Classic SNL Review: January 28, 1984: Don Rickles / Billy Idol (S09E11)

RATING SYSTEM:

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

OPENING: TV PRESIDENT

  • Hours before formally announcing his candidacy, President Reagan (Joe Piscopo) offers the benefits of a second term and other deals in the style of a Ronco infomercial.
  • The premise was a little thin, and I've never been crazy about Joe Piscopo's Reagan impression, but this played to his strengths as a performer and was only about a minute long. It worked, although the Ebersol era's de-emphasis on political humor is felt here.

***

MONOLOGUE

  • Don Rickles serves put-downs to members of the audience, John Madden, Brandon Tartikoff, and director Dave Wilson.
  • It wouldn't have been right for Rickles to host the show without getting to do his routine in the monologue. Mr. Warmth is on fire here; whether you're a fan or not, it is impressive to see the man work the crowd with his rapid timing and interact with the audience. Ending with Rickles spitting venom at director Dave Wilson was a strong way to wrap up.

****

COMMERCIAL: KANNON AE-1 (repeat from 05/07/83)

SKETCH: I MARRIED A MONKEY (VI)

  • Tim asks pal Jerry (Don Rickles) to talk sense into wayward Madge, but unbeknownst to him, the two have been carrying on a years-long affair.
  • Dave Sabo's chimps return for one final installment; while still pretty par for the course for a Monkey sketch, this outing is an improvement over the one in the Robert Guillaume show, where Madge had to be sedated for air. Having Kazurinsky take a backseat to the more high-strung Rickles this time also helped differentiate this from previous Monkeys.
  • True to Tim Kazurinsky's original reason for doing these sketches, there are a few unscripted moments here: Rickles' monkey noises cause baby Ronnie to start hooting in response, and Rickles himself breaks character as he asks aloud whether Tim suspects the baby's his.

*** 

 COMMERCIAL: THE HAMLISCH MANEUVER

  • The best way to help a choking victim is exposure to Marvin Hamlisch's (Joe Piscopo) nauseating songs and smarm.
  • A weaker bit based on a thin joke, and it seemed like this would have hit harder had it come a few years before. I felt the voiceover at the end was unneccesary, although the prop diagram was a nice touch.

**

  • SHOW: FASCINATING PEOPLE AND THEIR FRIENDS
  • Dr. Joyce Brothers and How To Get Girls Using Dynamite author Lester Poncey (Eddie Murphy) have differing views on relationships.
  • A lower-key and somewhat underrated Eddie Murphy sketch. I actually thought Dr. Joyce Brothers stole this away from Murphy with her icy "just Doctor" after Kazurinsky's Mike Nash asks how to address her.
  • Recorded September 21, 1983 at the preview show. This was the first "Fascinating People" sketch recorded, but the second aired; Piscopo's voice-over at the beginning makes more sense when you consider this.

*** 1/2

SKETCH: WITNESS RELOCATION

  • Informant Mr. Booty (Don Rickles) has reason to doubt the abilities and efforts of the FBI's Witness Relocation department.
  • A very loose, very silly sketch, and the point where tonight's show officially starts to take off. The cavalier attitude the agents seem to have towards Rickles' character's safety (their disguise is merely a giant hat, they give his home address to a suspicious-sounding person in the hall) is funny enough, but what really makes this a classic is the amount of ad-libbing between Rickles and Piscopo, which escalates quickly from Piscopo gently slapping Rickles' face. Rickles calling Jim Belushi's sunglasses-wearing character "blind cop" also felt like an ad-lib on his part.

 *****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "WHITE WEDDING"

  • This seemed a little off and thin-sounding. It could be the direction interfering with the energy of the song, but I wonder if Billy was already bored with it by this point ("White Wedding" was from his self-titled debut album, already over a year old by this time). The notable thing about this performance is the incorporation of the instrumental break from the extended version.
  • Rickles prefaces the performance with a barb for Billy ("I hope you go to the barber and he makes a mistake!") 

SKETCH: SAINT DON OF VERONA

  • Friar Don (Don Rickles) gives counsel and ad-libs insults during the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene.
  • Rickles is in good form here ("You people talk funny!"), but this doesn't really take off until he references Piscopo's slaps in the Witness Relocation sketch, which makes the sketch transcend its somewhat flimsy premise. It's also fun to watch everyone's faces as Rickles rants at Piscopo (culminating in "I hope Eddie Murphy robs your house!").

****

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • The start of the "guest anchor" era of Saturday Night News; tonight's edition is mostly based around Rickles giving comment on "faces in the news". It's not bad, but not really a great fit for Rickles' normal rhythm.
  • Tim Kazurinsky debuts a new character here: Worthington Clotman, the stuffy vice-president of NBC Standards & Practices. Named for real life network censor William G. Clotworthy, Kazurinsky basically does a few insult jokes "in character" as examples of what he dislikes about Rickles before referring to him as "a certain fat little bald Jew from Las Vegas who should wear a truss over his head as a muzzle". A little obvious, but it worked.

