Classic SNL Review: January 10, 1981: Ray Sharkey / Jack Bruce & Friends (S06E06)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: TO TELL THE TRUTH

  • One of three people (Matthew Laurance, Charles Rocket, Eddie Murphy) is the real mob informant Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno.
  • A topical blackout written by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield.  This was merely OK; the humor value diminishes a bit if you're not aware this is based on a then-current news story, although I did laugh a little at the different characterizations (Laurance doing a straight impression, Rocket doing a raspy-voice 20's gangster and Murphy getting a big laugh being more or less himself).
  • This would be a forgettable cold opening if it weren't for the fact that this is the first time Eddie Murphy opens the show with "LFNY", before full cast member Ann Risley even gets the chance.  I like Murphy's delivery choice here too, delivering the line in a panicked, frightened tone as Rocket holds the gun to his head.

**1/2

MONTAGE

  • With this episode, the SNL logo is altered to remove the "'80" that was added for the previous five shows.

MONOLOGUE

  • Ray Sharkey discusses how he loves being back home in New York and talks about the red-eye flight he took from Los Angeles.
  • Sharkey is energetic and glad to be here, and gets the crowd going by saying "New York is the greatest (mouths "fucking") city in the world!" but this wasn't quite as entertaining as even a regular "talk" monologue.  The liberal use of "fuhgeddaboutit" seemed like it was intended to be funny, but its overuse just made this drag.
  • I think Sharkey was wearing a hairpiece here: I've seen him in a few Barney Miller episodes from about five years earlier and he had noticeably less hair.

*1/2

COMMERCIAL: WORK TIME

  • Manual laborers do the more logical thing when they start their day by getting sloshed.
  • A spoof of Miller Beer "Miller Time" commercials.  It was amusing (particularly the guy grinning as the individual bricks fell on his head), but I couldn't help but find it tried a little too hard at times (the "vomiting noise").  The punchline was strong.
  • This was an outside production with its own set of credits: the piece was written and directed by the late Patrick Kelly, who was the co-writer of the well-known Federal Express commercials featuring John Moschitta Jr.

***

SKETCH: INTERPRETER

  • Marcello Bellini (Ray Sharkey) interprets the repressed emotions of a WASP couple (Charles Rocket and Ann Risley).
  • This sketch had a decent enough concept, a few good lines, and Sharkey put a lot of effort into his performance, but I thought the whole thing was too repetitive (neutral statement, then passionate "translation").  The ending with Risley unleashing a bit of emotion of her own wasn't bad.
  • Charles Rocket and Ann Risley were playing characters with the same first names.  There was also a bit of "hot mic" at the beginning.

**

SKETCH: TOMMY TORTURE

  • Underage Vickie (Gail Matthius) and Debbie (Denny Dillon) sneak into a punk club where Tommy Torture (Ray Sharkey) performs "Abuse Somebody".
  • The audience is completely silent for the first few minutes, although I thought I detected a small reaction to the "urinating into a saxophone" line.  When Matthius and Dillon do their "Another One Bites The Dust" to no reaction from the audience, it is a little chilling.  Sharkey's slurry voice reminds me a little of Mike Myers' Ron Wood.
  • Tommy Torture's song was co-written by Barry Blaustein, David Sheffield, Kenny Vance and Chris Palmaro.  The latter two are actually in Tommy Torture's band, on guitar and keyboards, respectively.  The other band members are Tom Malone (bass), Elliott Randall (guitar solo) and Buddy Williams (drums).  I don't know if Blaustein and Sheffield wrote the whole thing or just the song: it actually feels a little like they combined a separate sketch idea with a Vickie and Debbie sketch.
  • I have to give Sharkey and the band credit for the song (the extra half-star), but overall, the sketch really did not work.

*1/2

COMMERCIAL: CITIZENS FOR A BETTER AMERICA

  • Dissatisfied with a shoddy enema, Dr. Swen Gazzarra (Gilbert Gottfried) bemoans the lack of pride people take in their work and that people resent doing "hum jobs".
  • Written by Ferris Butler with Gilbert Gottfried
  • Some may think this was pretty sophomoric, but this is one of the more memorable segments of tonight, and one that holds up better than their attempts at topicality.  It strikes me as a spiritual forerunner to Alec Baldwin's Schweddy Balls "Delicious Dish" sketch, although not quite as intricate or elaborate, or containing the sophisticated level of humor that the lines were being said over radio.  The audience responded decently once the "hum jobs" lines came, and it didn't stretch past its welcome.
  • I thought Gottfried's delivery was off, with him visibly reading the lines off of cue cards.  It didn't seem like he was putting enough effort into the lines.

