Where Have You Gone, Joe Piscopo?

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On the strength of Marc Maron's legendary anecdote of being dismissed by Saturday Night Live impresario Lorne Michaels for eating a Jolly Rancher during an interview, I've come up with a way to reinvigorate the shabby icon of late-nite TV:

Turn SNL into a reality show, in which one cast member gets eliminated at the end of each week. Just before the big closing-credits bow, Lorne approaches the biggest bum in the ensemble with the dour pronouncement, "Here's your Jolly Rancher." (Shouldn't all dismissal catch-phrases include product placements?) Then as all the surviving no-talents are smiling and waving, we intercut to the eliminated no-talent choking back tears while watching the skaters at the Rockefeller Center rink. The trick is that at the end of the season the last cast member gets cut, and there's no winner, only Lorne sitting alone like Michael Corleone in his garden.

Which brings me to my point. If you want to feel a little better about your own life, pay a visit to Nick Mayhew's collection of Not Ready For Prime Time Players who have gone to their reward (in this life or the next, that is). Each cast member gets a brief bio and a pic, and the sheer weight of names and faces that are forgotten or remembered, or never were known, would move the very stones to weep (though not, unfortunately, to laugh). Beyond the reminder that the late '80s and early '90s were certainly the show's golden age, you just have to marvel. What kind of coke was circulating in the Reagan-Trudeau years that Robin Duke and Tony Rosato were two of only three cast members of both SNL and SCTV? Where is the monument to Terry Sweeney, the Jackie Robinson of openly gay 30 Rock washouts? Who mourns for (Cable/ACE Award-winner) Denny Dillon? How can so many reach the zenith of comedy success in America, and so few be as well known as even Tim Kazurinsky?

It's not for the squeamish, but Mayhew's enthusiasm can perk you right up. Who could resist this measured praise for Chris Farley: "Deemed as the most zaniest cast member of all time, Chris was one of the greatest players ever." Or this bio for for Gary Kroeger:

Gary was a member of the crew for 3 years. During his time on the show, he created characters such as El Dorko, and has done hilarious impressions of Donny Osmond and Paul Shaffer. Since the show, he's believed to have fallen of the face of the earth.

Et in arcadia ego…

Rich Hall's last known whereabouts, and the world's largest collection of sniglets.

Listen to the song parody "What I Like About Joe" at Joepiscopo.com.

A "dispirited" Robin Duke eventually made her way back to Canada, and is reportedly in good condition.

Charles Rocket, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

NEXT: Your Economic Model Is SO Five Minutes Ago

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  1. Some of those bios are a bit sketchy. Pamela Stephenson, for example, may not be doing much in film or tv, but she’s married to Billy Connolly, has published two or three successful books and works, I believe, as a clinical psychiatrist.

  2. Those twinkling tiny lustres of the land

    Drop one by one from Fame’s neglecting hand;

    Lethaeen gulfs receive them as they fall,

    And dark oblivion soon absorbs them all.

    — from William Cowper’s sonnet “On Observing Some Names of Little Note Recorded in the Biographia Britannica”

  3. All these problems in the world, and you are spending your time worrying about Saturday Night Live??? Grow up.

  4. It’s interesting how many of ’em, after the original cast anyway, are famous, just not famous for what they did on SNL. I don’t know if SNL has a great eye for talent (maybe it just knows where to shop), but, even if it does, it doesn’t seem to know what to do with it.

    …Oh, and I always thought Farley was fat.

  5. …Oh, and I always thought Farley was fat.

    Farley was a gifted comedian, who reflexively grabbed for the fat-jokes in the same way that a falling person will stick his arm straight out in an attempt to catch his fall. With a little more confidence, he would have been able to relax and trust his ability a little, but like the falling man who is destined to break his wrist, farley was destined to be remembered as “the fat guy”. Such a shame for one who lived “in a van, down by the river”.

    Chris Farley = 11 letters
    Jesus Christ = 11 letters

    both died at 33 (take that – lincoln/kennedy!)

  6. Dare I say that comedy is not pretty.

    Did they ever get Jackie Gleason to guest on that show?

  7. Mr Fletcher,

    Steve Martin (14 times hosting, all well deserved, although skip the Pink Panther movie)

    Jackie Gleason – none. I don’t know if I can call this a slight or a shame, but not having a genius like this on this show is just wrong.

  8. The bios ARE sketchy. Damon Wayans was also an SNL cast member (for a VERY brief time), and I’m sure there’s a couple of other “more famous now than then” members.