** 1/2

SKETCH: SYMPATHY DATE

  • El Dorko (Gary Kroeger) demonstrates a hidden savvy when Becky (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) excuses herself from a pity date with him.
  • Kroeger debuts his El Dorko character here, and gives him this understated quality that helps the sketch. This feels a little bit like a palate-cleanser in the structure of tonight's show, at least compared with the more manic energy that Rickles brings to his sketches.

***

SKETCH: THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE

  • On the window ledge, Freddie Whipper (Gary Kroeger) presents suicidal Vegas comedian Mel Fifkin (Don Rickles) with deceased figures from his past.
  • Another sketch where the highlight is Rickles cutting loose to do battle with Joe Piscopo, first in an impression-off (which at one point includes Piscopo's take on Bill Saluga's Raymond J. Johnson Jr. character), then culminating in Rickles going to the side of the stage to chase after him as he descends a hidden ladder following a split-screen "vanish" effect. I found the part with Mary Gross' ex-wife character weak (although Kroeger does a funny impression of the way she says "alimony"), but Rickles' breaking the fourth wall boosts this.
  • The repeat version adds a burst of canned applause after Pardo announces the "This Is Your Afterlife" title.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "REBEL YELL"

  • Billy Idol gives a more energetic performance than he did in the first number, with some writhing during Steve Stevens' solo.
  • One thing that bugs me about the direction of this performance: keyboardist Judi Dozier sang backup on the "more, more, more" parts of the chorus, but was usually off-camera whenever they used a "from below" shot (which were overused in this period of the show's history, IMO).

MISCELLANEOUS: ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

  • David Letterman's (Joe Piscopo) 2nd Anniversary Special will air in the SNL timeslot next week; Pee-Wee Herman (Mary Gross) brings a Johnny Carson doll.
  • I actually don't have this in either of my copies of the show; I received the screengrabs and transcript (thanks, G. Gomez), but this seemed to be more a run-out-the-clock segment than anything else, so I'll refrain from assigning a rating. 
  • As this was a promo for a real special that aired the next week, this segment was removed from the repeat version of the show; the original airing ran long so there wasn't anything added to the repeat to fill time. 

GOODNIGHTS

  • Rickles beams about being back in New York and the joy of working with everyone this week, and sends love to his wife, kids and mother.
  • Tim Kazurinsky and Brad Hall are in costume from a sketch (written by Kevin Kelton) involving a cavalry officer not noticing his post had been taken over by Indians; this had to be cut from the show when the ad-libbing made it run over time.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

A huge improvement over the previous two shows, and the best show of the season so far. Most of the credit goes to Don Rickles: the show wisely let him ad-lib, which gave his sketches energy, particularly when he was paired with Joe Piscopo, who had one of his best nights tonight. Rickles' fast comic timing worked better with the show's rhythms than Jerry Lewis's stretching, although the attempt to work it into the Saturday Night News format didn't quite work. Lastly, unlike other shows this season, Eddie Murphy's absence wasn't felt too strongly; most of the cast gets decent screentime, though Jim Belushi only appears in one sketch and Robin Duke only has two small parts this week.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Witness Relocation
  • This Is Your Afterlife
  • Saint Don of Verona
  • Monologue
  • Fascinating People and Their Friends

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • The Hamlisch Maneuver

MVP:

  • Don Rickles

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 1 appearance [Witness Relocation]
  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [The Hamlisch Maneuver, Saint Don of Verona]
  • Mary Gross: 4 appearances [Saint Don of Verona, Sympathy Date, This Is Your Afterlife, Anniversary Special]
  • Brad Hall: 4 appearances [The Hamlisch Maneuver, Saint Don of Verona, Sympathy Date, This Is Your Afterlife]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 6 appearances [I Married A Monkey, The Hamlisch Maneuver, Fascinating People and Their Friends, Witness Relocation, Saturday Night News, This Is Your Afterlife]
  • Gary Kroeger: 4 appearances [The Hamlisch Maneuver, Saint Don of Verona, Sympathy Date, This Is Your Afterlife]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 3 appearances [The Hamlisch Maneuver, Saint Don of Verona, Sympathy Date]
  • Eddie Murphy: 1 appearance [Fascinating People and their Friends]
  • Joe Piscopo: 6 appearances [TV President, The Hamlisch Maneuver, Witness Relocation, Saint Don of Verona, This Is Your Afterlife, Anniversary Special]; 1 voice-overs [Fascinating People and Their Friends]

crew and extras

  • Jackson Beck: 1 voice-over [The Hamlisch Maneuver]
  • Don Pardo: 1 voice-over [This Is Your Afterlife]
  • Dave Wilson: 1 voice-over [Monologue]

guests

  • Don Rickles: 6 appearances [Monologue, I Married A Monkey, Witness Relocation, Saint Don of Verona, Saturday Night News, This Is Your Afterlife]
  • Billy Idol: 2 appearances ["White Wedding", "Rebel Yell"]
  • Dr. Joyce Brothers: 1 appearance [Fascinating People and Their Friends]

REBROADCAST HISTORY

  • April 28, 1984
  • September 22, 1984

Known Alterations:

  • Sound effect added to This Is Your Afterlife
  • Anniversary Promo removed

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.