***

SKETCH: BOBBIE'S BAR / JANUARY 11th

  • Jimmy Carter (Joe Piscopo) commiserates with a fellow member of the unemployed (Ray Sharkey).  Charles Rocket cuts in from the corner of 5th and 50th with coverage of the lead-up to January 11th.
  • This felt like the writers slapped together two good ideas that weren't fully fleshed out.  I wonder if they would have been more effective as separate segments, but I'm grading them together.
  • The bar scene is promising enough as Piscopo does Carter, one of his stronger impressions and Ray Sharkey gives a good performance, but the scene just sort of peters out with a joke about Carter being indecisive, and there's no resolution to the scene after the January 11th celebration.
  • As for the celebration, while the idea could have been set up a bit better, it is pretty inventive, a good use of Rocket playing to his strengths, and it was nice to get some out-of-the studio stuff in the show.  Some unintentional humor comes from the one person going on obsessively about Barbra Streisand.

**1/2

WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET & GAIL MATTHIUS

  • Best jokes: Instant justice, Martina Navratilova/John McEnroe.
  • This is the debut of the show's return to a dual-anchor format, with Charles Rocket joined by Gail Matthius.  This pays mixed dividends: while being able to switch between anchors gives the segment an added energy, Matthius seems almost apologetic for some of the weaker jokes and has a few stumbles, fumbling through her notes right after returning to her chair following Piscopo's segment.  She also reacts in a similar manner to Colin Quinn when a joke dies, usually just making a comment.  Rocket's delivery is more exaggeratedly pronounced by this point as well.
  • Gilbert Gottfried as morning show weatherman-like Marv Peters gives the crime forecast.  A little different from his previous Weekend Update characters, and while a decent idea, it was fairly forgettable.  The audience gives a scattered applause when New York is mentioned in the murder map.
  • Joe Piscopo is now completely into his Saturday Night News character, and the audience is quite glad to see him this time.  They react pretty enthusiastically when he brings out the toy bowling game with the wind-up bowling ball, and there's a good ad-lib about getting two chances when the ball hops off the game.  Piscopo also manages to upstage Rocket during his next joke (Reagan in "The Al Jolson Story") by having the ball hop across Rocket's side of the set as he tells the joke.
  • As much as Piscopo steals Rocket's thunder, Eddie Murphy walks away with the whole Weekend Update.  His segment about not wanting to be drafted, makes fun of the whole notion of a "token black" in the cast.  It's a chance for Murphy to debut his Stevie Wonder and Bill Cosby routines, as well as get a somewhat nasty dig in at Garrett Morris, who "has a lot of time on his hands".

**1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "DANCING ON AIR"

  • The "friends" are Clem Clempson (Humble Pie, Colosseum) on guitar, David Sancious (Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Tone) on keyboards and guitar, and drummer Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra).  Sancious would actually appear on SNL exactly ten years and nine days after this appearance when he plays as a sideman with Sting.  Cobham was actually a fill-in on drums for the SNL band before (I think it's the Eric Idle 1978 show he sits in with the band).
  • This is another song I've been able to compare to the studio recording, and I prefer this one: the studio version's a little cooler and less passionate.  This song has some pretty interesting dynamics and some soloing from Sancious and Clempson, as well as a lot of interesting drum fills from Cobham, an especially good drummer.

SKETCH: TAPED CONFESSION

  • Interrogator (Ray Sharkey) plays director to lowlife Vic Lazlo's (Gilbert Gottfried) actor when taping a confession.
  • This is carried by another good performance from Sharkey, and helped by a stronger concept, especially when Lazlo starts to disagree with his interrogator's directions.  Gottfried puts more energy into this as well.
  • This was another Ferris Butler piece with Gilbert Gottfried helping on the dialogue.
  • If anyone has the name of the younger extra in the uniform with Andy Murphy, please let me know.

