Classic SNL Review: October 23, 1982: Howard Hesseman / Men At Work (S08E04)

RATINGS SYSTEM:
***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good / Average
**    - Meh
*      - Terrible

OPENING: HALLWAY

  • Things are hectic at SNL due to election coverage displacing the show from studio 8H.  The host, Howard Hesseman, hasn't arrived yet either, so Robin Duke kills time by talking to various SNL personnel in the 8th floor halls.  A drunken Hesseman finally shows up on the back of Milan Melvin's motorcycle.
  • I've always enjoyed "backstage" segments on SNL, especially ones with various show staff members visible on-camera.  Robin Duke does well here, playing "tour guide" with a forced smile throughout the chaos, and she anchors the many smaller scenes packed into this opening:
    • Eddie (dressed as Gumby) yells at writer Paul Barrosse.
    • Gary Kroeger complains about not being allowed to introduce himself on camera.
    • Mary Gross and a few dwarf extras learn that "The Sound Of Midgets" has been cut from the show.  One of the extras yells "I reject!" in protest.
    • the Sabo chimps appear as Tim Kazurinsky's "wife and kid" (a reference to "I Married A Monkey").
    • SNL stage manager Joe Dicso calls Hesseman a drunk
    • Joe Piscopo stalls with trivia about the Rockefeller Centre elevators.
  • The audience enthusiastically applauds Hesseman's entrance on the motorcycle.
  • In the early seasons of SNL, the show would regularly be moved out of Studio 8H for election coverage: the three shows in late October 1976 were broadcast from NBC's Brooklyn studios.  They were able to remain in Rockefeller Centre when they were displaced again this year, but the show had to split between two smaller studios: 8G and 3A.  SNL would repeat this arrangement two years later for the first five shows of 1984-85.  I'm curious about which studio would have been used for each segment: I haven't completely figured it out, but it's fairly easy to piece together which consecutive segments would have been done in the same studio going by the performers that appear in each.
  • The shirt that Paul Barrosse is wearing features a Phoebe And The Pigeon People cartoon, a comic strip by Jay Lynch and Gary Whitney which ran for 17 years in the Chicago Reader; Paul Barrosse discusses Whitney's collaborations with the Practical Theatre Company on his blog.
  • Notable people in the background: Bill Irwin is in costume at the page's desk, as are a number of the bit players that turn up in the Caribbean Vacation sketch later tonight; writer Andrew Kurtzman is talking to someone wearing a dog suit; Andy Murphy is wearing chains; costume designer Karen Roston is seen during Gary Kroeger's segment.  A pregnant Susan Saint James is seen with her two older children (were they the real Harmony and Sunshine Lucas?).  The two dwarf extras would appear a number of times during the Ebersol era; I have notes which list them as Butch and Pepe but I don't have surnames for either.
  • Funny background event: after Duke passes Kazurinsky, one of the chimps hops to the floor and sends the bin rolling down the hallway; trainer Dave Sabo's big hat can be seen as he tries to corral the misbehaving animal, and one female staffer watches in shock with her mouth wide open.
  • Milan Melvin was an associate of Hesseman's from their days at KMPX radio in San Franscisco; he is thanked in the credits with David Felton (is this the Rolling Stone David Felton?) and Garry Goodrow, an originial member of San Francisco improvisational troupe The Committee (Hesseman was a member, as was Melvin's one-time wife Mimi Farina).

****

MONOLOGUE

  • Hesseman sobers up as he emerges from the home base stage door.  He mentions he's the first host from the original show to do the "new" SNL, and discusses criticism about the show's lack of edge.  Invoking the spirit of the old show and paying tribute to the recently-deceased John Belushi, Hesseman tells some "dead Belushi" jokes before segueing into a Belushi-style rant about Ronald Reagan.
  • A very strong monologue, helped by some very refreshingly tough material.  It serves as a tribute to Belushi (whose death wasn't even 8 months before this episode), but Hesseman also works in a lot of biting anti-Reagan material.  His discussion of the difference between the old cast and the new (and the lack of "autobiographical" sketches) reminds me of a quibble I have with the show in recent years: there is not much of a sense of the cast putting themselves and their lives into the sketches, or many appearances as "themselves" on the show.  Hesseman criticizes the Ebersol cast for not doing this, but the current cast does this far less.
  • I thought that having Milan Melvin shove a still-drunk Hesseman through the door as a continuation of the opening was a nice touch.
  • The temporary "home base" set is a simplified one with a door and steps in the centre; it reminds me of a prototype for the 1995-98 and 1998-2003 home base sets.

