Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Two Score Funny

Happy Birthday, Saturday Night Live. I've still got you by twelve years, but my life expectancy at the time of my birth was more than a couple seasons. The life span of a late-night comedy show, performed by a group of unknowns and scheduled to run after the late news in a Saturday night, was considerably less. I remember watching that first show. I remember, back in 1975, thinking that America had found its Monty Python. This was good news for me, as a junior high kid who had just taken to memorizing entire skits and eventually entire film scripts from those wacky Brits. "The Wolverine Sketch" didn't just change my life, it changed the lives of countless others onscreen, behind the scenes, and sitting in front of their televisions.
A generation of us grew up without VCRs or DVRs to help us catch those shows that we couldn't watch ourselves. This was appointment television. If you wanted to be able to talk with your friends about the hysterical bit you say last Saturday night, you had to earn it. You had to stay up and watch it. The Coneheads. Two Wild and Crazy Guys. The Samurai Delicatessen. These were moments in time that weren't meant to be repeated. They were live. And then repeated endlessly by punks like me who chose to use their relatively fresh temporal lobes for the storage of all the zany goings-on. When the heat became white hot, a comedy record was rushed into print, which met with the almost immediate apathy of the viewing and listening public. You didn't listen to Saturday Night Live, you watched it. Live. From New York.
A few years back, NBC and its ginormous parent company, Engulf and Devour, started to distribute their video history on DVDs. Great big multi-disc sets with ninety minute shows on each disc, along with a few extras, like audition footage of the original cast. This was just prior to the moment in time when most everything that had been on film or video could be found by asking Google to find it. I picked up the first three seasons as soon as they came out. I made a point of watching them in order, with all the fixin's. What became apparent was that by 1979 I was doing something other than watching TV on Saturday Nights. I remember Tim Kazurinsky. I was one of the few who actually enjoyed Charles Rocket, God Rest His Soul. And the rest of the ladies and gentlemen who may or may not have been ready for prime time. So many of them left too soon.
Sure, it's not the anarchist cauldron that it once was. Plenty of us early adopters stopped watching before Kristen Wiig showed up, and most of what I have enjoyed watching Will Ferrell do came after his years in Studio 8H. I saw a lot of Saturday Night on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed the Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers. I laughed at the antics of Chris Farley and was proud to say that I knew Phil Hartman as Captain Carl before he was ever part of Lorne Michaels' crew, before he was the voice of Troy McClure. I remember a lot of Saturday Night Live that I never saw. I saw clips, or perhaps most ironically, heard the best bits redone by co-workers who were still staying up late. Kudos to them, and kudos to those who continue to make this beast run. The show outlived John Belushi.
Too soon?

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