Each week, I will be posting a list of 25 sketches from each 5 year block of the show's history (five sketches per season), a description of the sketch, and what about it that's worth checking out.
- Hard Hats (Lily Tomlin, 11/22/1975)
What's it about? Construction boss Lily Tomlin coaches her all-female class on sexually harassing attractive men from the girders.
Why it's worth checking out: This sketch by Rosie Shuster and Anne Beatts (who also appear as extras in the classroom) is (sadly) still relevant in 2018, but what really puts this beyond just a mere role reversal is that the discomfort and humiliation that "exchange student Danny [Aykroyd]" experiences is played realistically.
- Janitor in the Fridge (Peter Boyle / Al Jarreau, 02/14/1976)
What's it about? An unfaithful wife (Jane Curtin) hastily explains all the strangers her husband (Peter Boyle) finds hiding around the house
Why it's worth checking out: Jane Curtin's performance, a mixture of guilty spouse trying to cover her tracks and chipper pitchwoman reciting ad copy for "products" like Doorman In The Closet, Mailman and the Maid, and Milkman In The Bedroom.
- Jill Carson: Guidance Counselor! (Jill Clayburgh / Leon Redbone, 02/28/1976)
What's it about? Idealistic guidance counselor Jill Carson (Jill Clayburgh) is convinced that she can help delinquent Julio (John Belushi) fulfill his potential as a surgeon.
Why it's worth checking out: An early example of the show's growing ambitions, this sketch uses three sets and packs quite a few jokes in (Jill's stories about the roads that famous people might have taken if not for their guidance counselors, the school's name and combination sports-music appreciation team). The pitch-black punchline at the end is the capper.
- Household Hints (Anthony Perkins / Betty Carter, 03/13/1976)
What's it about? Sue's (Gilda Radner) new "housekeeper" from the Village Voice classifieds turns out to be a dominatrix (Jane Curtin).
Why it's worth checking out: Mainly for the interplay between Curtin and Radner; this sketch also references a couple of advertising campaigns of the day (including one of L'eggs that ran often during breaks for SNL when it first went on the air) to make fun of how commercials sell women's "success" in the household. Plus, thanks to one of Radner's lines early in the sketch, I will always think of "scrubbing and mopping" whenever I hear the term S&M.
- Talk Back! (Buck Henry / Gordon Lightfoot, 05/22/1976)
What's it about? Frustrated call-in show host Frank Noland (Buck Henry) tries to get a response with increasingly controversial topics.
Why it's worth checking out: A particularly great slow burn by Henry, who goes from soliciting opinions on municipal bonds to puppy killing (and combining all the topics in between) in the span of a few minutes.
- Green Cross Cupcakes (Karen Black / John Prine, 10/16/1976)
What's it about? Truth in advertising laws allow Green Cross to advertise that their cupcakes don't cause cancer in rats.
Why it's worth checking out: By the end of the piece, John Belushi seems intent on showing how he can shove a whole cupcake in his mouth, but the real draw is the stoner logic (according to Dennis Perrin's Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue, this sketch was conceived after O'Donoghue and Tom Davis smoked some potent grass) and the surreal red-lit image of Davis and Al Franken in lab coats carrying a stretcher full of cupcakes past a number of rat cages as an alarm buzzes.
- Mysteries in Medicine (Steve Martin / Kinky Friedman, 10/23/1976)
What's it about? A weight-loss clinic features a diet where the patient is taken to a simulated ice-fishing hut and forced to hide food from Blog the Eskimo (John Belushi).
Why it's worth checking out: This is a great example of what kind of stuff the weirdo mind of Dan Aykroyd (who only does a voice-over here) cooked up when he was on the show. My favorite part is the reveal that Blog is actually pipe-smoking nutritionist Dr. Mike Blog, who watches the patients via closed circuit television.
- The OintMENt (Buck Henry / The Band, 10/30/1976)
What's it about? Ambassador Thorn (Buck Henry) learns about the true parentage of demonic Damien (John Belushi).
Why it's worth checking out: There are so many great lines made even funnier by Buck Henry's delivery ("I guess we'll have to get a new nanny. I hate when Nanny hangs herself"), outdone only by Chevy Chase's "It's a little dark in here. Turn on the priest."
- Party Dolls (Ralph Nader / George Benson, 01/15/1977)
What's it about? Ralph Nader claims to be doing "tests" on the party dolls sitting around his apartment.
Why it's worth checking out: Non-actor hosts are usually stiff in sketches; Nader is no exception but he makes up for this by letting the show portray him as a complete weirdo who "punishes" one of his blow-up dolls for not eating her spaghetti and subject others to "The Nail Test" and "The Lawnmower Test".