****

MISCELLANEOUS: GIRLS OF SNL

  • Playboy profiles Robin Duke, Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus with a suggestive photo montage (shot by Playboy photographer David Chan) featuring the female cast in lingerie.
  • This piece is definitely well-produced, and while there are some funny lines (Mary Gross' turn-ons and turn-offs), I did feel the "part woman, part child, pure fun" lines for Louis-Dreyfus crossed a line with me.  I have to wonder what Duke, Gross and Louis-Dreyfus thought of the whole thing: they seemed to be game, but I can understand if the sexualization was a little humiliating, even if it was only for the ends of parody.
  • William Clotworthy is the censor the girls "battle it out" with in one of the stills; I can't ID the writer in one of the other shots (he is seen only from the back of the head).
  • Despite Hesseman appearing in the "meeting the host" slide, this segment turned up in a few repeat versions of other episodes (Robert Blake and Rick Moranis/Dave Thomas).

***

SKETCH: DELOREAN HOME

  • John DeLorean (Brad Hall) prepares for his upcoming fundraising trip by packing his suitcases full of "special flour", "Bisquick" and "sugar".
  • The premise was a little thin, primarily making fun of DeLorean being charged that week for cocaine trafficking, but the sketch mostly works because of Hall, and it has a number of smaller jokes (the dry cleaner refusing to be paid in DeLoreans, John weighing the pancakes on a scale) that keep it entertaining.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus straightened her hair for her role as Cristina Ferrare in this sketch; read her account of the R-rated note she got from the network the next day.  She kept her hair straight for most of the remainder of the season.

***

SHOW: GOOD MORNING AMERICA

  • David Hartman (Joe Piscopo) greets viewers, a dummy Joan Lunden, and correspondent Steve Bell (Gary Kroeger) before showing a clip of his acting work.
  • Silly and repetitive, but this manages to work.  The "duuhhhhhhh" and "Good morning!" play as kind of a jazz variation; it's all in the rhythm.   Piscopo gets a good response from the audience, but Kroeger is the revelation; he doesn't have a lot to do, but he integrates so well here, it already seems like he's been part of the cast for years.  The Bullwinkle clip ends the sketch with a strong punchline.

***1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "WHO CAN IT BE NOW?"

  • Men At Work change it up from the studio version (by then over a year old, though only peaking on the US charts that week); Ron Strykert gets an extended guitar solo before Greg Ham launches into the familiar sax riff.
  • The temporary musical guest stage uses reconfigured pieces of the regular home base set.
  • At one point during the first verse, someone walks between Colin Hay and the camera.

SKETCH: THE CONFESSION

  • A father (Howard Hesseman) is stunned by his son's (Gary Kroeger) admission when he visits home from college: he's straight.
  • The audience responds well to the twist, and there are more than a few good lines: "YMCA Summer Camp" seemed a little too obvious, but "I should have played with you more! I should have never let your mother bathe you!" was funny.  As a whole, the sketch seemed a little underdeveloped, but the performances of both leads carried the material.

** 1/2

SKETCH: CARIBBEAN VACATION

  • On vacation in Stanley Key, nerdy Marvin's (Tim Kazurinsky) secret past life as "The Iguana" hasn't been forgotten by the locals.
  • Three weeks after their last appearance in the Sex Therapy sketch, Marvin and mousy wife Celeste (Mary Gross) get a bit of recognition applause.  Most of the highlights of this sketch come from Gross' reactions and line delivery, but despite being a little slow-paced and thin on actual laughs, I still found the piece entertaining with good commitment from all of the performers.
  • The use of a different studio feels quite apparent here for some reason.
  • This sketch features many non-cast extras, including one speaking role (the waiter).  If anyone can ID the actor playing the waiter, please leave a comment.

