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Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Chevy Chase/Billy Joel"


Saturday Night Live (Classic)

"Chevy Chase/Billy Joel"

Season 3 , Episode 11

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I know it's been long as a camel's dong since I last rapped at ya but I've been busy as of late, rocking and rolling and whatnot. Also, I went on break, then I went to Sundance. I promise, however, to finish covering Saturday Night Live's third season by the end of the decade. I just don't know if the decade in question will be this one. 
Today’s Saturday Night Live is an episode that will live in infamy. It was a veritable clash of the titans as Chevy Chase, the show’s first breakout star, the first cast-member to leave, the first cast-member to alienate all his old co-stars and the first cast member to squander the abundant promise of his SNL days famously battled with a hot-headed young kid named Billy Murray.

Murray, of course, would go on to become King Awesome, the inspiration for generations of melancholy smartasses while Chase is now widely viewed as history’s greatest monster. Considering the high spirits, insane competitiveness and drug abusage of the show’s early days it’s probably surprising that more conflicts didn’t explode into screaming matches and fistfights.

Chase was the instant superstar who’d gone Hollywood. Murray was the young Turk eager to prove himself and put Chase in his place. The gloves were off. While Billy Joel crooned onstage Murray and Chase got into a shouting match and then engaged in fisticuffs before while John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Michael O’Donoghue and Tom Davis tried to restrain them.

Murray may not have won that particular battle but he won the war. “Medium talent!” Murray shouted in a fit of rage, a snap judgment history would vindicate. Chase has called leaving Saturday Night Live the biggest mistake of his career, followed closely by everything he’s done over the last two decades.

It’s safe to assume that the melodrama behind the scenes was a whole lot more fascinating than what made it to the airwaves but the show, bad vibes and all, wasn’t bad at all. The episode begins with Chase reprising his Gerald Ford bumbler routine to comment on the Suez Canal. It was the same old shtick but it’d lost its potency. Was anybody really dying for Gerald Ford humor in 1978?

The show had moved on but Chase seemed stuck in the past. In his opening monologue Chase says what he misses most about Saturday Night Live is the applause of the audience, so he hits as many sure-fire applause generators as possible, shouting out just about every street corner and neighborhood in New York. It was a mildly amusing idea botched by bad timing and sleepy execution.

At his best, Chase radiated a sort of sublime Zen detachment, a too-cool-for-school deadpan understatement that later devolved into lazy sleepwalking. There is a thin line between savvy under-playing and just plain not trying Chase crossed more than once in today’s episode.

A machine-gun Dan Aykroyd commercial parody chased the monologue, followed by my favorite sketch of the day, an SCTV-style slice-of-life vignette with Chase and Gilda Radner as lovers stumblingly getting to know each other after sex. It’s a wryly observational bit where Radner tells a disappointed Chase that she doesn’t realize she’s had an orgasm until weeks or months later, explaining, “Well, you see, it's like this - I never really feel them immediately. It's sorta like they, uh..kind of store up, and then I feel them all at once, usually, on the first day of Purim. A lot of girls are like that.” The idea of storing up all your orgasms for the first day of Purim makes me happy.

It’s funny but it’s also tremendously observant, more than a little sad and even a little tender. It exposes a soft, vulnerable, seldom-explored sweet side of Chase. On “Weekend Update” Chase tricks Aykroyd into abandoning his post so he can take over for him and joins Emily Littela in calling Jane Curtin, the show’s foremost ice queen, a bitch.

Two subsequent sketches are rooted in comic obliviousness: Chevy Chase plays a neophyte customs official who hassles Garret Morris for TWB (traveling while black) while letting John Belushi and Laraine Newman board with a fur coat and suitcase all but exploding with Bolivian Marching Powder and Marijuana.

In a suspiciously similar later sketch, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd play Nazi soldiers passing as Americans who answer Belushi’s questions about American culture vit thick Teutonic accents. “You can’t be too careful mit dose Krauts” empathizes Aykroyd.

Tonight’s episode marks the Saturday Night Live debut of an impossibly young, scruffy Billy Joel, who looks like a substitute teacher gone to seed in his sport jacket, tie and mountain-man beard as he performs “Only The Good Die Young” and “Just The Way You Are”. Joel hadn’t become a cliché yet. Neither had Chase, who peels back the fourth wall on the episode-ending “No Funny Ending” sketch.

The sketch revolves around a problem plaguing Saturday Night Live from its very inception: the difficulty of finding satisfying ending for sketches. In “No Funny Ending” Chase shuts down a Victorian-themed sketch with Laraine Newman, Radner and Curtin, then can’t think of a good way to end the sketch. Dan Aykroyd then steps in as Rod Serling in a desperate attempt to end the sketch on a high note but when that doesn’t work John Belushi intervenes as a pantsless Truman Capote getting chastised by Bill Murray’s smarmy director before Chase’s Land Shark steps in to save the day. Whoa. It’s like triple double reverse meta irony in reverse to the infinite power.
Today’s episode didn’t quite live up to my expectations nor was it the train wreck commenters had warned me about. Perhaps he’d spent part of the show getting pummeled by Li’l Billy Murray (who famously instigated the fight by hissing, “Why don’t you fuck your wife once in a while?”) Chase seemed a little off his game tonight. It was a less-than-triumphant return from the first Not Ready For Prime Time Player to get above his ‘raisin and foreshadowed notorious Chase-hosted debacles to come, like the time he told openly-gay castmember Terry Sweeney that it’d be hilarious for him to star in a sketch as an AIDS patient getting weighed every week. Ha! Yes, it seems like every Not Ready For Prime Time Player has a Chevy Chase-is-a-colossal-asshole story. He’s clearly the world’s worst human being but during his first season on Saturday Night Live he was at least a funny asshole.
 Grade: B
 Stray Observations—
Is anyone else perversely fascinated by The Chevy Chase Show? I would watch the holy living fuck out of that if they put it on Hulu. The same goes for Jerry Lewis’ equally ill-fated talk show. It turns out people just don’t want to watch talk shows starring people legendary for being huge douchebags.
—I’ve been watching The Dana Carvey Show on Hulu and that is some funny shit. It feels weird to watch television on your computer-box but I am very much digging that show. Carrell and Colbert are so young they look like fetuses. Why on Earth isn’t that show on DVD?