Singer, Nerds, Lobsters

Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary show brought back a flood of great memories. I got hooked on the show while in high school and I have watched it regularly since. I was lucky enough to attend a dress rehearsal of the show in January, 1978. That episode included Bill Murray’s famous rendition of “Star Wars (Main Theme)” as Nick the Lounge Singer.

A tweet from Tom Morris reminded me of a 2009 blog post I wrote about my visit to Studio 8H. Coincidentally, I told the same story in an Einstein Simplified podcast that was recorded last week and will be posted tomorrow.

In honor of SNL40, here is a reprint of my 2009 post:

“Saturday Night Live” was a favorite of mine while I was in high school. I still watch it today, thanks to the invention of the TiVo. There were many years in the middle that I missed. Back then, it seemed that everyone knew the latest catchphrase by the time school started on Monday morning.

One such phrase was “cheeburger, cheeburger” from a skit set in the Olympia Restaurant. John Belushi would tell his customers that they had “no Coke, Pepsi” and “no fries, chips” before shouting out their cheeseburger order to Dan Aykroyd on the grill. The burgers and the grill were real. I know because I smelled them.

My father used to play tennis with NBC announcer Bill Wendell. Mr. Wendell arranged for my wife and me to attend a taping of “Late Night with David Letterman” during our honeymoon. Years earlier, I had asked Mr. Wendell for tickets to “Saturday Night Live.”

A couple of factors came into play. I was only in high school and there may have been an age limit for attending the show. Plus, at the time, SNL was a hot ticket. Mr. Wendell said he couldn’t get me any tickets to the show but he could get me into the next best thing, the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal was held about three hours or so before the live show. It would be recorded and could be used all or in part if something went terribly awry later that night. Also, skits that didn’t get a good enough reaction could be cut or rewritten before 11:30 p.m.

I just barely got up the nerve to ask a cute girl from a neighboring all-girls high school to go with me to the dress rehearsal. I figured that the hot ticket and the earlier showtime would guarantee a “yes” from her. They didn’t. Instead of just saying no, Margaret Finneran turned me down because she planned to go to a father-daughter communion breakfast the next day. I ended up calling Ed Gough, my friend from seventh and eighth grades, who met me at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. By the way Margaret, I was home in time to watch the 11:30 telecast. And I made it to church in time the next morning.

That week’s
host was comedian Robert Klein. The musical guest was a newcomer named Bonnie Raitt. In that episode, they introduced some new skits and characters that would turn up again in later shows. Bill Murray and Gilda Radner played nerds Todd and Lisa for the first time that night and the Olympia Restaurant opened for business with its real “cheeburgers” on the grill.

During “Weekend Update,” there was a joke about giant lobsters headed toward Manhattan. The show concluded with the lobsters attacking 30 Rock. Comedy writer Al Franken came up into the audience during a break and sat next to Ed and me. He informed our section that we would need to react in terror to the news of the lobster attack. The director was going to superimpose an image of a giant lobster coming toward us. Franken said that if we got it right, they would repeat the process with the live audience. If we messed it up, the bit would get dropped from the show. We must have done well enough because the shot stayed in the actual broadcast.

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