"Saturday Night Live" has featured a lot of brilliant performers over the years, but no SNL cast has outshone the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. If you want proof, check out "Love, Gilda," a new documentary tribute to one of the original gang's funniest and most beloved members, Gilda Radner, in theaters this week. Or click through for 15 of the show's comic masterpieces from the 1970s.
The French Chef
It's impossible to pick Dan Aykroyd's finest SNL moment, as his comic brilliance was evident in every episode. But Aykroyd's take on perpetually upbeat master chef Julia Child was a five-star comic masterpiece. The demonstration of a chicken recipe gone bloody wrong was so funny even Child herself got a big laugh out of it.
A Little Help From My Friends
Caught without a musical guest, SNL turned to Belushi and his writhing, flappy-armed and spot-on channeling of Woodstock-era rocker Joe Cocker singing "With a Little Help From My Friends." The rendition helped solidify Belushi's status as one of the show's breakout stars. Even Cocker was impressed. "I thought John was lip-syncing it," said the English singer, who on a later show joined Belushi for a duet.
Cheesebuga! Cheesebuga! Cheesebuga!
Drawing on their Second City roots, John Belushi, Bill Murray and crew staff the Olympia Cafe, a greasy spoon based on Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern. As Belushi's Greek owner Pete Dionasopoulos was quick to inform guest star Robert Klein, "No tuna! No fries! No Coke! Pepsi!" Belushi based the character on his uncle, who had owned a hot dog stand in Chicago, and the "cheesebuga!" chant became one of SNL's earliest catchphrases.
He only stuck around for one full season, but Chevy Chase made his mark in the very first episode with his klutzy impersonation of then-president Gerald Ford, inaugurating a long line of presidential takeoffs. Unlike later SNL commanders-in-chief, Chase didn't attempt to be Ford's doppelganger. Instead, he turned Ford into a pratfalling slapstick figure, riffing on the president's reputed clumsiness. Ford "was just so incredibly decent and good-natured about the skit," SNL producer Lorne Michaels later said. How times change.
Topical humor can quickly lose its punch. Quiz any millennial about the Lee Marvin/Michelle Triola "palimony" suit and you'll be lucky if they know Lee Marvin from Marvin Gaye. But it doesn't really matter. To watch Weekend Update anchors Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd verbally square off on the subject ("Jane, you ignorant slut") is not only still funny, it's scarily prescient to any current watcher of Fox News.
I, Roseanne Roseannadanna
Though Gilda Radner's brash Roseanne Roseannadanna had made a brief appearance the season before, it wasn't until season three—when she joined the Weekend Update crew as consumer affairs reporter—that she really stole our hearts. Wandering passionately from commentary on a viewer's heating problem to her disgust at finding a toenail in her burger, Roseannadanna summed things up with her very own catchphrase: "It's always something!"
Berry, Berry Good
Garrett Morris rarely got the best bits, but he hit a home run with "the immortal" Chico Escuela, a former all-star baseball player for the Chicago Cubs who came to U.S. from the Dominican Republic. Paid a $900 fee speaking fee for the John Belushi-led St. Mickey's Knights of Columbus, Escuela entire speech is: "Thank you berry much. Baseball been berry, berry good to me. Thank you. God bless you. Gracias!" Short as this was, it was enough to put Morris into the SNL Hall of Fame.
We Are From France
Among the most beloved SNL characters were the Coneheads, aliens from the planet Remulak stranded on earth and possessing exceedingly large, cone-shaped heads. Comprised of monotone-speaking Dan Aykroyd (Beldar), Jane Curtin (Prymaat) and Loraine Newman (daughter Connie), the family attempts to fit into earth life—even appearing as contestants on "Family Feud"—in a way that was at once hilarious and strangely poignant.
Two Wild and Crazy Guys!
Steve Martin appeared so often and fit in so well that he's remembered as a sort of honorary member of SNL's original cast. And as the swinging, Czech-born Festrunk brothers, he and Dan Aykroyd put forth the best argument ever made for immigration. Their pursuit and appreciation of all things American—especially American "foxes"—is admirably patriotic.
Dan Aykroyd was always at his best playing slick, fast-talking hustlers, and he landed a big one with this SNL one-off: the Super Bass-O-Matic 76 fish blender TV salesman. "It's clean, simple, and after five or 10 fish, it gets to be quite a rush!"
"The Nerds," was a recurring series of sketches featuring teenagers Lisa Loopner (Gilda Radner) and her friend Todd DiLaMuca (Bill Murray). When repairman Dan Aykroyd comes to fix the Loopners' broken Norge refrigerator, history was made with television's very first and very visual butt crack joke. Viewers gagged—with laughter.
Briefcase Full of Blues
One of the SNL sketches to take on a life of its own—spawning two movies and countless sports venue halftime imitations—the Blues Brothers debuted in 1978 with black-suited Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) jamming on and dancing to the tune "Hey, Bartender." For SNL's audience—largely young, white and raised on rock and roll—it was a revelation. As it had been for Belushi. "When I was first introduced to the blues, I couldn't stop playing the stuff," he said.
John Belushi was always a little out there. And when his delicatessen-owning, sword-wielding Samurai warrior prepares a corned beef sandwich for guest star Buck Henry, he is positively cutting edge. Henry—who hosted SNL 10 times—insisted that he appear in a Belushi samurai sketch whenever he was on the show.
How'd You Get So Funky?
Steve Martin returned to SNL to introduce his novelty hit "KingTut," written in response to the boy king craze that was sweeping the country thanks to a traveling exhibit of his Egyptian treasures. The sketch was one of the most expensive productions SNL had attempted up to that point, and Martin's song went on to sell over a million copies, reaching number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Accident-prone clay figure Mr. Bill got his start as a Super 8 film sent in by Walter Williams in response to SNL's request for home movies. Made on a $20 budget, the original film debuted in 1976, during the first season, and became a smash hit. Literally. So popular was Mr. Bill that he joined SNL's original cast, appearing in 10 spots a season.
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