    I stopped watching SNL back in high school when ABC’s Fridays was on late night, so I’ve been boycotting SNL longer than some of Reason‘s readers have been alive!! (I briefly returned to SNL for the Phil Hartman years. Sigh … )

    Fridays sketches were a little more hit and miss than SNL, but it had (for then) WAY cooler musical guests (you’d never have seen The Cars, DEVO or Gary Numan on SNL).

    At the time, I thought SNL was for old-fart baby boomers who should have crawled up and died at Woodstock.

    Now that I’m 40, I’d love to see Fridays on DVD to see if it looked good just because I was 15, or if it was actually funny.

  9. And while I’m on the subject of Non-SNL sketch comedies, why the HELL is Michael McDonald STILL on MAD-TV?

    What horrible secrets of FOX executives could this very unfunny man be holding to be kept on the show?!!!

  10. Madscribe, I never actually saw “Fridays”, but isn’t that the show that features into the plot of the Kaufmann biopic?

  11. What do you have against Michael McDonald? He’s no more un-funny than the rest of the gang (except maybe the Bush impersonator).

  12. why the HELL is Michael McDonald STILL on MAD-TV?

    Heh… I know somebody who dated him. I like Mad TV but it’s gone downhill since Debra Wilson left and especially since the very unfunny Keegan-Michael Key joined.

  13. Fridays could be pretty funny. Also, it was the show that launched Larry David and Michael Richards. In fact, Richards did a pro-Kramer character on that show.

  14. Doesn’t Martin Short count as a dual SNLer/SCTVer?

    Here’s an article on Fridays from TV Party.

    Kevin

  15. Fridays sketches were a little more hit and miss than SNL, but it had (for then) WAY cooler musical guests (you’d never have seen The Cars, DEVO or Gary Numan on SNL).

    I used to sneak out of bed and watch SNL from the top of the stairs and across a living room, or, when I got a little older, I’d just play asleep so I could watch. I used to watch it with friends on sleepovers.

    I remember seein’ Devo do “Satisfaction” on SNL. I remember seein’ the Clash on SNL too. I remember seein’ The Specials, but most importantly, I remember seein’ Fear. …That’s right, Fear! Lee Ving Fear! It was on Halloween. They did “I don’t care about you!” I think I was about 12 or 13.

    Things were different then, people forget. I remember seein’ The Plasmatics on Solid Gold, for Pete’s sake!

    Anyway, SNL may have been partial to hippie singer/songerwriter music in the begining, but I never had a complaint about the music. …It was all the crappy sketch comedy you had to sit through before you could get to the music. The Clash! …on TV! …are you kidding? They showcased Elvis Costello and Patti Smith too!

    And say what you want about Farley being a gifted comedian. He very well may have been. …and maybe comedy really isn’t pretty. …but what does that do to change the fact that Farley was F-A-T, fat, fat, fat?

  16. “Robin enjoys writing humorous ‘slice of life’ essays for various national publications including Today’s Parent, Homemaker’s Magazine, The National Post, and Canadian Living.”

    Isn’t “Canadian Living” an oxymoron?

  17. Doesn’t Martin Short count as a dual SNLer/SCTVer?

    He was the third.

  18. Remember Dana Carvey doing Ross Perot in
    IN DECISION 92?

  19. Fear was on SNL? Holy Shit!

  20. Interesting read for a fan of the show, but some of the bio’s were pretty generous. Chris Rock made a lot of movies post-SNL, but I wouldn’t say he had a successful movie career.

    Also, Gene Frenkle of BOC is not technically an impression, since he did not technically exist.

  21. The show is crap. Crap crap crap. Someone needs to fire Tina Fey. And the entire cast.

    – Josh

  22. Bring back Norm MacDonald!

  23. Fear was on SNL? Holy Shit!

    Belushi was a huge Fear fan. He wanted to replace the soundtrack for “Neighbors” with a bunch of Fear songs. The network promised him that Fear could guest musician on SNL, so he relented. It was a near riot!

    You can read about it at Wikipedia, just search for Fear.

  24. You can see Fear on SNL on Youtube (at least for the time being).
    Here’s a link

  25. Fridays sketches were a little more hit and miss than SNL, but it had (for then) WAY cooler musical guests

    I don’t know about that. I downloaded a compilation from a BitTorrent site and the best band on there was Jefferson Starship (during the Mickey Thomas years singing Find Your Way Back). The rest was REO Speedwagon, Marshall Tucker
    Band, etc. In all fairness, it was called “Vol. 2” so maybe Vol. 1 has the good stuff.

