Classic SNL Review: November 15, 1980 - Elliott Gould / Kid Creole & The Coconuts

RATING SYSTEM:

***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good / Average
**    - Meh
*     - Bad

COLD OPENING: GLORY DAYS

  • Elliott Gould wakes up in bed with the new SNL cast and regales them with tales of the original cast and their drug use.
  • This confronts the "legend" of the original five years head-on.  It has its moments; it served its purpose as a way to introduce the new cast one-by-one, and also worked as a shout-out to Gould's role in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice". 
  • The actual "comparisons" were interesting...for example, Gail Matthius was a Jane Curtin/Gilda Radner cross, Charles Rocket was Chevy Chase/Bill Murray, Ann Risley was Laraine Newman/Gilda, etc.  Gilbert Gottfried got the funniest one just because it seems so improbable now: John Belushi / "that guy from last year who did Rod Serling, nobody remembers his name" (Harry Shearer).  In a way, this was a mistake: not only were the cast set up as replacements for the original players, they were also pigeonholed into roles that may not have specifically fit their particular strengths.  (Denny Dillon was more the Gilda of this cast than Ann Risley ever was).  Apparently, Jean Doumanian was inviting these comparisons behind the scenes, though...
  • They milked the whole "drug use at NBC" angle a bit too much, but the audience enjoyed it, and there were some funny lines like Gene Shalit in an elevator all 'luuded out.  The whole Belushi coke-fiend bit seems a little less funny in retrospect.
  • Denny Dillon has the honor of saying "Live From New York..." for the first time this season.  She seems genuinely excited to do it.

**1/2

MONTAGE

  • The montage this year is videotaped as opposed to filmed, and was done by Dolphin Productions, whose other work includes some early computer-animation station IDs.  Lights in still pictures are animated to shine, and there are paintover transitions between each picture.  Still photos of the main cast appear in front of a white background with small black dots on a grid, with a black band featuring the castmember's name in lowercase white letters animated to appear over the second still in the sequence.  Featured players do not appear in the montage yet.
  • There is a brand new theme song this year.  I always liked this one and thought it was one of the catchier ones in the show's history.
  • "Comedy magician" Mal Cross is announced as a special guest during the montage but does not actually appear.

MONOLOGUE

  • Elliott Gould explains how he's honored to host the first show of the new season as SNL is like home to him.  He proceeds to show something very special to him: his collection of old diapers and underwear.  He finds a fellow collector in new cast member Denny Dillon.
  • I liked the home base set this season (somewhat of a Grand Central motif, similar to the 2003-present set), with the working elevator and the staircase.  They never really used the elevator for the entrance, though.  In this show, the elevator comes down empty and Gould races down the stairs to open the door and "pretends" to come out of the elevator.
  • I thought Elliott's line about how SNL is always like home to him may have been a way to try to legitimize the new cast, but it seemed to backfire, coming off as a backhanded compliment more than anything.  Gould also invites comparison to the original cast again when he makes a brief mention of dressing as a Bee (getting a laugh from the audience).
  • The "meat" of the monologue, Gould showing off his underwear collection, really doesn't seem to have much of a point to it aside from forced crudeness.  When he pulls out the especially dirty pair (the one he wore before learning you have to change your underwear), I can hear a hiss from the audience.  The sniffing was a bit much.
  • Denny Dillon makes a second appearance as herself tonight and is getting more of an established personality on the show than the rest of the cast.  This appearance really seems something like Gilda would have done in the early years.

*1/2

COMMERCIAL: HIGHWAY EDUCATION

  • Drivers now have the option of reading on their journey, thanks to books posted on sequential roadside signs a la Burma Shave.
  • Walter Williams (of Mr. Bill fame) directed this commercial parody, which was very clever and well done.  The audience seemed to think so too.
  • The actor who played the truck driver looks familiar...is he the same guy who plays the network president in the Virgin Search film?

