Classic SNL Review: November 9, 1985: Madonna / Simple Minds (S11E01)

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


  • To curb the show’s problems with drug use, Brandon Tartikoff announces the cast will go random urinalysis testing, and awaits Anthony Michael Hall’s sample.

  • The first sketch of the season isn’t great, but it has its moments, particularly Tartikoff admitting his previous idea to combat drug use (the honor system) failed badly, and that only the actors playing criminals on Miami Vice will be exempt from the network-wide drug testing. Tartikoff was a little stiff, but the audience was excited to see Hall, even if his inexperience with live sketch comedy was almost immediately apparent.

  • According to A. Whitney Brown, this was likely written by Al Franken and James Downey.

  • Rerun alteration: This was notably excluded from the repeat version of the show, as well as the one-hour syndication print. Brandon Tartikoff faced a lot of criticism for his participation in this sketch, including from Jack Perkins at KNBC; according to Perkins in his book Finding Moosewood, Finding God, Tartikoff issued a public apology for the sketch and announced NBC Entertainment would adopt a stricter policy on drug references.



  • A brand-new opening montage by collage artist Sarah Charlesworth debuts this episode. This always struck me as similar to the montage Edie Baskin and Sharon Haskell created for The New Show, right down to the same font being used for the cast and musical guests.

  • There’s also a “new” theme song for this season, in actuality an updated arrangement of the original Howard Shore composition that opened the show from 1975-80. As well, the SNL Band has been entirely revamped and restored to the full-size ensemble of earlier seasons. Aside from last year’s sole returning member Leroy Leon Pendarvis (piano, organ) and baritone sax player Lew Del Gatto (rejoining the band after a five year absence), the rest of the band is all new: G.E. Smith (guitar), Tom “T-Bone” Wolk (bass), Earl Gardner (trumpet), Alex Foster (alto sax), Lenny Pickett (tenor sax), Steve Turre (trombone), and Steve Ferrone (drums). Cheryl Hardwick (piano, organ) will also rejoin the band this year.

  • It sounds like Don Pardo isn’t quite sure how to pronounce “Danitra Vance”; he says it correctly but there’s a bit of hesitation in his voice.

  • Rerun alteration: The Sarah Charlesworth opening montage was replaced with the Dan Perri limo ride (v. 3) montage; Isaiah Wyner’s photos of Madonna and Simple Minds were pasted onto photos of NYC streetscapes. The theme song and Don Pardo’s intro were re-recorded. Bumpers were also redone to match the show’s updated visual identity.


  • Madonna shows home movies of her wedding to Sean Penn (Robert Downey Jr.)

  • Madonna acquits herself fine in the live segments, and the film (directed by Robert Leacock) has some good sight gags (particularly Joan Cusack as a Cyndi Lauper look-a-like cousin who Madonna never got along with), though it seems like they were milking the running jokes about Madonna’s dislike for potato salad and Penn being paparazzi-averse a little thin.

  • I really like the home base set this season, which is made to look like a New York City streetscape, with the band playing in the space above the music store, and the host and musical guest’s names appearing on the theatre marquee. The World Theatre was a real place on 49th Street (it actually appears in some of the revised bumpers for the rerun), though by the time of this show, it was cleaned up and renamed the “Embassy 49th Street”. It was demolished a few years later.

  • Heh, Father Guido Sarducci’s the priest marrying Madonna and Penn.

  • That same piece of stock music that appears at the end of the film was reused in The Kids in the Hall pilot during the “Do You Love Me” sketch.

  • Rerun alterations: moderate audience sweetening (mainly in bazooka shot scene and ending), rerun version fades into beginning of film instead of hard cut, music at end extended into live outro.



  • Upwardly-mobile, ambitious yuppies get what’s coming to them: eternal damnation.

  • A spoof of Michelob Beer ads from the time; I’ve always liked this one. Great job pivoting from the scenes of beer commercial high-living to the twist of all the yuppies being tortured in Hell.

  • This is James Signorelli’s return to the SNL film unit; Signorelli directed many of the show’s commercial parodies from 1976 to 1980, and would direct and produce many more until 2011.

  • This is also John Henry Kurtz’s first voiceover for SNL. Kurtz’s voice (if not his name) is instantly recognizable to anyone who watched SNL in the late 80s and 90s. Kurtz (who passed away in 2008) is also notably the first musician who recorded Mentor Williams’ “Drift Away” (later covered by Dobie Gray and Uncle Kracker).

  • I find it funny that two of the cast members in this (Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall) were both underage at the time this aired.

  • According to the ASCAP database, this was written by George Meyer.

  • Rerun alterations: Minimal; maybe some audience sweetening at the punchline.



  • A dramatization of Marilyn Monroe’s (Madonna) last night reveals that she was murdered by John F. Kennedy (Randy Quaid).

