Classic SNL Review: October 20, 1984: Rev. Jesse Jackson / Andrae Crouch, Wintley Phipps (S10E03)

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

COLD OPENING: ADVICE

  • Sammy Davis Jr. (Billy Crystal) counsels Rev. Jesse Jackson on how to successfully host Saturday Night Live.
  • I’ve already touched on the blackface aspect of Crystal’s impression before, so I’m not going to discuss it further. Jackson is a little stiff, but his demeanor works in the context of the scene; he still manages to get have some good bits (his impressions of Bush and Reagan, the reveal of his favorite song), and I actually found he provided more laughs than Crystal’s more gregarious energy (his delivery on “you’ve got that eye thing” got a huge response).
  • Judging by Crystal’s “you started ad-libbing on me, man”, I get the impression Jackson’s “The Grenada’s coming to get us!” line in the Reagan impression was unscripted.
  • The lack of a live band during the “displaced from 8H” shows really seems apparent when Crystal and Jackson sing a Sammy Davis Jr. style version of “Red Rubber Ball”.

***

MONOLOGUE

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson discusses the successes of his campaign, tells a joke about the press, and praises SNL for hiring so many black people. When technical difficulties force Jesse to make a trip backstage, the all-white crew flees and a black one takes its place.
  • The first part of this was a little dry for SNL, but Rev. Jackson is still an engaging speaker, and has an understated humor that pops up throughout. The second part, with the control room evacuation, is where this really takes off, and the apparent cluelessness of the fake director (“Feedback’s bad, that’s right, feedback’s bad”) is my favorite detail.
  • Guest writer Thad Mumford, plays Hank, the black director; Mumford is best known for his work on the later years of M*A*S*H, including the finale, and A Different World. Regular SNL bit players Clint Smith and Yvonne Hudson can be seen as the other black crew members, while the real SNL control room staff plays themselves, including Dave Wilson and Heino Ripp, plus (I think) Bob Caminiti and Jeannine Kerwin Tree.

****

SKETCH: DO YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE?

  • When their elevator breaks down, messengers Willie (Billy Crystal) and Frankie (Christopher Guest) discuss the many ways they masochistically injure themselves.
  • This is the first appearance of these characters, who will end up as one of the most repeated bits of this season. This first one feels a little faster paced compared to the later sketches (and the main hook of the sketch isn’t really apparent until a few minutes in), but the formula is in place, including the finishing each others’ sentences, stating their sexual desirability (usually in reference to the often-mentioned secretary from Sheidelman Suits). This sketch comes across as more organic than SNL’s later forays in to formula, though, largely because there are so many possibilities for Guest and Crystal to take their stories.
  • I enjoyed the exchange about the Presidential debate having the “same guys as last time” and how they couldn’t tell who won because they didn’t flash any scores.

*** 1/2

SHOW: THE QUESTION IS MOOT!

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson declares that his game show’s questions are ultimately irrelevant because of the political issues facing America today.
  • According to Kevin Kelton, one of Rev. Jackson’s conditions for agreeing to host the show was to be allowed to have at least one sketch that espoused his political views; this particular sketch was successful in both meeting this requirement and being quite funny.  Jesse stumbles on a few lines, but again gets to be the funniest part of the sketch, from the slight hostility towards the contestants (“Eleanora-“ “Not important”) to his declaration of “I get the car!” after the game runs out of time.
  • There’s a reference to an anti-nuclear protest regarding the Battleship Iowa in Brooklyn Harbour; according to Dennis Perrin, that really was happening as the show was being broadcast live.
  • Martin Short mentions that he co-wrote this sketch with Andy Breckman in his memoir I Must Say: My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend; if so, this is surprising considering that Short doesn't appear in it nor does it really seem like his style.

****

COMMERCIAL: REFRIGERATOR MAGNET SAFETY ADVISORY BOARD

  • Be aware of the three warning signs that your child has been eating refrigerator magnets.
  • A bit short of being a classic, but there are some nice sight gags (the surgical instruments flying onto the kid’s stomach, Frederick Koehler slowly and repeatedly pivoting to face north and Mary Gross reaching out to turn him back).
  • Directed by Claude Kerven and written by Rich Hall

***

SKETCH: JUST KIDDING

  • Kurt (Billy Crystal) repeatedly alternates between telling his co-worker’s parents (Jim Belushi and Pamela Stephenson) that their son is dead and saying he’s kidding.
  • The premise is a little thin, but the execution was well done, with Billy Crystal going back and forth from wailing to chipper on a dime and Jim Belushi slowly growing angrier (and confused: “I lost my place here”). Pamela Stephenson is stuck in a thankless role again, but she does well with what she’s given.

