince a skeptical Lorne Michaels to give this snarly yet lovable young rocker a chance.
I imagine the conversation would go a little something like this:
Spillman: Lorne, bubbeleh. I know you probably haven't heard of him but this Elvis kid is going to be huge. He takes the attitude and aggression of punk rock and fuses it with the literate pop songcraft and devastating wit of a Village Green era Ray Davies. He's the whole package.
Michaels: I dunno, Miskel. Kids sure seem to dig this Leif Garrett fellow. He's guaranteed ratings, that one! Have you seen the hair on him? He's like a human Chia Pet.
Spillman:With all due respect, fuck that. Elvis is your man. He's gonna be huge. Trust me. He won't just be a guest. He'll be my guest. I'll take full responsibility for his actions.
Michaels: Alright, but it's your ass if he misbehaves.
Yet at least one of tonight's musical guests genuinely seemed to be there at the behest of the show's host: The Dirt Band. The Dirt Band is what the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band became after tragically losing their Grit and Nittiosity in a parasailing accident. The Dirt Band was just a word and a whole lot of talent away from being The Band.
The Dirt Band plays a klezmer-leaning instrumental called "White Russian" with host Steve Martin late in the show and backed him up when he famously performed "King Tut" in a later episode. So the connections between the two went deep, as did Martin's ties with Randy Newman, the show's other musical guest. Martin and Newman later co-wrote The Three Amigos with Lorne Michaels.
Ah, but on to the show itself. It was fucking solid. In his monologue Steve Martin lets audience in on the secret of becoming a millionaire without paying taxes: simply get a million dollars, then, when the IRS comes a-calling (or a-courting, whichever comes first) about your missing tax dollars, simply tell them you forgot to pay taxes. Somewhere Ronald Reagan was taking notes, then falling asleep. The next sketch straddled the thin line separating clever from stupid. It cast Steve Martin as a park ranger doggedly pursuing Bigfoot and his tracks without noticing that the giant big-foot-sized holes in the ground might just be attributable to John Belushi and Gilda Radner wearing comically outsized shoes that leave Bigfoot-sized prints. It was a very stupid sketch I nevertheless found fairly amusing.
Saturday Night Live could be a little rocky in the early years, and in its middle years and also in its later years but it was a smooth-running machine tonight. Martin and Dan Aykroyd reprised their hip-swiveling, gleefully self-deluded Wild N' Crazy Guy characters for a slick sketch that exploited perhaps the most used trope in the shows history: what if a recurring character encountered a stranger or relative who behaved exactly like them? How could hilarity fail to ensue?
In this instance Martin and Aykroyd buddied up with the uncle of two wild and swinging American foxes they met through computer dating who turn out to be Croatian swingers looking for a sexy sugar daddy. It was sketch-writing 101 in its construction and premise but it worked extraordinarily well and it was neat to see John Belushi, as the wild and swinging uncle the brothers embrace wear a furry hat like the one he would have worn if he'd starred in A Confederacy of Dunces alongside Richard Pryor, as was once planned.
Speaking of recurring characters and sturdy, time-tested premises, the Coneheads returned for a Family Feud parody that was a veritable cornucopia of Saturday Night Live staples. It combined a celebrity impersonation (Billy Murray as lecherous old Richard Dawson), recurring characters, a game show parody and fish-out-of-water shenanigoats. Yet it worked all the same.
My favorite sketch of the evening dared to ask the question, would the Battle of Waterloo have turned out differently if Napoleon had had a B-52? The sketch, "What If?" then treated viewers to a an alternate universe historical reenactment of Napoleon exploring his newly acquired B-52. It was unabashed silliness delivered with a straight face and while not hilarious, I found it thoroughly amusing.
Today's show was a novelty in that it featured two musical guests: the aforementioned group formerly known as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Randy Newman, who performs his controversial single "Short People" and, before performing a second song ("Rider In The Rain") responds to all the criticism the song has received by admonishing all the haters to suck his dick and get a big fat lick of his balls unless they want to get beat down and stomped like Sasquatch. No wait, that's Erick Sermon on the Too Short song "Buy You Some". I'm always getting those two confused. Newman actually just blows an irreverent raspberry to his critics, as if to say, "hey you, critical-type individual, I am disappointed and chagrined that you failed to detect the sarcasm and satire in my son".
Steve Martin, The Not Ready For Prime Time Players and his musical guests The Dirt Band and Randy Newman did a heckuva job, not unlike the big homey Brownie. I'm afraid I won't be able to show you any clips on account of Paul the computer guy is still out sick. Actually, I'm the only A.V Clubber in the office today. Apparently my colleagues were scared away by the twelve inches of snow on the ground here and the 12 Inches Of Snow CD I keep playing in the office despite all the death threats I've been receiving. What can I say? I really like that song "Informer".
–Hey, I just saw The Spirit. What a steaming pile of crap
–No one else in the office=no pants for the Nate Dogg
–What do you guys think of Roseanne Rosanneadanna?
–Hey, it's the return of Gary Weis and his short film!