***

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS WITH BRAD HALL: SALUTE TO JOURNALISM WITH TIM KAZURINSKY, "SAVE THE WORLD CONTEST" WITH JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, SATURDAY NIGHT SPORTS WITH JOE PISCOPO

  • Best jokes: nothing really stood out
  • The usual mix of silly pictures and jokes; nothing really came across as particularly strong, although the Tylenol Pollution Alert (in reference to a recent string of deaths from cyanide-laced Extra Strength Tylenol in Chicago) and Liberace/Scott Thorson jokes had groan-worthy punchlines.
  • Small tech issue: at the beginning, the screen fades to black to remove the segment title before fading back in on Brad Hall.
  • Tim Kazurinsky does his first "Salute To Journalism", a sarcastic salutre to Rupert Murdoch and the sensationalized screaming headlines on the New York Post.  It's a smart piece and Kazurinsky has some good lines ("Wow, three days of dead gays!" in regard to one story that plays out over several days, a store owner saying he didn't stock the Post because "their readers are our shoplifters").  With the expansion of Rupert Murdoch's empire over the last few decades, as well as the current state of the news media in general, Kazurinsky's examples almost seem quaint.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes her newsdesk debut (introduced by Brad Hall as his "favorite correspondent") by plugging a ficticious "Save The World Contest", where the viewer who sends a workable solution to the Middle East Crisis on a postcard can win big prizes (including dinner "at the Chinese restaurant of your choice" and SNL tickets).  She holds her own, and I thought the smiling delivery of "governments are stupid" and "for big prizes, silly!" made the piece work.
  • Andy Kaufman is listed on the tickets for tonight's show, which also show that they are for the Studio 3A audience.
  • Piscopo is back as the Sports Guy, discussing the St. Louis Cardinals' Game 7 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers the past Wednesday.  He blaming the Brewers' loss on their being slobs, which is an excuse to show tape of players spitting chewing tobacco and scratching their crotch; Piscopo declares them his kind of team before spitting chaw himself and holding the wad in front of Hall's face.  The interaction at the end (which reminded me of Piscopo upstaging Charles Rocket two years before) made this more fun.
  • Funny background event during the end: Hall picks up a wastebasket and sticks his head in as if to vomit.

** 1/2

SKETCH: NAKED WAKE

  • A funeral director (Brad Hall) is forced to explain Mr. Maracondia's last request to his family during his wake.
  • Sketches about funerals seem to be fertile creative ground for SNL; this has a timeless feel to it.  There are some particularly good bits in here, particularly when Julia Louis-Dreyfus is standing at a certain part of the casket, and without taking her eyes off the "body", says "His poor wife, she's really going to miss him."  Eddie Murphy's appearance as a mechanic worked as well (especially him angrily shouting "You a dead man!" to the deceased).
  • Once again, Robin Duke dons the black wig and fat suit as the deceased's casket-jumper mama; she's played similar roles in "Papa's Advice" (12/05/81) and "Mafia Name Giver" (01/30/82).
  • Hesseman's rambling hippiesque preacher character is an impression of Del Close, famed improv teacher; Close was also once house director of The Committee.
  • Andrew Kurtzman and Andy Murphy are two of the mourners; I can't identify the brunette woman

*** 1/2

GUEST PERFORMANCE: BILL IRWIN

  • Wearing a curly black wig and black-framed glasses, Irwin emerges from a trunk and dances convulsively to "Shake Your Groove Thing" until he breaks the spell with a sledgehammer to the boombox.


  • The mime previously appeared on the show in a Mitchell Kriegman short two years before, and I've always considered this a continuation/companion of "The Dancing Man"; it works well on its own merits, though.  Like with "The Dancing Man", there is not one line of dialogue, relying solely on Irwin's physical movements.  
  • The ending features Irwin doing an impressive "descending a staircase" routine from inside the trunk.

****

SKETCH: UNCLE TEDDY'S LITTLE THEATRE

  • A strange janitor (Joe Piscopo) presents "Grandpa's Watch", the tale of how young Ricky (Gary Kroeger) deals with his overly-critical family.
  • This piece is a bit nasty in its humor, with the implication that Uncle Teddy is a sexual predator, and the downright cruelty of Ricky's parents' dismissive attitudes towards him.  The sketch works, though, and there's a satisfying twist that follows the grandfather's (Howard Hesseman) attempt to convince Ricky to shoot himself.
  • So much of this sketch would never fly today, especially in this age of heightened awareness of the impact of emotional abuse/bullying on youth suicide; the whole aspect of "Uncle Teddy's Home For Children" being a front for something a lot more unsavory also comes off considerably darker than SNL's later dips into "sex offender" humor.
  • Uncle Teddy reminds me of Will Forte's Jeff Montgomery character, largely for the pervert undertones, but it could also be the similar tastes in eyewear and facial hair.  Piscopo's little drops of his "understanding adult" facade into creepiness were entertaining though.
  • Duke stumbles over some of her lines.
  • The same living room set from "The Confession" is used here.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "DOWN UNDER"

  • A playful rendering of the follow-up single, which had peaked in Australia the previous December; at the time of the SNL performance, it was atop the Canadian charts but wouldn't appear on the US charts for two more weeks.  Like with the first song, there are some differences from the studio version, mainly in Colin Hay's delivery of a few of the lyrics and the instrumental break.
  • By this point in the show, they seem to be running short on time: the band plays the repeating coda into the commercial break without stopping for applause.