  26. … the problem with SNL is the very low efficiency rate (funny/unfunny) of the ‘sketch comedy’ format.

    Only 1 or 2 out 10 skits spark real grins to their audience — the rest fall flat … for an 80%+ failure rate.

    Watch even the “Best of SNL” TV specials — and note how lame most of these ‘choice’ skits are.

    Mere celebrity-appeal of SNL guests …shoulders most of the entertainment load of the series.

    And unlike group-improv or lone stand-up comedy formats — SNL sketch comedy is very labor intensive with frantic writes/re-writes, rehearsals, props, costumes, performance, etc …on a tight weekly schedule.

    Improv & stand-up can test and refine/discard jokes and routines in a much faster (efficient) process… even ‘during’ the performance — resulting in a much higher success ‘rate’.

    ‘MAD TV’ has an even lower efficiency rate than SNL.

  27. Bring back Norm MacDonald!

    After Norm MacDonald was fired from the show, they invited him back to host, and in my opinion, his monologue that night was the best monologue that show has ever had.

  28. I doubt if obscure SNL veteran Christine Ebersole is related to former SNL producer/NBC sports big shot Dick Ebersol, as Mayhew implies, since in real life (but not on Mayhew’s site) they spell their names differently.

  29. Gary Kroeger lasting contribution to SNL, The “needleman” music video:

    Chorus: Ira Needleman!!
    Gary: “I’m an oral surgeon,
    I’m 31,
    And I’m tired of being a virgin….”

  30. Ken Shultz,
    You are right about all the new wave/punk on SNL. But in general, Fridays was a better showcase for that stuff. Also, as you might know, a lot of DC punks (including Henry Rollins, I think) made the trek to NYC for that Fear appearance, causing some regional hardcore scene tensions.

    Before they did SNL, the Clash were on Fridays, during the promotion of London Calling, and they played Train in Vain, London Calling, Guns of Brixton and Clampdown. Great set, shitty sound.

    They were on SNL in the later Travis Bickle/boombox days, playing Should I Stay or Should I Go and Straight to Hell (!).

    They were also on Tomorrow (w/ Snyder) at some point in between, playing Mag. Seven & Radio Clash while a graffiti artist spray painted in the background. I know there is a new Tomorrow Punk/New Wave DVD, but the Clash don’t appear to be on it, which strikes me as a tremendous oversight.

    My parents had been early adopters of video recorders, and I still have my 25-year old videotapes of these performances.

  31. “Fridays” came in right around the 1979-80 decline of SNL, and I remember seemingly everyone thought that “Fridays” was funnier. Of course, SCTV was funnier than either of them much of the time.

    I agree that the funny/unfunny ratio of SNL has never been very good, and I would add that even the original late ’70s “Golden Age” was not really very good when you look at it in retrospect–embarrassingly sophomoric compared to some of the later versions of the show.

  32. I am finding it hard to take Nick Mayhew’s site seriously when I find gems like this:

    Anthony Michael Hall: Anthony was the youngest SNLer ever hired. At age 17, he started SNL and played Fed Jones on the show, and impersonated Bobby Kennedy and Art Garfunkel. Since then, we’ve never heard from him.

    Bill Gates in Pirates of Silicon Valley? Whitey Ford in *61? Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone (the lame tv series, not the movie, where the role was played by the great Christopher Walken)?

    Hall was a John Hughes regular and an 80s Brat Pack member, for crissakes. Granted, not the greatest career since 1985, but it’s not like he slipped off the face of the Earth. Mr. Mayhew, IMDB is your friend.

    Of course, he did turn down the Ferris Bueller role, and got himself fired from the Modine role in Full Metal Jacket for complaining about Kubrick’s directing. Not too swift, I guess.

  33. bachwards,, THANK YOU !

    I’ve been looking for that clip for years since it has never been shown in re-run. That was my very first exposure to punk/hardcore as a young-un in the early 80’s.
    mccleay, in addition to Rollins is Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi, at one point he screams “Fuck New York” and which went out over the air.

  34. The link site gives cast members credit for “creating” characters. I can think of some writers who are gonna be that much more bilious.

  35. got himself fired from the Modine role in Full Metal Jacket for complaining about Kubrick’s directing. Not too swift, I guess.

    Yeah, cause look how hot Modine’s been ever since.

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