***

SKETCH: FIRST CLASS

  • Talkative Ed Grimley (Martin Short) thwarts Rev. Jesse Jackson’s nap, then panics when he sees a demon on the airplane’s wing. Rev. Jackson walks off the sketch and visits the control room again.
  • Not quite as successful as the first Grimley sketch, but I like that they kept continuity with the first sketch (Grimley is returining from the Hawaiian vacation he won on Wheel of Fortune), and the ending with Jackson walking off to the control room to complain about “this guy with the crazy hair” boosts things.
  • Martin Short already gets a smattering of recognition applause for his entrance, but not quite as much as he would get for the later Ed Grimley sketches.
  • Writers visible in this sketch: Kevin Kelton sits across the aisle from Rev. Jackson, while Larry David (who’s mostly in shadow) and visiting original SNL writer Alan Zweibel are in the seats in front of Jackson and Short.

***

CARTOON: "TIPPI TURTLE" – ZANDER PRODUCTIONS INC.

  • Tippi Turtle (voice of Christopher Guest) shows how to use a musical greeting card’s electronic chip to annoy people.
  • I’d put this a step below the first one with the lighter-than-air package, but this was still enjoyable.
  • Written by Andy Breckman.
  • The live show has a technical error where the audio can be heard but the video isn’t seen for most of the intro; this actually helps continue the “obviously fake crew” joke from the end of the previous sketch. This is fixed in the rerun version, though.

***

COMMERCIAL: WRONG VOICE, RIGHT FACE

  • Singing an “Eyes Without A Face” variant, Billy Idol’s (Pamela Stephenson) new album highlights the disconnect between his rocker image and crooner voice.
  • One of two pieces with Stephenson making fun of a current music star this season (she also does the pretaped “Who’s he trying to kid” background vocals on the song); this was funny, but also feels like an attempt to find something for her to do on the show by working a Not The Nine O’Clock News style song parody into the SNL format.

***

MISCELLANEOUS: FUNNY BLACK PEOPLE

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson points out that SNL doesn’t currently have any black performers, and invites minorities to contact Dick Ebersol for the chance to demonstrate how funny they are.
  • I have to give Rev. Jackson and the show credit for addressing the glaring lack of minority performers this season (one of five years without a black cast member or featured player), but the piece mostly fell flat. This does, however, feature a rare on-camera appearance from SNL executive producer Dick Ebersol, and the shot of him as Rev. Jackson implored people to contact him directly made me laugh.

**

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS

  • Instead of reading joke news stories, Rev. Jesse Jackson injects wit and commentary into items about the Battleship Iowa and Desmond Tutu winning the Nobel Peace Prize, before getting into the meat of tonight’s segments, where he dissects Reagan’s answers in the debate. This was a wise move; not only is Rev. Jackson better served by getting his viewpoint across, but his debate analysis has some of his funniest moments all night.
  • Because of the Equal Time Rule (which is sorely missed in 2017), Young Republicans representative Bob James (Martin Short) tries to give a rebuttal criticizing Rev. Jackson for “hijacking the show”, but Jackson quickly intimidates him to the point of tears. Short performs this well, but I thought Rev. Jackson was the funnier of the two here.
  • Jim Belushi returns as Rappin’ Jimmy B, whose poor attempt at rap prompts Rev. Jackson to come up with his own rhymes calling him out. The initial Belushi rap is as cringeworthy as one would expect, but having Rev. Jackson not enjoy it gave this an extra level of humor compared to the earlier Rappin’ Jimmy B pieces. Nate Herman co-wrote this piece with Eliot Wald at Belushi’s behest; according to Herman, Rev. Jackson nixed a line about Belushi making words “sound like they’re picking cotton”.

*** 1/2

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "RIGHT NOW" - ANDRAE CROUCH

  • From Crouch’s 1984 album No Time To Lose, this is very different from what SNL usually books; considering the show’s tendency to book really tinny synth-based bands around this time, this catchy gospel number brought an infectious joy and energy that wasn’t often seen on the show.
  • Crouch’s co-soloist is Tata Vega; one of the backing vocalists is Rose Stone (according to her website), while Bill Maxwell is the drummer. I’m not sure who else is in the band, but it looks like regular SNL keyboard player Leon Pendarvis on the organ. Vega and Stone would return to SNL in 2011 as backing vocalists for Elton John and Leon Russell (whose collaboration album, The Union, features Maxwell’s vocal arrangements and conducting).

MISCELLANEOUS: JEANE

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson reveals that his presidential campaign was driven by a love jones for UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
  • A quick, smart piece that has Rev. Jackson quoting the Rod McKuen-penned theme from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie while getting a few digs at Kirkpatrick’s foreign policy, while some of the most unflattering photos of the ambassador appear on the screen. I loved the little solo slow-dance he does at the very end.
  • Written by Kevin Kelton

*** 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: RICH HALL'S ELECTION REPORT

  • Rich Hall meets with the president of the Undecided Voters league (Christopher Guest), whose indecisiveness extends beyond politics.

 

  • While Guest has a good commitment to the role, and there are some funny visual elements, this taped bit (directed by Craig McKay) was a little too dry and one-joke, and ended up being just as frustrating to watch as it would be to experience in real life.