***1/2

SKETCH: WHITE HOUSE

  • Rosalynn (Ann Risley) and Amy (Denny Dillon) try to cheer up a depressed Jimmy Carter (Joe Piscopo) by telling him losing the election was a good thing.  Rosalynn is particularly glad Jimmy can finally let out those lustful thoughts...
  • This had an okay concept, but here is where the show starts to seem to rely more on outrageousness than actual humor, from Jimmy Carter being described urinating in the hallway to Carter actually saying he hated the Jews for not voting for him (you can hear the audience start to turn on that line), not to mention the overt sexuality of the second part of the sketch.
  • Denny Dillon seems to walk away with this sketch with her Amy Carter impression, getting the line I always remember from this sketch (cheerfully adding "Like the slaves!" when Rosalynn tells Jimmy that losing the election actually set him free), as well as "But mama, I wanna hear!" when Rosalynn starts getting hot and horny.
  • Joe Piscopo did a decent Jimmy Carter impression, an early sign that he would be the dominant impressionist in the years to come.  Ann Risley did an adequate Rosalynn (not a particularly tough impression for her to do), but she seemed to oversell the horniness.
  • The ending fakeout with Jimmy walking out to shoot Billy just before having sex with Rosalynn on the desk wasn't great, but it didn't strike me as any worse an ending than usual.

**

SKETCH: BILLYGRAM

  • A woman's (Ann Risley) religious parents shame her and her live-in boyfriend (Elliott Gould) through a moralizing musical messenger (Charles Rocket).
  • This sketch was written by Terry Sweeney, according to an interview he did with Advocate.com.
  • I always liked this sketch.  The premise was a little thin but they kept it short and executed it well enough to make sure it was funny.  Charles Rocket's sketch debut (not counting the opening) is a little bit of a scenery-chewer, but I admit the exaggerated southern accent and intonation made the sketch.  ("Repent on your birthday, praise-uh JE-sus!")

***

COMMERCIAL: AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY

  • TV censorship hinders the spokesperson's (Gail Matthius) demonstration of proper self-examination technique.
  • Gail Matthius' solo sketch showcase has the unfortunate distinction of having her flub one of her lines on air ("especially on taboo- an TV").  She acquits herself well after this mistake, but she doesn't have much to work with.  It's clear she is trying to make it work, though.
  • Not particularly offensive, unless you're all up in arms about the implied toplessness.  What's more worrying is that this one joke doesn't really go anywhere.  Pardo's ending voiceover about the "Service for Public Service Announcements" fell flat.
  • [Addendum: This sketch was written by Patricia Marx, according to her interview with The Hairpin]

**1/2

SHOW: WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT WITH PINKY AND LEO WAXMAN

  • Talkative, Streisand-loving middle-aged Jewish couple Pinky (Denny Dillon) and Leo (Gilbert Gottfried) derail Elliott's attempt to promote The Last Flight of Noah's Ark on their cable access show.
  • The first appearance of the Waxmans, who are the first potential recurring characters of the season.  SNL message board reviewer TheLazenby mentioned that these sketches seem to be the spiritual predecessor to Mike Myers' "Coffee Talk" sketches.
  • Gottfried and Dillon have good chemistry here, and the audience enjoys the sketch.  It helps that they were developed enough with the mention of the daughter, and while the "talk show where the guest gets sidelined" would be done to death in later seasons (notably with "What Up With That"), there's enough to make this worthwhile, particularly Gottfried's "Who cares about Barbra Streisand? *ptui*" and the Waxmans not being aware there was a movie of M*A*S*H before the series.  Also enjoyed Gottfried concluding Gould was "a very hostile man" when he started to bristle about not being allowed to speak.

***1/2

  • side note: the SNL band plays "Pick Up The Pieces" as the sketch fades out, a song that they would play quite a bit that year.  A comment on the show's situation, perhaps?