***1/2

COMMERCIAL: HAVE A NICE DAY

  • A new horror movie ad features the ubiquitous yellow smiley faces in bloody scenes of carnage.
  • This is an excerpt from Michael Nesmith and William Dear's "Elephant Parts".   I actually saw it in proper context and it seems to work better surrounded by pieces with the same sensibility, but on its own as an SNL piece it did leave me a little cold.  It didn't help that the audience didn't really react to it.
  • Is that Nesmith as the Norman Bates style psycho in the first segment?
  • Seeing it as an "Elephant Parts" segment also made me realize just how bad the telecine was at SNL until about halfway through the next season.

**1/2

SKETCH: BLACK MARKET BABY

  • In the park, a childless couple (Ann Risley and Joe Piscopo) considers buying a baby from a black market salesman (Eddie Murphy).
  • Eddie Murphy fares best here and carries the piece, although Denny Dillon and Ray Sharkey do alright.  Although overall this was a middling sketch, it is helped by some good lines, especially about the other couple buying a white baby that turned out to be a bowling pin, and a strong ending.
  • The audience didn't react to this very much (although Dillon calling the baby "Splotchy" got laughs).
  • The end of this segment also has SNL's first audience caption in years.  Unfortunately, "This man has a lot of cole slaw in his underwear" is particularly inept for an audience caption.  The original captions weren't as wordy, and this one sounds desperate for a joke.

**1/2

SKETCH: SURROGATE MOTHERS

  • Unruly surrogate mothers (Denny Dillon and Yvonne Hudson) use their unborn babies' welfare as leverage against their employers (Ann Risley and Gail Matthius).
  • This really dragged at first, but picked up a little when Dillon's character started with her blackmail about halfway through.  I had to laugh at "When I get bored, I take LSD!"
  • They could have given Matthius and Risley some funnier material, and poor Yvonne Hudson seemed to only be there so they could use the Butterfly McQueen "Gone With The Wind" line at the end ("I don't know nothing about birthing no babies").

**

FILM: "THE MAN IN THE BLACK HAT" - MICHAEL NESMITH & WILLIAM DEAR

  • Townspeople don't comment on a nice man's dropped pants.
  • I didn't see this segment in "Elephant Parts" but it was shot around the same time.  Was "Elephant Parts" compiled/released after the SNL airings of Nesmith and Dear's short films?
  • This only got mild titters from the audience.  Harmless piece, but again kind of at odds with the SNL style.

**

COMMERCIAL: STOP-A-NUT

  • Guard yourself from unstable attackers and annoying boomboxes by wearing full body armor that also lets you fight back.
  • One of the better segments of the night, with Rocket doing his manic pitchman again, and a good idea for a product.  The audience seemed to enjoy this one as well.
  • When Rocket asks "Too good to be true", the suit makes another blast interrupting him; he restarts the line with a little bit of a chuckle.  Definitely seems unscripted.
  • The audience loved the suit making short work of the boombox with "Rapper's Delight" blasting.

***1/2

SKETCH: THE WAITER-MAKER

  • Vinnie (Ray Sharkey) Svengalis hapless busboy Domingo Santiago Guadalupe Hidalgo (Gilbert Gottfried) into replacing service industry superstar Joey Dee (Charles Rocket).
  • This is the "host sketch" of the night, which is supposed to be a spoof of The Idolmaker, the movie Sharkey would win a Golden Globe for at the end of the month.  Knowing this is supposed to be a spoof of the plot of the movie (with Gilbert Gottfried in the Peter Gallagher role) helps, but even being aware of the plot of the movie doesn't help this sketch very much.
  • I did like the "he was a slow learner" intertitle as Gottfried changed wardrobe and the set was being redressed to put the new picture up.

*1/2

COMMERCIAL: COMMERCIAL FOR NOTHING

  • Spokesman (Joe Piscopo) has the pitch style but not an actual product to sell.
  • This seems like filler and a sign that the show was desperate to fill airtime.

