Father Guido Sarducci: How Don Novello Became The Priest Of Late Night TV

By | January 1, 2021

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Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci during the 'Weekend Update' skit on October 13, 1979 -- (Photo by: Fred Hermansky/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Father Guido Sarducci, alter ego of comedy writer Don Novello, rose to fame on Saturday Night Live in the '70s. Speaking in a thick Italian accent, Novello's chain-smoking Catholic priest would tout harebrained schemes for making the church more popular, or explain the minutiae or inner workings of the church. Sarducci became such a convincingly weird character that everything he said was just funny -- he almost didn't even need to crack jokes, as the persona, sometimes billed as a "rock critic" from Vatican City, was so strong and entertaining. Novello was able to take the character beyond SNL, becoming a guest on other late-night TV shows and specials. To this day, Father Guido remains an audience favorite from SNL of the late-'70s and '80s.

Don Novello Had Another Alter Ego: Lazlo Toth

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On May 21, 1972, a man named Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangelo's Pieta statue in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. Hacking away at the statue with a hammer, he shouted "I am Jesus Christ — risen from the dead!" It was an infamous event that was, at the same time, obscure -- the name Laszlo Toth seemed vaguely familiar for years afterward.

As a young comedy writer, Don Novello experimented with a basic tactic, akin to prank calls -- writing funny letters to famous people or corporations. He signed his letters "Lazlo Toth," and actually got a fair number of genuine responses. These were collected and published in The Lazlo Letters in 1977. Here's an example:

February 18, 1974

To: Mr. Bubble, Gold Seal Company

Dear Gentlemen: I want you to know first of all that I enjoy your product. It's always refreshing to spend some time in the tub with some bubbles. However, I must confess I am puzzled by some of the instructions on the box. It says: "KEEP DRY". How can you use it if you keep it dry? Thought you'd be interested to know someone like me caught the mistake. I thought you'd like to know. Sincerely,

Lazlo Toth

Novello later published the sequels Citizen Lazlo! and From Bush to Bush: The Lazlo Toth Letters.