Classic SNL Review: February 7, 1981: Sally Kellerman / Jimmy Cliff (S06E09)

RATINGS SYSTEM:

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

DISCLAIMER

  • The Battle of the World Superpowers will be delayed tonight.

OPENING: REAGAN & THE ECONOMY

  • Ronald Reagan (Charles Rocket) uses some visual aids to explain the sorry state of the U.S. economy as well as his advanced age.
  • The audience was amused enough, it was concise, and it had a few funny lines, but this opening suffered from Rocket's unsteady Reagan impression, which seemed to go back-and-forth into his regular voice (especially on the "optical illusion").  It also looks like someone was a little late for their cue, because Rocket waited around for a second and coughed right before Matthius and the extras came into view.
  • Writer Terry Sweeney makes an appearance as one of the guests; judging by the way he's dressed (and the picture in the background of the stage), I'm assuming he's playing Ron Jr.  Talent scout Liz Welch is right beside him; I've been seeing the bald guy with the glasses everywhere this season (and the season after) too.

**

MONOLOGUE

  • Sally Kellerman mentions all the films she was in before Dave Wilson cuts her off.
  • If it looks like there's really no point to the monologue based on my description, you're right.  A "talk monologue" would be an improvement over this, which only really made Kellerman seem unlikable.

*

FILM: THE ROCKET REPORT - HOSTAGES

  • Charles Rocket reports from the ticker-tape parade for the returned hostages and greets Barry Rosen.
  • This was filmed on January 30, 1981.
  • While it was an improvement over the previous Rocket Report, it still fell a bit short of the usual standard; there's not a lot of actual interaction with people.
  • Rocket has a funny moment when he misreads a truck sign as being "the council of salutes".

**1/2

SKETCH: THE AUDITION

  • An aspiring stand-up comic (Gilbert Gottfried) does his act for his lower-class Italian-American family and a talent scout (Sally Kellerman).
  • Better than expected, despite the overly broad to the point of stereotypical characterizations.  The audience was amused by Dillon's old lady character dusting around the house and singing to herself; I have to admit it was a little funny even it was milked for all it was worth.
  • The best moments in the sketch belong to Gilbert Gottfried, who is as animated as he would be throughout his SNL run.  He gets a good chunk of the sketch's laughs, especially during his routine.
  • Sally Kellerman was decent as the straight character, who didn't really have a whole lot to do but react to the other characters.

***

SHOW: NAME THAT SIN

  • On a game show, contestants (Ann Risley and Eddie Murphy) try to identify perversions from the audio clues.
  • A lot of randomness and non-sequiturs ("anal vanity", "freeze-dried sodomy"), which I have to admit I like, but this was also helped by the pacing (one example where Rocket playing over-the-top helped the sketch), and the "historical sins" section actually built the joke pretty well.
  • Written by Ferris Butler; this is an adaptation of another one of his pieces from "Waste Meat News" with some of the dialogue toned down to be acceptable for network television.  Charles Rocket assisted with some of the dialogue.
  • It sounds like Gail Matthius and Denny Dillon were doing the sin sound effects for the first round.

***

FILM: EYE EAR NOSE & THROAT

  • A pianist plays "If You Knew Susie" with their nose as various other body parts are seen in close-up.


  • I'd say this was alright, I suppose.  Not very much to it.
  • Where did this film come from?  I can't find anything about this film, who directed it, or what year it was made.  It doesn't look specifically produced for the show and was probably already a few years old by the time SNL acquired it; the young man whose face is partially visible in a lot of the closeups looks an awful lot like Jeff Goldblum.

**

SHOW: WAS I EVER RED

  • Carmen Campbell (Ann Risley) hosts a panel discussion of socially-escalated women's most embarrassing breaches of dinner etiquette.
  • This was bad.  The audience only began to respond during Kellerman's character's story. It came across that the writers were trying too hard on this one, as it was just one gross-out after another with a weak payoff: the true horror was the cold soup.
  • I found the "snooty" voices that Ann Risley and Gail Matthius were using were so over-the-top to the point of being distracting.  (Risley used a lower register that I guess could be described as someone making fun of Lana Del Rey, even though this was taped years before she was born; Matthius was doing this exaggerated high voice with a lot of syllables drawn out).

*

COMMERCIAL: IRANIAN JOKE BOOK

  • Play pranks on your hostages the way the Iranians do, like the classic "fake execution" bit.
  • This was short and didn't have a lot to it, but didn't stretch the joke too long.  Rocket is starting to appear manic here.
  • According to Ferris Butler, the hostage was played by writer Billy Brown.

** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "I AM THE LIVING"

  • This is a more stripped down performance than on the LP, which has horns.  Cliff is energetic and dancing around.
  • Cliff's songs were performed on a different stage than normal.  Lani Groves is one of the backup singers (thanks to Raj for the ID).