- 24 Hour Bank (Elliott Gould / The McGarrigle Sisters, Roslyn Kind, 04/16/1977)
What's it about? An automatic banking machine subjects customers to a series of bizarre security tests before dispensing cash.
Why it's worth checking out: It's a fun glimpse into when automatic tellers were still fairly new, but I'm particularly fond of multiple choice tests with obviously wrong options (nice "rule of three" job with Mesopotamia), and the silliness only escalates from there.
- Simon & Garfunkel (Charles Grodin / Paul Simon, 10/29/1977)
What's it about? Charles Grodin attempts to sing a duet of "The Sound of Silence" with Paul Simon, despite not knowing the words.
Why it's worth checking out: The visual of Charles Grodin in a Garfunkel wig is funny in itself, but this is probably the best part of the whole show-long runner of Grodin ruining sketches and generally being unprepared that night. If Grodin attempting to sing "The Sound of Silence" without knowing the words wasn't funny enough, there's also a pitiful solo attempt at "Bridge Over Trouble Water" that includes an even more pathetic attempt at hitting one of Art Garfunkel's high notes.
- Attack of the Atomic Lobsters (Robert Klein / Bonnie Raitt, 01/28/1978)
What's it about? Giant radioactive crustaceans invade New York and wreak havoc in Studio 8H.
Why it's worth checking out: Originally conceived for the show by Michael O'Donoghue and Tom Davis in late season 2, this is one of the most ambitious pieces SNL has ever done, involving a gradual set-up throughout the show (at one point a "news bulletin" is superimposed over Bonnie Raitt's performance), a mix of live action and stop-motion animation, audience participation, and even a break for commercials.
- The Looking For Mr. Goodbar Sleepytime Playset (Art Garfunkel / Stephen Bishop, 03/11/1978)
What's it about? A commercial showing how little girls can act out the bleak and lurid Diane Keaton movie.
Why it's worth checking out: I can't think of anyone better at playing innocent little kids on SNL than Gilda Radner, and she's at her best here, following Bill Murray's instructions and acting out the wildly inappropriate subject matter with her dolls, filtered through a child's understanding of the world ("Uh oh! You picked up the psychotic blonde homosexual!" "Does that mean I win?" "No, it means you get killed.")
- Josh Ramsey, V.D. Caseworker (Michael Sarrazin / Keith Jarrett, Gravity, 04/15/1978)
What's it about? Josh (Michael Sarrazin) tells Susie (Laraine Newman) that she may have given her boyfriend Johnny (Bill Murray) venereal disease.
Why it's worth checking out: Making fun of TV drama is even funnier when the characters say things or behave in a way that no real human being would, and this has a lot of that, from Ramsey not keeping Suzie's confidentiality in the least (a PA announcement at a basketball game and a newspaper ad alerting anyone who slept with her about her VD), to Johnny's parents over-the-top reaction to learning he had sex with her.
- Sex Test (Richard Dreyfuss / Jimmy Buffett, Gary Tigerman, 05/13/1978)
What's it about? Richard Dreyfuss hosts a quiz testing viewers' sexual knowledge.
Why it's worth checking out: The "correct" answers to each quiz question are hilarious in themselves, and the cast work to create characters for each of their roles as scientists who elaborate further on these dubious facts (best one: Bill Murray's sleazy Penthouse researcher).
- Surplus Store (Walter Matthau / (no musical guest), 12/02/1978)
What's it about? Grumpy Hank (Walter Matthau) finds himself consoling a young boutique owner (Laraine Newman) about her relationship.
Why it's worth checking out: It's a nice low-key scene for Matthau and Newman, but Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd steal the sketch away from them with by playing, respectively, an Eastern European immigrant speaking in broken English ("Excuse please to take time snowboots. Nine snowboots") and a flamboyantly gay regular customer of Hank's.
- Name The Bats (Michael Palin / The Doobie Brothers, 01/27/1979)
What's it about? A game show where contestants are locked in a barn with a bunch of spooked bats and forced to give them human names.
Why it's worth checking out: Brian McConnachie is one of the show's best one-season-and-out writers (though he came back to contribute many times), and this is probably the best example of his absurdist style. Bonus points awarded for the unplanned blooper of having the barn doors start to fall apart immediately after Michael Palin hits them with a baseball bat.
- Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n Roll (Gary Busey / Eubie Blake & Gregory Hines, 03/10/1979)
What's it about? Sonny Dacey (Gary Busey) and his band bring rock and roll to a sock-hop.