  • The first dud of the season; this had potential, particularly from the set-up involving Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz (“two half-truths add up to the whole truth”) and Danitra Vance (as the psychic/”fact checker”), but the actual dramatization itself mostly fell flat. Evidently the audience felt the same way too; in the live broadcast they’re eerily quiet throughout much of this, aside from a handful of jokes and Hall’s entrance as Bobby Kennedy. There is a long pause after one of Hall’s lines as if they were expecting the audience to laugh there (which they added in post-production for the rerun).

  • Joan Cusack’s delivery as the maid is awful. I don’t know if she was going for a deliberately bad performance (which doesn’t really match the rest of the dramatization, despite Hall’s dodgy impression), but she makes her character sound like she’s mentally slow.

  • I did laugh at the randomness of Robert Downey Jr. as Elvis and the fake-out with Vance seemingly in a trance revealed to just be her yawning.

  • According to Dennis Perrin, this sketch was another one that received considerable negative attention for its perceived tastelessness; when one reviewer assumed Michael O’Donoghue was to blame, O’Donoghue wrote a stinging missive that, between insults and profanities, revealed the sketch was authored by Al Franken, Tom Davis, Jim Downey and George Meyer, and that Franken, Davis and Downey were responsible for most of the night’s sketches.

  • Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening. Voiceover added to title card at the beginning. Jon Lovitz’s first line is replaced with dress rehearsal take to remove a stumble. Different music cue at the beginning of the re-enactment.



  • For the sake of his career, gay actor Clint Weston (Terry Sweeney) tries to butch it up in AIDS-adverse Hollywood.

  • I liked the idea, and Terry Sweeney gives a good performance, but the pacing felt off; the part where the leading lady (Madonna) realizes Weston’s charade felt a little too abrupt and without enough of a leadup.

  • Despite the reference (and the sound effect) about the hot tub being ready, the one on set clearly has no water in it (probably to minimize any chance of electrocution once the stage light fell in).

  • A piece of the new Weekend Update set can be seen when Sweeney is in the makeup chair.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. Sweeney’s first line “God, I hate wearing a brain bucket” and a bit of dead air in the scene where the whole crew reveals they’re gay is removed.



  • Simple MInds perform the first single from their current Once Upon a Time album, augmented by touring members Robin Clark (vocals) and Sue Hadjopoulos (percussion). The band sounds fine and lead singer Jim Kerr is energetic, but I find his hammy moments get in the way of his singing.

  • Hadjopoulos previously appeared on SNL in 1982 as part of The New Joe Jackson Band.

  • Rerun alteration: There is noticeable remixing; Kerr’s vocals are more prominent in this version of the mix, while Robin Clark’s vocals seem to be replaced with the studio recording in places or mixed down.


  • A new drama about a film critic (Jon Lovitz) willing to pay the price to maintain the integrity of his movie reviews.

  • Directed by regular Ebersol-era film director John Fox. Not many hard laughs in this one, but it has a decent concept (the world of film criticism being dramatized in the same manner of hard-hitting journalism), and there are some funny visual gags (the review’s headlines all ending in “…bites big one!”, the protester who has the “I don’t know what movie to see!” sign).

  • Jon Lovitz is only 28 here, but he really seems to fit the part of the self-serious, middle-aged film critic; according to Fox, Lovitz wanted to play the role more comedically.

  • The older man drunkenly confessing that most film critics are jealous, talentless people criticizing the honest work of creative people is actual film critic John Simon. Joe Blevins has more background on this appearance here; I think a bit of the humor in this scene is lost if you’re not familiar with who Simon is or his reputation, but the scene became funnier to me once that bit of background information was filled in.

  • There is also a credit in the goodnights for the newspaper location being provided by The Village Voice; Fox confirms that they used J. Hoberman’s cubicle.



  • Junkies Ned (Damon Wayans) and Fed (Anthony Michael Hall) keep prices on their stolen wares low because they eliminate the middle man.

  • Hall does the heavy lifting, but Wayans (who seems to be trying out the voice he would use for Anton Jackson) gets the bigger laughs here, and elevates the premise.

  • For some reason, Downey’s silent appearance as the thief bringing in the Commodore computer cracked me up; something about his dopey grin.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. Hall’s first loogie at the beginning was removed. Don Pardo’s narration at the end (“Two junkies be located…”) was censored on the West Coast and rerecorded (“The Jones Brothers be located…”) for the repeat with an even more egregious attempt at a “black” voice.