COMMERCIAL: THE AMAZING RONCO ANSWER BOOK

  • Every rhetorical question asked in commercials is answered in Ronco's new book.
  • Piscopo just seems to be running out the clock here; I wonder if there was more to this in dress rehearsal.  The rush actually works in the sketch's favor, even if it is just filler.

**

GOODNIGHTS

  • Hesseman addresses John Belushi again by saying they would have loved to have him there "but you were always such a physical comedian!".  The dwarf extras are in front; Brad Hall is visibly hyperactive.
  • No Pardo voiceover for the fourth live show in a row; it's very likely the goodnights were cut off on original broadcast.
  • Because the show had to be taped and broadcast from two studios, there are some extra names in the credits, including three stage managers instead of two and some extra camera operators (among the extra cameramen, Bailey Stortz and Bob Fraraccio).  There is also no credit for the live band; the show used canned music this week owing to the lack of space (it's obvious at the end of the opening credits).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Despite the additional logistical issues and stresses of the two-studio arrangement, this was a very strong episode with a strong host used well.  Hesseman's improv experience gave him an edge over the last few hosts, and unlike some weeks where Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo were featured to the exclusion of the other players, tonight's show felt like a true ensemble effort.

Addendum [08/23/14]: Gary Kroeger considers this his favorite show of all time.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Monologue
  • Hallway
  • Bill Irwin
  • Naked Wake
  • "Salute To Journalism" on Saturday Night News
  • Good Morning America

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • The Amazing Ronco Answer Book

MVP:

  • Howard Hesseman

CAST AND GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast:

  • Robin Duke: 3 appearances [Hallway, Naked Wake, Uncle Teddy's Little Theatre]; 1 voice-over [Girls of SNL]
  • Mary Gross: 3 appearances [Hallway, Caribbean Vacation, Naked Wake]; 1 voice-over [Girls of SNL]
  • Brad Hall: 3 apperances [DeLorean Home, Saturday Night News, Naked Wake]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 5 appearances [Hallway, Caribbean Vacation, Saturday Night News, Naked Wake, Uncle Teddy's Little Theatre]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [Hallway, Good Morning America, The Confession, Uncle Teddy's Little Theatre]
  • Julia Louis-Drefyus: 4 appearances [DeLorean Home, Caribbean Vacation, Saturday Night News, Naked Wake]; 1 voice-over [Girls of SNL]
  • Eddie Murphy: 4 appearances [Hallway, DeLorean Home, Caribbean Vacation, Naked Wake]
  • Joe Piscopo: 5 appearances [Hallway, Good Morning America, Saturday Night News, Uncle Teddy's Little Theatre, The Amazing Ronco Answer Book]; 2 voice-overs [Girls Of SNL]

crew and extras:

  • Paul Barrosse: 1 appearance [Hallway]
  • Butch: 1 appearance [Hallway]
  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [Hallway]
  • Andrew Kurtzman: 2 appearances [Hallway, Naked Wake]
  • Andy Murphy: 2 appearances [Hallway, Naked Wake]
  • Don Pardo: 1 voice-over [Saturday Night News]
  • Pepe: 1 appearance [Hallway]
  • Karen Roston: 1 appearance [Hallway]

guests:

  • Howard Hesseman: 7 appearances [Hallway, Monologue, DeLorean Home, The Confession, Caribbean Vacation, Naked Wake, Uncle Teddy's Little Theatre]
  • Men At Work: 2 appearances ["Who Can It Be Now?", "Down Under"]
  • Bill Irwin: 2 appearances [Hallway, Guest Performance]
  • Milan Melvin: 2 appearances [Hallway, Monologue]
  • Susan Saint James: 1 appearance [Hallway]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • December 18, 1982
  • August 13, 1983 

Sketches in the 03/24/84 Best Of special:

  • Good Morning America
  • Caribbean Vacation.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.