Why it's worth checking out: Although the Sonny Dacey story is the main thread, there are a number of side plots that happen within this sketch, and this also has one of Dan Aykroyd's all-time best characterizations as an uptight authority figure in the principal Mr. Mosey, who delivers an impressive rant upon discovering everyone dancing to Dacey's rock and roll.
- Boulevard of Proud Chicano Cars (Michael Palin / James Taylor, 05/12/1979)
What's it about? During the energy crisis, gas is a hot commodity for gang (er, "club") members Pablo (John Belushi) and Carlos (Gilda Radner)
Why it's worth checking out: An epic-length sketch featuring topical humor (including Jimmy Carter's stay with a Latinx family), Gilda Radner's drag turn as Carlos, and the "siphoning" scene.
- Mother & Daughter (Maureen Stapleton / Linda Ronstadt & Phoebe Snow, 05/19/1979)
What's it about? Daughter (Gilda Radner) responds sarcastically to her mother's (Maureen Stapleton) guilt trips and passive-aggressive behavior as she prepares to take her out for her birthday.
Why it's worth checking out: One thing I miss about the early SNL is low-key and instantly relatable scenes like this one, which revolves around how you can love someone but get annoyed or exasperated by them after only a minute in close proximity. In a period of the show that was increasingly dominated by sprawling sketches (like the previous entry on the list) and well-known characters, this is a forgotten gem.
- Bad Clams (Buck Henry / Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 11/10/1979)
What's it about? Baltimore morning show hosts Stan and Trish Conklin (Garrett Morris and Yvonne Hudson) force-feed rancid shellfish to Lucille Ball (Gilda Radner)
Why it's worth checking out: Despite the hint of the show's title, at first this seems like an innocent morning show sketch filled with unoffensive patter about sunny weather and family films; once Lucy comes out, it takes a sudden swerve right into the main premise, one of the most random things the show did at this stage in its existence.
- Backer's Audition (Bea Arthur / The Roches, 11/17/1979)
What's it about? Andrew Mazelle (Paul Shaffer) and Teddy Naddler (Harry Shearer) preview their rock musical about Charles Manson and his victim Jay Sebring.
Why it's worth checking out: Despite the ridiculous premise of the musical and the two creators' artistic pretensions, the songs themselves (written by Shaffer and Shearer) are actually pretty entertaining on their own, there are some funny interjections from Bea Arthur's character questioning some of their casting plans, and Shearer's mouthing along to the grand finale song is a funny visual moment. Shearer's skill at writing longer sketches like this came in handy during a year when the remaining cast and writers were starting to show signs of burnout.
- The Talking Letter (Chevy Chase / Marianne Faithfull, Tom Scott, 02/09/1980)
What's it about? An upper class woman (Jane Curtin) records an audio tape letter to her mother (Laraine Newman) until a tribesman's (Akira Yoshimura) poison darts strike.
Why it's worth checking out: If Bad Clams seemed random, this is sheer "What the fuck did I just watch?". There are no jokes in this sketch, just a long scene that alternates between Curtin recording the letter (with some really nice camera angles) as her husband sits in his chair and a butler serves them drinks, and Newman listening to it in a posh sitting room until suddenly, a THWACK, and the characters are hit one-by-one.
- Joey (Richard Benjamin & Paula Prentiss / The Grateful Dead, 04/05/80)
What's it about? A couple's (Bill Murray and Gilda Radner) awkward evening with the new neighbors (Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss) suddenly becomes more friendly as they discover their mutual adoration for Joey Bishop.
Why it's worth checking out: Matt Neuman's sketch nails both the thrill and pitfalls of finding someone who shares your intense fandom, from the instantly recognized references to how a slight difference in opinion can ruin the whole relationship. It features middle-class suburban married couples, but it almost seems like a predictor of the factionalizations within nerd culture.
- Video Will (Strother Martin / The Specials, 04/19/1980)
What's it about? The greedy heirs of a recently-deceased man (Strother Martin) watch their late pop's video will, which turns into a variety show featuring hospital staff.
Why it's worth checking out: It has an interesting use of technology (the "video" is really performed live on a separate stage and broadcast to the other set via closed-circuit television) and the premise very gradually reveals itself, but this sketch's real draw is just how fun it is: by the time old Mr. McBain has an orderly (Garrett Morris) sing "High Hopes", you're enjoying yourself as much as he is.
Stay tuned next Wednesday (or shortly thereafter) for my list of deep cuts from 1980-85!