  • Best jokes: Constitutionality of oral and anal sex ban, Philippines election, clinically dead for 4 minutes

  • Dennis Miller makes his debut as the Weekend Update anchor, establishing his persona immediately by commenting sarcastically on the lack of audience applause at the beginning of the segment (a joke ruined by the post-production in the rerun). Already, he’s an improvement over the last couple of SNL news anchors, and he’s pretty much the same Dennis Miller that would define Weekend Update over the next six years, but it’s interesting to hear an audience that isn’t quite as acclimatized to his style. He does get some other good digs at the audience as well (“thank you for applauding the carnage” after a joke about Libya taking itself hostage and committing suicide one by one).

  • That said, tonight’s edition features some oddities, including a videotaped item featuring Jon Lovitz as a UN delegate demonstrating “the new, safer heave-ho”, and a segment called Weekend Update Sports Fantasy, in which a “viewer’s dream” to bat against Goose Gossage ends up being a repeat of Gossage’s fastball hitting Ron Cey in the head (incorporating footage from the 1981 World Series). Both are alright but a bit uncharacteristic of the Dennis Miller update.

  • Can anyone ID the guy playing Bobby Caltrano (the participant in the Sports Fantasy segment)?

  • Rerun alterations: The videotaped opening with a plain-text font on the title card is replaced with one used later in the season, with the graphic that imitates the then-current NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw logo. Heavy audience sweetening, including at the very beginning.

*** 1/2


  • A Spanish-language variety show from Miami features songs and special guests.

  • This feels like something the writers would have a better handle on later in their careers, but as it stands, it was a fun sketch and a good way to incorporate Madonna.

  • Hall looks a little lost as one of the dancers but Sweeney’s facial expressions cracked me up.

  • Randy Quaid looks absolutely nothing like Joaquin Andujar, but I’m glad they didn’t go the Billy Crystal route and do the dark makeup on Quaid. The scene where he remains on stage a few seconds too long during Marika’s number was also funny.

  • Written by Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch and Robert Smigel; Smigel appears in the background as one of the singers, while McKinney does the voice of El Pato Loco and the voiceover during the “Tres Veces Un Hombre” number.

  • Rerun alterations: Microphone feedback removed during “Take On Me” (backing singers’ vocals also had to be mixed out”. Mild to moderate audience sweetening, including applause added at end of “Tres Veces Un Hombre”.

*** 1/2


  • To show that card tricks aren’t for wimps, Penn Jillette does one as Teller holds his breath while trapped in a tank of water.

  • This was easily the best live part of the show, with Penn Jillette doing the card trick at a leisurely pace and Teller getting some funny reaction shots in, as well as some funny interplay when Penn keeps showing the wrong card and Teller “panics” (tossing the key off Penn’s head at one point), not to mention Penn’s casual reaction to his partner’s “death”.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild to moderate audience sweetening.



  • With the press gone and the booze flowing, Ronald (Randy Quaid) and Nancy Reagan (Terry Sweeney) play George and Martha to Prince Charles’ (Jon Lovitz) Nick and Princess Di’s (Madonna) Honey.

  • The debut of Randy Quaid and Terry Sweeney’s Ron and Nancy Reagan impressions. Sweeney’s take on the First Lady would be one of the highlights of the season, and while Quaid’s impression is not as strong as Phil Hartman or Harry Shearer’s, I’ve always it underrated; he doesn’t resemble or sound a whole lot like Reagan but he and Sweeney really found a different take that puts a stronger emphasis on characterization.

  • That said, I thought the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? angle was interesting but doesn’t really take off (though Madonna gets a funny scene as a drunken Princess Di ranting in a run-on sentence about being a person and not a thing), and the whole sketch just seems to peter out despite Quaid and Sweeney’s performances. The ending just seems to lie flat.

  • According to Terry Sweeney, this was written by Al Franken.

  • Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening.

** 1/2


  • The Floating Head (Randy Quaid) presents the tale of a woman (Madonna) harassed by a crazed caller (Jon Lovitz).

  • The debut of another 1985-86 staple, and the only Limits of the Imagination sketch to be pre-taped (aside from Randy Quaid’s intro). I’m not entirely sure what the main joke is; that the SNL went to the trouble and expense of using the film unit on a weak sketch? The whole “cut-rate Twilight Zone” thing seems to work better in the live setting (and indeed was done before in The New Show’s Twilight Zonettes).

  • I do enjoy Randy Quaid’s weak “powers” in the intro (“We can make it sound like I’m speaking underwater!”), and got some unexpected laughs from Jon Lovitz playing the psycho; maybe back then when his voice wasn’t so recognizable he would have seemed a little more menacing.

  • The film segment was directed by James Signorelli; as well, John Henry Kurtz provided the voice of Sgt. Tedrow on the phone.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.

* 1/2


  • Teenage mother Cabrini Green Jackson (Danitra Vance) teaches safe sex with her “I Don’t Want A Baby” Coloring Book.