SHORT SHOT: "FOOT FETISH" - RANDAL KLEISER

  • A student film by the director of "Grease" and "The Blue Lagoon" features stop-motion shoe sex on the beach.
  • This was the best part of the whole night.  Unlike the White House sketch, the film actually gets away with the raunchiness thanks to a good idea and clever execution.
  • Once you realize what's happening when the male shoe's tongue pops out and the female shoe's lace starts massaging it up and down, you have to wonder how it got past Standards and Practices.  Maybe Bill Clotworthy just thought it was too funny not to air.
  • In the transition to the musical guest intro, Gould is seen sniffing a shoe.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "MISTER SOFTEE" - KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS

  • When I first saw this performance, I thought it was a little too cheesy (at one point, I remember describing the band as looking like Lou Bega with the Spice Girls as backup singers), but now I've come to appreciate how good Doumanian's musical guest booking instincts were.  Very tight and dynamic performance.
  • This isn't the regular SNL musical guest stage, which is a shame because I always liked the way this one looks better.
  • According to IMDB, Coati Mundi (the bald guy playing the xylophone) was master of ceremonies at Charles Rocket's NYC memorial.

WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET

  • best joke: Cary Grant/Chevy Chase, no frills sex.
  • Most of the jokes in this first edition of the new WU were pretty bad: some were just pointless and unfunny (the rings of Saturn recording), some felt like attempts at pointed commentary toward the recent conservative victory which come off as artless and mean-spirited, and some were tasteless for tastelessness' sake (the ethnic joke in the plane crash, the Anita Bryant joke which just died).  Photo-based gags were pretty common, but those were no worse and no better than what came after for Brian Doyle-Murray's SNL Newsbreak.  According to writer Ferris Butler, Doyle-Murray was in charge of WU that year so that may explain that.
  • Don Pardo introduces tonight's edition by referring to Rocket as "Charlie Rocket".  Rocket then says "Good evening, I'm Charles Rocket" in a corrective tone.   If this was supposed to be a running gag (I think it was because Gottfried and Rocket do the same thing later on) it wasn't best way to warm the audience to a new Weekend Update anchor.
  • Gail Matthius' remote with Piscopo as an unknowingly-defeated John B. Anderson was actually pretty funny, largely thanks to Piscopo's impression.  I'm still trying to identify a lot of the extras in this bit because I'm not familiar with what a lot of the writers from that season look like compared to the other eras.  If anyone has any idea who some of the people are please comment.  (I think I see longtime SNL extra Andy Murphy behind the gate and talent booker Neil Levy with the camera, though).  [Addendum: 1980-81 writer Ferris Butler identified the people in the screengrab above: Kenny Vance (music director) is the tall man with the sunglasses behind Piscopo, the shorter brunette woman is Mary Pat Kelly (associate producer), and the tall redhead on the far right is Liz Welch (talent coordinator).  He also remembers the man in the blue jacket as Dennis, but not his last name.  Dennis appears in many other sketches this year, even having a small speaking role in one.]
  • Charles Rocket's "Rocket Report" is the highlight of tonight's Weekend Update and one of a few high points of the whole show.  Rocket is fully in his element in these segments, and is considerably more engaging here than behind the Update desk, which is ironic considering Rocket's actual experience as a local TV news anchor.  The audience thought so too because there was a huge wave of applause at the very end of the film, but as the live segment continued afterward, the laughs became more and more sporadic.
  • The segment with the old lady talking about the youngsters that gather around the building seeking autographs takes on a more chilling subtext in the wake of John Lennon's murder.
  • On that topic, this episode was one of the few Doumanian-produced shows to get a network rerun.  Since the rerun aired after Lennon's murder, I assume they would have taken this segment out.  I wonder what they would have filled the time with.
  • The segment where Barry Grosscup (Gilbert Gottfried) explains that President-elect Reagan is already dead had a silly enough concept that I liked (particularly the photos of "dead" Reagan) but wasn't able to expand on the premise enough.  It ran out of steam when it got to the point about the young Welsh actor in makeup playing Reagan, which seemed little more than a vehicle for the punchline about "some actor" being the president.

