Saturday Night Live: Comedy's Big League, From The Beginning

Culture | October 23, 2017

John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner as bees in the "Bee Hospital" skit, on the first episode of 'Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975 -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Saturday Night Live first aired in 1975, bringing us such instant comedy legends as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Chevy Chase, and ever since has been the incubator and unquestioned major league of American comedy. Its longevity is unmatched, and the accomplishments of its players -- Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, Adam Sandler -- are beyond question. Whenever you began watching the show, from the early days up until the present, you remember that cast as your first cast, and you saw a superstar or two beginning to spread their comedic wings and take flight. 

The show was the brainchild of genius producer, Lorne Michaels, and was originally titled NBC’s Saturday Night. More than 40 years later, SNL still begins each week with a short comedy skit, where ultimately one of the cast members breaks character and announces, “Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!” 

Same Time, Same Night, Same Network

SNL has occupied the same late-night time slot for all these years: 11:30 p.m. on Saturday nights. The show has always been known for being politically and culturally charged and most definitely inappropriate, much to audiences' delight. There was always a regular cast that performed each week, along with celebrity guest stars and musical talent; including an in-house SNL band. Countless successful actors, musicians and writers gained notoriety and realized that one big break thanks to their exposure on the hit show.  

Irreverent, Controversial, Even Provocative

As the title of the show suggests, Saturday Night Live is a live broadcast each week. Producing a live show comes with an expected propensity for problems and SNL is no exception. Although, the show seemingly goes off without a hitch week after week, it also has had its challenges. Some of the guest stars and musical performers, have taken it upon themselves to use the show as a forum for their own political views. Not only has there been intentional sabotage from time to time but unforeseen accidents and lip-syncing disasters as well. One musical guest, Sinead O'Connor, actually tore up a picture of the Pope on live television.       

The First Season's Cast Was Remarkable

The inaugural cast consisted of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Chevy Chase -- also known as the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players."  Bill Murray joined the regular cast in the second season. As the years went on, the list grew and grew.  Cast members have been wowing us for years with their uncanny impersonations of Presidents, Hollywood stars, and other high-profile personalities.  

Gilda Radner Was Queen Of Characters

Roseanne Roseannadanna, played by Gilda Radner, was a consumer reporter who frequently appeared on the "Weekend Update" skit. She began each segment by reading a letter from a fictitious viewer, always a Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Prior to addressing his concern in the letter, she would poke fun about New Jersey; followed by a lengthy diatribe about things that had nothing to do with his question. Jane Curtain, the anchor woman, would finally interrupt her by saying, “you’re making me sick!”; to which Rosanne would reply,

Well, Jane, it just goes to show you, it's always something — if it ain't one thing, it's another.  

Dan Aykroyd Was Patriarch Of Weirdos

The Coneheads, played by Dan Aykroyd (Beldar), Jane Curtain (Prymaat) and Laraine Newman (Connie), were an alien family from the planet Remulak. They unfortunately found themselves stranded on Earth and attempted to blend in. With their large cone-shaped heads, that is. They claimed to be from France although there was nothing remotely French about them. For some reason, they were never discovered to be aliens even though they spoke oddly; with a monotone, nasally, high-pitched voice and exhibited strange behavior. They smoked entire packs of cigarettes at a time. The Coneheads referred to eating as, “consuming mass quantities,” and ate things that humans would never eat! One year for Halloween, they handed out beer and fried eggs instead of candy!  

Bill Murray Was A Nerd Before Nerds Were Nerdy

The Nerds, played by Gilda Radner (Lisa Loopner) and Bill Murray (Todd) are a nerdy boyfriend and girlfriend with Jane Curtain (Mrs. Loopner) being Lisa’s mother. Lisa and Todd were a match made in heaven but hurled insults at each other nonetheless. Todd always teased Lisa for being flat chested and regularly gave her noogies. Whenever Todd would insult Lisa, she would say, “That’s so funny, I forgot to laugh!” Lisa fondly referred to Todd as, “Pizza-Face.” Todd was a self-proclaimed ladies’ man and wanted Lisa to believe that he chose her over every other girl he could have had. Lisa would constantly fight off Todd’s advances because she was saving herself for Marvin Hamlisch. Every time the late Mr. Loopner was mentioned, Lisa and her mother would pause and say, “God rest his soul.”  

Chevy Chase Owned The News -- For One Season

Although Chevy Chase was one of the first original cast members to leave the show, he left us remembering his rendition of the News Anchor on "Weekend Update" and his fall of the week. He also played the Land Shark who parodied the shark from Jaws, which was a popular movie at the time. Also, who could forget his portrayal of (then) President Gerald Ford, tripping off of Air Force One?

Garrett Morris Been Berry Berry Good

While Chevy Chase anchored the news show, funny man, Garrett Morris would be the station interpreter for the hearing impaired. He didn’t interpret by using sign language; but instead he would repeat the story, word for word, shouting it in an extra loud voice! Another one of Morris's characters on SNL was Chico Escuela the Dominican baseball player who was frequently interviewed on Weekend Update. Chico only spoke limited, broken English, so his response to almost every interview question was his well-known catchphrase, "Baseball... been berry berry good... to me."

John Belushi Was The Go-To Guy For Unhinged Madness

John Belushi, along with Dan Aykroyd, was one-half of Jake and Elwood, The Blues Brothers. Originally, they were intended to be guest musicians but became so popular that they eventually took on a life of their own; spilling over into appearances on other shows as well as their own movie. Belushi also portrayed the character of an aggressive Samurai and was frequently seen on Weekend Update, where he coined the catchphrase, "But N-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!" During his four years with the show, he was also the Greek owner of the Olympia Café, where the only three items on menu available to be ordered were the cheeseburger (“cheeburger”), chips (“no fries, cheeps!”) and Pepsi (“no, Coke! Pepsi!”). Out of frustration, everyone just went along with it and got the cheeseburger, chips and Pepsi.  

The Template Set In 1975 Is Still Going Strong

Over the years, SNL has not only discovered but showcased mega talent. As with anything new and provocative, the show met with naysayers in the beginning. Despite that fact, the show boasts many awards and accolades over the years; even being broadcast in several countries. Although the original cast we remember so well is long gone from the show, it continues to entertain us. It is interesting that SNL has been on for all these years, but when a show like this focuses on current events and political issues, there is never a shortage of material.

Tags: Famous Quotes From The 1970s | Saturday Night Live | The 1970s | TV In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.