  • Vance brings her best-known character out for a short two-minute solo bit at the end of the show; she’s good, but this really feels like it was a last minute time-filler to a show that was running late or that she had to cut her piece significantly.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.



  • Madonna thanks the audience for coming; Randy Quaid and Penn Jillette tower over everyone else, Teller is still drying off from his stint in the tank, Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr. are buddy-buddy, and Damon Wayans strikes a tough-guy pose.

  • The studio feed cuts off after the Eaves-Brooks credit in the live show, but the rerun shows the credits are in the same yellow lowercase headers and white block letters as the 1982-85 seasons.

  • A credit for a pre-tape called “Wacky Glue” appears in the credits; it will appear in next week’s show.

Final thoughts: An underwhelming first impression to the season, though I wouldn’t call it a complete disaster (despite what some writers in Live From New York recall). The silent audience in a few sketches understandably doesn’t help (something mitigated by the post-production in the repeat version), but the distance of time has helped somewhat. Madonna’s certainly not at fault; in fact, I would say she was better at sketch comedy than a few of the regulars. A few cast members made good impressions too, particularly Randy Quaid, Terry Sweeney, Dennis Miller and Damon Wayans. Still, aside from a commercial parody and a guest performance, nothing really stood out as great, and the weaknesses felt more apparent tonight: concepts that don’t deliver on their promise, no sense of the cast as a unit, and a little too much leaning on Anthony Michael Hall. I guess people anticipated Lorne Michaels’ return to the show would mean it would automatically be at 1975-79 quality, but this feels closer to an off night in 1979-80 or (more appropriately) The New Show, which had a similar overemphasis on big stars and big concepts.


  • Penn & Teller

  • Where You’re Going

  • Weekend Update

  • El Spectaculare De Marika


  • The Limits Of The Imagination

  • National Inquirer Theatre


Randy Quaid



  • Joan Cusack: 4 appearances [Monologue, Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting]

  • Robert Downey Jr.: 7 appearances [Monologue, Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, The Jones Brothers, El Spectaculare De Marika, Royal Visit]

  • Nora Dunn: 4 appearances [Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Critic, Royal Visit]

  • Anthony Michael Hall: 6 appearances [Drug Testing, Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, The Jones Brothers, El Spectaculare De Marika]

  • Jon Lovitz: 8 appearances [Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, Critic, Weekend Update, El Spectaculare De Marika, Royal Visit, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Dennis Miller: 2 appearances [Weekend Update, Royal Visit]

  • Randy Quaid: 7 appearances [Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, Critic, El Spectaculare De Marika, Royal Visit, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Terry Sweeney: 5 appearances [Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, El Spectaculare De Marika, Royal Visit]

  • Danitra Vance: 3 appearance [Where You’re Going, National Inquirer Theatre, Coloring Book]

featured players

  • Damon Wayans: 4 appearances [Where You’re Going, Critic, The Jones Brothers, El Spectaculare De Marika]

unbilled crew, extras and bit players

  • Joe Dicso: 1 appearance [Pinklisting]

  • Al Franken: 1 voice-over [Pinklisting]

  • John Henry Kurtz: 2 voice-overs [Where You’re Going, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Mark McKinney: 2 voice-overs [El Spectaculare De Marika (2 roles)]

  • Don Novello: 1 appearance [Monologue]

  • Don Pardo: 1 voice-over [The Jones Brothers]

  • Robert Smigel: 2 appearances [Pinklisting, El Spectaculare De Marika]

  • Dan Vitale: 1 appearance [Monologue]


  • Madonna: 6 appearances [Monologue, National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, El Spectaculare De Marika, Royal Visit, The Limits of the Imagination]

  • Simple Minds: 1 appearance [“Alive & Kicking”]

  • Penn & Teller: 1 appearance [Guest Performance]

  • John Simon: 1 appearance [Critic]

  • Brandon Tartikoff: 1 appearance [Drug Testing]


  • June 28, 1986

Known alterations:

  • Drug Testing and Critic removed

  • “Sanctify Yourself” added (dress rehearsal)

  • Audience sweetening:

    • Minimal to mild: Where You’re Going, The Limits of the Imagination, Coloring Book

    • Moderate: Monologue, Pinklisting, The Jones Brothers, El Spectaculare De Marika, Penn & Teller

    • Heavy: National Inquirer Theatre, Weekend Update, Royal Visit

  • Edits: National Inquirer Theatre, Pinklisting, Jones Brothers

  • Dress substitutions: National Inquirer Theatre (one line)

Repeat-only content:


  • This was Simple Minds’ first number in dress rehearsal, going by the clock on the set. Madonna’s “once again” intro is also very obviously spliced in, as she is seen in the wide shot panning to the band stage wearing a different outfit.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.