SNL Golden Boy Chevy Chase: Clark Griswold, Fletch, And A Complicated Legacy

By | February 2, 2018

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Saturday Night Live - Season 1 -- Pictured: Chevy Chase during 'Weekend Update' -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

With performances in Caddyshack (1980), National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), and Fletch (1985), Chevy Chase became an American comedy institution, making endlessly re-watchable and quotable movies that have their own genre -- they're Chevy Chase movies. Chase is a gifted physical comedian who gives calmly absurd performances, and during his years on top it served him well. 

Chevy Chase's persona also served him well on Saturday Night Live -- while it lasted. On the inaugural 1975 season of Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase was the biggest presence, usually delivering the line "live, from New York, it's Saturday night!" and hosting Weekend Update. In Rolling Stone's estimation, Chase was the most crucial performer from the get-go: "It took him only one season to define the franchise…without that deadpan arrogance, the whole SNL style of humor would fall flat."

Chase was also known for having a big ego, but that's the push-and-pull of being Chevy Chase. He was praised as the funniest man in America during that first season, he was hailed as the next Johnny Carson, and he won two Emmys and a Golden Globe for his writing and acting on SNL. Yes, Chevy Chase had a high opinion of himself... he also had reason to.

Chevy Chase is a successful actor who did era-defining work in the '70s and early '80s.

Counterpoint: Chevy Chase Is A Failure And A Jerk

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Chevy Chase in 'Oh Heavenly Dog' (1980). Source: IMDB

Yes, Chase was arguably the most important member of the inaugural-season cast of SNL, and yes, Chase made those three immortal movies (plus Christmas Vacation, which has turned into an institution). But Chase has made a lot of really bad movies. His batting average as a comedy star isn't as good as first-season castmates like Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi, or his SNL replacement Bill Murray. There was a lot of hoopla with Chevy Chase, and he delivered on it several times. But the list of meh movies you don't feel the need to watch again includes Foul Play, Oh Heavenly Dog, Seems Like Old Times, Under the Rainbow, and Deal of the Century.

There's also Chevy Chase's offscreen personality -- it's long been said that he is not the nicest guy to work with. A Gawker article that tried to catalog all the documented examples says:

Between the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Saturday Night Live, his weirdly public ongoing spats with actors and writers on Community, and the unbelievably d**kish and petty interviews he's given over the years, there's plenty of evidence that Chevy Chase is an a**hole.

So... there's that perspective. Comedic genius? Undoubtedly. Jerk? Well, that's what a lot of people who've worked with him will tell you.