**1/2

SHOW: AT ONE WITH

  • Sgt. Steve Brick (Joe Piscopo) demonstrates homosexuals' fitness to serve in the military with a member of The Gay Brigade (Charles Rocket).
  • Another good showcase for Piscopo and Rocket and one of the funnier bits of the night, despite the groan-worthy nature of some of the jokes.  You can hear an audience member go "no!" when they reveal the brigade is stationed at Fort Dix.
  • I'm surprised they got away with the lines "I won't go down on anyone / Uncle Sam is the only one" during the march.
  • Gould seems to be the outsider here, filling in another "nothing" part from a writing staff that didn't have the benefit of familiarity with his strengths on SNL to be able to utilize him better.  He seems a little off here.
  • Great callback to the Weekend Update joke about Cary Grant suing Chevy Chase for referring to him as a "homo".

***1/2

FILM: "HEART TO HEART" - MITCHELL KRIEGMAN

  • Mitchell can't shake the feeling that his girlfriend's changed over their relationship.
  • The first of three short films by SNL writer Mitchell Kriegman, who later went on to create Clarissa Explains It All.  It was more cute than funny, but he managed to execute the changing of the actress between cuts quite skillfully, to the point that several viewers (including myself) completely missed the first change.

***

MISCELLANEOUS: SNL SPORTS -  NOSE WRESTLING

  • Joe Piscopo presents the Nose Wrestling championship fight between James-James Walker (Charles Rocket) and Scotty Buchman (Elliott Gould).
  • The first appearance of Joe Piscopo's sports commentator persona, played straight and much more subdued here, as opposed to his eventual evolution towards more energetic and staccato delivery.
  • This is more an idea played for the concept than actual hard laughs but Gould and Rocket (and referee Gottfried) committed to the dialogue-less action well.
  • The line about the sport being previously dominated by Italians and Jews was a little cheap.
  • Apparently, the tall brunette model extra in the blue t-shirt is a young Wendie Malick.  It definitely looks like her going by the face alone.  Andy Murphy, the old man extra, is visible.  Looks a little like Neil Levy with the camera again.

***

SKETCH: THE DATE

  • Forty-year-old Mark (Elliott Gould) has a particularly uncomfortable dinner date with teenage Valley Girl Vickie (Gail Matthius).
  • Here's where the show starts to drag.  Gail Matthius would have better Vickie sketches once they paired her off with Denny Dillon as a foil.
  • This doesn't work either as a slice-of-life sketch or as a more "played for laughs" piece.  Part of it is a lack of chemistry with Gould, but also because the premise is a little odd (is it ever explained why these two are on a date together?).  It ends quite awkwardly as well.  Perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to make the audience empathize with the characters.
  • Matthius had a few good lines, particularly here delivery on "Ohhh. *pause* Wow." after Gould explains the difference between his securities and the burglar alarms she thought he dealt in.

**

SKETCH: THE ACCORDION KILLER

  • Chuck Levinto (Charles Rocket) kills his dates with polkas as the police (Gilbert Gottfried and Elliott Gould) try to stop him.
  • This segment felt a little underwritten.  The concept has a silliness that worked in its favor and a nice punchline with the bagpipe players being used against the killer, but it seems like there wasn't enough development of the idea beyond "polka music is awful".  The police station scenes don't really mesh too well with the scenes featuring Rocket.
  • Rocket was an accomplished accordion player in real life, fronting a band called The Fabulous Motels while at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 60s and early 70s, and playing on the B-52s' Mesopotamia EP shortly after his SNL tenure.
  • At the very beginning of the sketch, Gilbert Gottfried can be seen through the glass of the door waiting for his cue.
  • One thing I noticed about this season is that they had a lot more use of the cast's real names in sketches, for example, Gail Matthius playing a character named "Gail" in this sketch, and Charles Rocket playing a "Chuck".

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I" - KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS

  • This is a cover of a song by August "Kid Creole" Darnell's prior band, the funk disco outfit Machine, in a completely different arrangement.  Well performed like the first song.
  • Gould seems pretty pissed off/annoyed in his introduction.

