Son of The Gross Yields: SNL 1.12 – 1/31/76: Dick Cavett

Episode 1.12 – 1/31/76: Dick Cavett

Episode Number: 1.12
Original Air Date: January 31, 1976
Host(s): Dick Cavett
Musical Guest(s): Jimmy Cliff

Saturday Night (Live but not Live) was still finding its audience during its first season. This can be seen in the diversity of its guest hosts, an attempt to appeal to television audiences of all types.

Dick Cavett, a television staple of the 1960s and 1970s, may have seemed like a good choice to help attract an older, more educated crowd to watch SN(L but not L). It also made sense that he would show up to host at some point since he had been a huge part of NBC’s success with The Late Show during the 1960s as a writer for hosts Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. But will Cavett’s dry, sophisticated wit stick out like a sore (albeit very well-spoken) thumb when he gets thrown in with the Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players?

There’s a funny opening this week, with Chevy telling Garrett Morris that he won’t be able to do his signature pratfall to kick off the show since he injured himself the week before. Chevy then mentions to Garrett that he hopes there’s no animosity between them, since Chevy says he’s kind of been the breakout star and he’s been getting all the attention from the media and doing all the interviews. Oh no, Garrett responds, it’s all cool. Everything seems copacetic, until Chevy heads on-stage to deliver his opening monologue. The camera stays on Morris, who looks around to see if any one is watching then disappears into an empty dressing room, where he pulls out a Chevy Chase voodoo doll – and I guess you can figure out the rest. As Chevy sits down on a stool and starts talking to the audience, the camera cuts to Garrett, who’s sticking needles in the doll. Chevy reacts accordingly, ending with an impressive headfirst dive that I’d probably rate about a 7 on my newly-invented Prat-O-Meter, which I will use from now on to grade physical comedy with 1 being a minor stumble and 10 being real (but not permanent) physical injury.

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” – and we’re on our way.

Cavett’s schtick during this episode is witty and amusing, but not necessarily funny – with the exception of a series of commercial parodies which I found neither witty nor amusing. One segment, a dead-on parody of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, but with New York City as its focus, had me grinning. It was kind of odd how little they had Cavett interact with the cast. Most of his segments he played himself and were in the form of monologues. I’m not necessarily saying this is the mark of a bad host. It was just different. The one sketch that Cavett did participate in, which involved other cast members, was funny – “Looks at Books,” in which Cavett plays a Nebraskan pimp being interviewed by Chevy Chase.

Other segments I found funny:

* A parody of the consumer taste test, where a shopper at a grocery store must decide between which is the tastier of two tuna casseroles. Only when she tries them both is she informed that one of the dishes was made with “Felina Cat Food.” (This was, I am informed, a repeat from the first episode, which Chris reviewed. I’m don’t think Chris mentioned it.) I guess you have to be a cat owner and have had to deal with the horror of canned cat food to find this bit funny.

* Weekend Update. First, for Laraine Newman’s interview with Dan Aykroyd playing an Australian mercenary in Angola (“I’d like to pop your lolly!”) Second, for Gilda Radner’s misunderstanding of the Equal Rights Amendment (as the Eagle Rights Amendment). Third, Tom Schiller’s dead-on Desi Arnez impression as he recites the segment’s top story for I Love Lucy fans. Arnez, coincidentally, along with Arnez Jr., hosts the show in two weeks.

* “I Gotta Be Me,” a guest performance by Al Alen Peterson, who sings and strips from a construction workers outfit into a bra, panties, garters and high heels. Who’s Al Alen Peterson? Beats me.

For reggae fans – and real reggae fans, not the watered-down Cool Runnings bullshit that passed for reggae in the 1990s — this episode is a must-see as godfather of the genre Jimmy Cliff performs three songs. I admit am not a reggae fan, but even as a non-reggae fan, I can tell you that the performance is electrifying as Cliff absolutely throws his whole self into what he’s doing. For those keeping count, he sings “The Harder They Come”, “Many Rivers to Cross”, and “Wahjaka Man.”

Let’s recap.

Jamaican-born reggae star? Check.

One of the whitest, straightest men in show business? Check.

Drag act? Check.

Throw it all together, it’s a odd concoction. But when it works, it works, making this an episode – though sort of uneven — worth checking out.

Next:1.13 – 2/14/1976: Peter Boyle / Al Jarreau

* Much thanks to the excellent sites The SNL Archives and SNL Transcripts.


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