*

MISCELLANEOUS: INSULT CONTEST

  • With time to kill, Eddie Murphy does a stand-up routine about black people fighting with "yo mama" insults.
  • The story behind this segment is well-known: when the show was short of material, Neil Levy had Eddie Murphy go on-stage and do a cleaned-up version of the stand-up routine from his audition.
  • Murphy has the audience fully engaged with this routine.  It is a little rough around the edges, but the audience that would not react for minutes on end would come to life for this, and right away you can see Murphy cementing his place in the show's history.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "LIVIN' WITHOUT JA"

  • Sancious is now on guitar, and the band is visibly enjoying themselves on this uptempo number.  One of the guitar players gets a "Day Tripper" quote in there as well.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Ray Sharkey exclaims "We had a ball!" -Don Pardo announces that next week's guests are Karen Black and Cheap Trick, before bemoaning that NBC won't give him a show of his own because they think of him as an announcer.

FINAL SUMMARY:

An "off night" for the show, with a deader-than-normal audience in places.  At the same time, this is an important episode in the show's history because this is where Eddie Murphy says his first LFNY, kills with a Weekend Update bit, and does his solo stand-up on the show.  The show also uses more outside material for film acquisitions, with the departure of in-house filmmaker Mitchell Kriegman.  Backstage there were a few more shakeups over Christmas break, with new head writers Jeremy Stevens and Tom Moore replacing the departed Mason Williams, and Del Close now doing improv coaching with the cast.  The changes would pay off next week, but this show seemed like they were slow in getting up and running again after Christmas break (something that still continues on the show to this day).  The weakness of the show is not a reflection on Ray Sharkey, though, who carried much of the show on his back and did a commendable job tonight.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Insult Contest
  • Stop-A-Nut
  • Taped Confession

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Commercial For Nothing
  • Tommy Torture
  • The Waiter-Maker
  • Monologue
  • anchor segments of Weekend Update
  • Surrogate Mothers
  • Intepreter
  • The Man In The Black Hat

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST RUNDOWN

cast

  • Denny Dillon: 4 appearances [Tommy Torture, Black Market, Surrogate Mothers, The Waiter-Maker]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 4 appearances [Citizens For A Better America, Weekend Update, Taped Confession, The Waiter-Maker]
  • Gail Matthius: 4 appearances [Tommy Torture, Weekend Update, Surrogate Mothers, The Waiter-Maker]
  • Joe Piscopo: 4 appearances [Bobbie's Bar/January 11th, Weekend Update, Black Market Baby, Commercial For Nothing]; 2 voice-overs [To Tell The Truth, Work Time]
  • Ann Risley: 4 appearances [Interpreter, Black Market Baby, Surrogate Mothers, The Waiter-Maker]
  • Charles Rocket: 7 appearances [To Tell The Truth, Interpreter, Tommy Torture, Bobbie's Bar/January 11th, Weekend Update, Stop-A-Nut, The Waiter-Maker]

featured players

  • Yvonne Hudson: 3 appearances: [Interpreter, Bobbie's Bar/January 11th, Surrogate Mothers]
  • Matthew Laurance: 3 appearances [To Tell The Truth, Tommy Torture, Bobbie's Bar/January 11th]
  • Eddie Murphy: 6 appearances [To Tell The Truth, Bobbie's Bar/January 11th, Weekend Update, Black Market Baby, Stop-A-Nut, The Waiter-Maker]

crew and extras 

  • Tom Malone: 1 appearance [Tommy Torture]
  • Andy Murphy: 1 appearance [Taped Confession]
  • Chris Palmaro: 1 appearance [Tommy Torture]
  • Elliott Randall: 1 appearance [Tommy Torture]
  • Kenny Vance: 1 appearance [Tommy Torture]
  • Buddy Williams: 1 appearance [Tommy Toture]

guests

  • Ray Sharkey: 8 appearances [Monologue, Interpreter, Tommy Torture, Bobbie's Bar/January 11th, Taped Confession, Black Market Baby, Stop-A-Nut, The Waiter Maker]
  • Jack Bruce & Friends: 2 appearances ["Dancing On Air", "Livin' Without Ja"].

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not rebroadcast on NBC.  
  • This was also skipped over by the Comedy Network when they aired 90-minute versions of 1980-81 in the fall of 1998.

Additional screen captures not seen above are available here.