**

MISCELLANEOUS: FASHION REPORT

  • Mr. Blackwell (Harry Shearer) has choice words about the fashion disasters at the Soap Opera Awards.
  • Shearer’s Mr. Blackwell impression is funnier once you see a clip of the real Richard Blackwell; there are some funny quips, but so much of the impression’s humor comes from the way he nails Blackwell’s speaking cadence and mannerisms.
  • This was Harry Shearer’s only on-camera sketch tonight. According to Kevin Kelton, Shearer had written his own Reagan sketch after deciding he wasn’t satisfied with a Dick Ebersol-commissioned one that Kelton, Andrew Kurtzman and Eliot Wald wrote; neither piece ended up in the show.

***

MISCELLANEOUS: RAINBOW COALITION

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson lists the few people not welcome in the Rainbow Coalition, like Dick Cavett.
  • Another quick bit built around Rev. Jackson on stage by himself; this is good for a late-in-show piece and has a particularly funny visual joke (the guy with the sideburns longer than his head hair also being the poster child for “founders of fan clubs”- looks like he’s a Scott Baio fan).
  • If anyone’s wondering who the “actor who looks like Dick Cavett” is, his name is James Murtaugh.
  • At the end of the piece, the corner of the record of Rev. Jackson’s Our Time Has Come speech can be seen being held up by someone on-screen.

***

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "TELL ME AGAIN" - WINTLEY PHIPPS

  • The lead track on Phipps’ We Are One record released the next year. Phipps, a Seventh-Day Adventist minister who sang following Rev. Jackson’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July 1984, has an impressive booming baritone and holds some very long notes. The decision to sing solo on-stage to a pre-recorded backing track feels out of place on SNL, perhaps even more so than the religious content of the song.

GOODNIGHTS

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson presents Dick Ebersol with a copy of the album of his DNC speech (Our Time Has Come, released on MCA/Constellation records) and gives the address for viewers to contact the Rainbow Coalition before Andrae Crouch and Wintley Phipps lead a version of Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon” instead of the regular closing theme.
  • SNL producer Bob Tischler can also be seen in the group during the goodnights; he’s the bald bearded guy on the left-hand side of the stage.
  • Thad Mumford, David Misch and Alan Zweibel are credited as guest writers.

Final thoughts:

A solid show, though not as many breakthrough moments as the season premiere. Rev. Jesse Jackson, despite a little stiffness, a few line fumbles here and there, and playing himself all night, was a strong host, able to carry solo pieces (Jeane, Rainbow Coalition) or play off the other performers with an understated but sharp wit; his presence even managed to improve Saturday Night News. With Rev. Jackson featuring heavily this week, the cast understandably takes a backseat in this show, though there are a few signs of the show’s eventual over-embrace of recurring sketches this week (the second Grimley sketch in three weeks).

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Question Is Moot!
  • Monologue
  • Jeane
  • Do You Know What I Hate?
  • Saturday Night News

SHOW LOWLIGHTS:

  • Funny Black People
  • Rich Hall’s Election Report

MVP:

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Jim Belushi: 2 appearances [Just Kidding, Saturday Night News]
  • Billy Crystal: 3 appearances [Advice, Do You Know What I Hate?, Just Kidding]
  • Mary Gross: 2 appearances [The Question Is Moot!, Refrigerator Magnet Safety Advisory Board]; 1 voice-over [Tippi Turtle]
  • Christopher Guest: 2 appearances [Do You Know What I Hate?, Rich Hall’s Election Report]; 2 voice-overs [Refrigerator Magnet Safety Advisory Board, Tippi Turtle]
  • Rich Hall: 2 appearances [Refrigerator Magnet Safety Advisory Board, Rich Hall’s Election Report]
  • Gary Kroeger: 1 appearance [The Question Is Moot!]; 2 voice-overs [First Class, Tippi Turtle]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 2 appearances [The Question Is Moot!, First Class]
  • Harry Shearer: 1 appearance [Fashion Report]; 1 voice-over [Wrong Voice, Right Face]
  • Martin Short: 2 appearances [First Class, Saturday Night News]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 2 appearances [Just Kidding, Wrong Voice, Right Face]

crew and extras

  • Bob Caminiti: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Larry David: 1 appearance [First Class]
  • Dick Ebersol: 1 appearance [Funny Black People]
  • Yvonne Hudson: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Kevin Kelton: 1 appearance [First Class]
  • Jeannine Kerwin Tree: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Frederick Koehler: 1 appearance [Refrigerator Magnet Safety Advisory Board]
  • Thad Mumford: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Heino Ripp: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Clint Smith: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Dave Wilson: 2 appearances [Monologue, First Class]
  • Alan Zweibel: 1 appearance [First Class]

guests

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson: 8 appearances [Advice, Monologue, The Question Is Moot!, First Class, Funny Black People, Saturday Night News, Jeane, Rainbow Coalition]
  • Andrae Crouch: 1 appearance [“Right Now”]
  • Wintley Phipps: 1 appearance [“Tell Me Again”]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • December 22, 1984
  • June 15, 1985

Known alterations:

  • Funny Black People removed
  • Buddy Young Jr. is Back (from 11/03/84) added
  • Tippi Turtle technical glitch fixed

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.