SHORT SHOTS: "GIDGETTE GOES TO HELL" - JONATHAN DEMME

  • A surfer girl gets eaten by a shark in a music video for Suburban Lawns' new wave song.
  • An amusing novelty.  The audience responded to the shark fin.
  • The sound seems pretty muffled on the film.  I think it's more an issue with the show's telecine and sound system than anything else.

***

COMMERCIAL: SPEED LISTENING

  • A cultured speed-reading enthusiast (Denny Dillon) listens to the great music with little time or effort.
  • Good, simple idea that was executed pretty well.  My favorite part was all the pop songs with one-second "speed listening" lengths, except for "Stairway To Heaven" (2 seconds), and the inclusion of Manilow in the list of "great composers".
  • There seems to be a bit of an error with the graphic, the second disc was advertised of pop music from the 1950s to today, but the graphic shows an EP or single of the complete works of several composers that were already name-checked in the main "World's Great Music" album.

***

GOODNIGHTS

  • Elliott Gould introduces each individual cast member by their first name, and says "We're gonna be around forever..."
  • Mama Coconut (Lori Eastside?) puts her hula hoop over Elliott's head.
  • The credits cut off early in the original broadcast for an NBC promo advertising the season premiere of The Facts Of Life.  What I find funny about the promo is that the network still emphasizes the show being a spinoff of Diff'rent Strokes ("This week: Arnold visits the girls!") when the episode that's being advertised was the first one of the retooled format that added Jo to the cast.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A mixed bag for the opening show of the season.  Rule number one of SNL's season premieres is that they're not necessarily the best show of the season but should still set the tone for the year.  There are several things to be impressed with, but a lot of the best material came from outside contributions (the "Short Shots", former SNL writer Walter Williams' education film).  The cast still seems to be finding their way (which would be rougher going once the attack dogs went out) but show signs of promise.  The writing has a tendency towards thin premises stretched too far and good ideas that are underdeveloped, but the only things that really don't work are the ethnic jokes and general raunchiness, which seem to be awkwardly shoehorned in at times for the sake of competing with Fridays.  The negative response to the first show was a bit much, though.  The season didn't seem to deteriorate until later on, when the backstage atmosphere started to sour and it seemed to permeate the sketches.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Foot Fetish
  • The Rocket Report segment on WU.
  • Highway Education
  • At One With
  • What's It All About

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Monologue
  • Most of the Weekend Update jokes
  • The Date
  • White House

MVP:

  • (tie) Denny Dillon / Joe Piscopo

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Denny Dillon: 6 appearances [Glory Days, Monologue, White House, What's It All About, Weekend Update, Speed Listening]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 5 appearances [Glory Days, What's It All About, Weekend Update, SNL Sports, The Accordion Killer]
  • Gail Matthius: 5 appearances [Glory Days, American Cancer Society, Weekend Update, The Date, The Accordion Killer]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Glory Days, White House, Weekend Update, At One With, SNL Sports], 1 voiceover [Speed Listening]
  • Ann Risley: 5 appearances [Glory Days, White House, Billy-Gram, The Date, The Accordion Killer]
  • Charles Rocket: 6 appearances [Glory Days, Billy-Gram, Weekend Update, At One With, SNL Sports, The Accordion Killer]

crew and extras

  • Mary Pat Kelly: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]
  • Mitchell Kriegman: 1 appearance [Heart To Heart]
  • Neil Levy: 2 appearances [Weekend Update, SNL Sports]
  • Andy Murphy: 2 appearances [Weekend Update, SNL Sports]
  • Kenny Vance: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]
  • Liz Welch: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

guests:

  • Elliott Gould: 8 appearances [Glory Days, Monologue, Billy-Gram, What's It All About, At One With, SNL Sports, The Date, The Accordian Killer]
  • Kid Creole & The Coconuts: 2 appearances ["Mister Softee", "There But For The Grace Of God Go I"]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • January 3, 1981

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.