WEEKEND UPDATE WITH CHARLES ROCKET & GAIL MATTHIUS

  • Best joke: Crazy Eddie-style budget cuts, Brenda Vaccaro
  • Charles Rocket's delivery is really starting to become more frantic by this point; Ferris Butler attributes it to the uncertainty about the future of the show.  Unfortunately, whatever effort Rocket puts into the jokes can't distract from how weak they are.  Once again, Gail Matthius gets the weakest jokes, aside from the Vaccaro joke.
  • Eddie Murphy's commentary on the Emancipation Proclamation not being valid because Lincoln forgot to sign it was his usual boost to the show, and he gets a little back-and-forth with the audience: after someone laughs at the reveal of the invalid document, he ad-libs "I don't think that's funny!".  There's also a funny moment when he thanks Matthius for introducing him, and she catches him off-guard by saying "you're welcome".  His delivery is starting to become more confident.
  • Piscopo also gets the audience going with his Saturday Night Sports feature, a guest performance by puppeteer Marc Weiner as Rocko Weineretto.  Piscopo touts the fighter as the new future of boxing, and this serves to set up a segment that will air on the show two weeks later.
  • According to the Hill & Weingrad book, Rocket was not happy that Piscopo was bringing in outside performers on Weekend Update.
  • I found a few pictures of segments that were cut before air on Getty Images: one was a commentary by Matthew Laurance, and another featured Gilbert Gottfried dressed as an Eskimo, holding a newsletter with a picture of Fidel Castro and the headline "Big Man in Tropics is Wimp in Arctic".  The latter was an adaptation of "Eskimos Against Castro", another "Waste Meat News" sketch by Ferris Butler.   Butler also had another piece in dress rehearsal called "Failure Magazine".

**

SHOW: PARENT AND CHILD

  • A demonstration of the proper way to handle when a child (Gilbert Gottfried) walks in on mom (Ann Risley) and dad (Joe Piscopo) during a little BDSM.
  • This has a few good moments, particularly Piscopo hopping to and from the bureau in ankle cuffs, and donning glasses and smoking a pipe when he goes into "dad mode".  I thought it did suffer a little from Matthius' delivery in the intro and outro, which came across as stilted, and this sketch could have developed the scenario or the parents' explanation a bit further.
  • Gottfried's exaggerated childlike facial expressions were funny.

**1/2

FILM: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HOSTAGE

  • A first-person perspective shows that while freed from Iran, the released hostage has a new captor: the attention from his friends, neighbors and the media.
  • More satirical and pointed than out-and-out hilarious, and the point is driven home by the closing visual of Uncle Sam strangling the hostage with a yellow ribbon.
  • Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield are seen around the piano at the bar; no idea who any of the other actors are.

***

SKETCH: LEAN ACRES

  • Lois (Ann Risley) and Tina (Denny Dillon) are prisoners of a fat farm.  An audience member decries the sketch as insensitive to the overweight, and discovers the sketch's writer is fuller-figured herself.
  • Maybe the whole "fat farm = prison" trope hadn't been done to death at the time, but in the wake of jokes on "The Simpsons" and "South Park", I can't help but feel that it was a tired idea even back then.  Maybe that's why they used the fake audience member to shake things up.
  • Kellerman seems to be playing her role as the sadistic counselor exactly the same as her other roles tonight: slightly aloof, affected...I have to credit the writers for using her in roles where that seems to fit.
  • I appreciate that the show was trying to do some of the fourth-wall breaking that the original show used to do (e.g., The Killer Bees), and while it wasn't executed as smoothly as it could have been, it was a noble try.
  • Ferris Butler identifies the audience member as Karen Roston, the show's costume designer.  It does look a bit like her (especially going by the wild salt-and-pepper hair, although she normally wore glasses) but not enough to for me to say it is her.  The writer was apparently a paid extra though.

**

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "GONE CLEAR"

  • I actually liked the recorded version a little better, but this wasn't bad at all.

SKETCH: IRANIAN STUDENT COUNCIL

  • The Tehran University Class of 1981 discusses the success of their latest fundraiser and tries to figure out how they'll follow the hostage-taking.
  • The audience was completely silent for this, aside from a few titters, but this had a decent concept behind it, treating the international incident as a mere extracurricular activity arranged by young, nauseatingly enthusiastic keeners.
  • The audience member who is captioned with "Wishes she was a hostage" looks like she fits that caption.

**1/2

FILM: "NEW YORK" - C.F. BRESSLER

  • A short claymation cityscape set to Ray Charles' "New York's My Home."
  • More technically impressive than anything else, but I thought this was a good palate-cleanser, similar to how the films were used before.  I liked the mood this one set.
  • The audience audio was not mixed in with the sound from the film, similar to how the audio was during filmed segments in the first season.

***

SKETCH: PILLOW PETS

  • A woman (Ann Risley) is upset her husband (Gilbert Gottfried) seems to favor the dog over her, especially since the "dog" is just a stuffed pillow.
  • This sketch has probably my favorite concept of the night, and probably would have been more highly regarded if it were performed either on a different show, or on SNL more than 20 years later.  I honestly could see Will Forte doing something like this.
  • Gottfried is a little withdrawn and sullen in his delivery, but I thought it helped him with a few of the lines (especially "Oh, you were wrong" to Risley thinking that a man who loved the pillows so much could give her a lot of love).

***

SKETCH: TELEVISED TRIAL

  • In the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, a televised small claims trial takes the format of a late-night talk show.
  • This wasn't bad; it didn't outstay its welcome, and Gottfried did well as the plaintiff suing a restaurant for putting a ball bearing in his food.
  • The cameo by Jim Fowler worked well, and he gets a few of the best lines.
  • I thought having the image inset into a graphic of a television was a little unnecessary.
  • Dom Irrera, one of the people passed over for the new cast, is the juror whispering the verdict to the foreman.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "STARTING OVER AGAIN"

  • Sally Kellerman performs the Donna Summer and Bruce Sudano-penned song about a middle-aged couple's dissolved marriage, which was then a recent hit for Dolly Parton.
  • She's not a bad singer, but it doesn't seem like something you'd end an SNL on.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Kellerman doesn't seem as affected here, amazingly enough.  Rocket sniffs her head amorously, and Denny Dillon and Gilbert Gottfried hug.
  • Don Pardo announces Deborah Harry is hosting next week, and says "happy birthday" to the President before mentioning his birthday is on February 22 and soliciting birthday gifts.
  • The costume house that SNL used underwent a name change between the Hays and Kellerman shows; Brooks-Van Horn was acquired by the Eaves costume company and became Eaves-Brooks.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I was surprised how high I rated the sketches; it always seemed like it was worse than it actually was, thanks to a limited host (Kellerman seemed to only play snobbish), an overabundance of jokes on the same topic, a dead audience in places, and a creeping self-awareness that the show's days (with that staff) were numbered.  But  the more I think about it, aside from the monologue and Was I Ever Red, I didn't strongly dislike very much of the show, and could find pieces of worth in a lot of tonight.  It seemed more that the show's biggest issue was a lot of sketches that were sub-par (in either concept or execution), but weren't balanced out with standout pieces as in other Doumanian shows; even the usually reliable Rocket Report wasn't up to standard.  Ann Risley had the most appearances out of the cast in this show (I have to wonder if that colors people's perception of the episode), but for me, it was Gilbert Gottfried who stood out tonight.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • commentaries on Weekend Update.

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • Was I Ever Red
  • Monologue
  • the jokes on Weekend Update
  • Reagan & The Economy
  • Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat

MVP:

  • Gilbert Gottfried

CAST & GUEST RUNDOWN:

cast

  • Denny Dillon: 4 appearances [The Audition, Was I Ever Red, Lean Acres, Iranian Student Council], 1 voiceover [Name That Sin]
  • Gilbert Gottfried: 4 appearances [The Audition, Parent & Child, Pillow Pets, Televised Trial]
  • Gail Matthius: 5 appearances [Reagan & The Economy, Was I Ever Red, Weekend Update, Parent & Child, Iranian Student Council], 1 voiceover [Name That Sin]
  • Eddie Murphy: 3 appearances [Name That Sin, Weekend Update, Iranian Student Council]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [The Audition, Weekend Update, Parent & Child, Iranian Student Council, Televised Trial]
  • Ann Risley: 7 appearances [The Audition, Name That Sin, Was I Ever Red, Parent & Child, Lean Acres, Iranian Student Council, Pillow Pets]
  • Charles Rocket: 5 appearances [Reagan & The Economy, The Rocket Report, Name That Sin, Iranian Joke Book, Weekend Update], 1 voiceover [A Day In The Life of a Hostage]

featured players:

  • Yvonne Hudson: 0 appearances
  • Matthew Laurance: 3 appearances [Iranian Joke Book, Iranian Student Council, Televised Trial], 1 voiceover [A Day In The Life Of A Hostage]
  • Patrick Weathers: 2 appearances [Iranian Joke Book, Televised Trial]

crew and extras:

  • Barry W. Blaustein: 1 appearance [A Day In The Life of a Hostage]
  • Billy Brown: 1 appearance [Iranian Joke Book]
  • Dom Irrera: 1 appearance [Televised Trial]
  • Neil Levy: 1 appearance [Iranian Joke Book]
  • David Sheffield: 1 appearance [A Day In The Life of a Hostage]
  • Terry Sweeney: 1 appearance [Reagan & The Economy]
  • Liz Welch: 1 appearance [Reagan & The Economy]
  • Dave Wilson: 1 voiceover [Monologue]

guests

  • Sally Kellerman: 5 appearances [Monologue, The Audition, Was I Ever Red, Lean Acres, "Starting Over Again"]
  • Jimmy Cliff: 2 appearances ["I Am The Living", "Gone Clear"] 
  • Jim Fowler: 1 appearance [Televised Trial]
  • Lani Groves: 2 appearances ["I Am The Living", "Gone Clear"]
  • Marc Weiner: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not rebroadcast on NBC.

Additional screen captures from this episode can be found here.