Episode 1.14 – 2/21/76: Desi Arnaz
Hrm … this could go either way. Much like Dick Cavett from two episodes ago, this episode’s host, Desi Arnaz, is a television legend. As star and co-creator of I Love Lucy, Arnaz pioneered the situation comedy and, as co-owner of Desilu Studios, brought many popular television shows to the American public including The Untouchables and the original Star Trek. Since the 1960s, however, Arnaz’s television appearances have been few and far between. More of a factor as to whether he would be a successful host is this undeniable fact: Arnaz is old television while Saturday Night (Live but not Live) was supposed to be something new – unpredictable and different. Can these two worlds peacefully coexist?
The good news is, not only can they co-exist, they can get along like old friends. Turns out that Arnaz is a gracious host and perfectly happy to collaborate with the Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players. What does this mean for this episode? It means we get an opening monologue from Arnaz capped off with a funny drug punchline (for the kids) as well as a show-closing performance of Arnaz’s signature tune “Babalu” (for the ‘rents), capped off with a big-ass Congo line. In short, it’s a good time from start-to-finish.
The episode starts with a Gerald Ford sketch. If you’re not sick of these by now, there’s something wrong with you. The only good part is when Chevy unexpectedly crashes through a wall at the end of the bit – which means I’ve just ruined the only good part, as the only real humor comes from that surprise.
Next, Arnaz’s monologue and the aforementioned drug joke:
“On the first day of rehearsal, (the Not-Ready-For-Primetime-Players) got together and presented me with a box of cigars,” he says. “I had never heard of the brand before: Acopolco Gold.”
He takes a big drag. The audience laughs.
“I haven’t smoked anything since!” he says. “And as soon as I pass it around, we’ll be right back.”
Hehe … it’s funny, because it’s weed.
Arnaz’s face, which SNL Transcripts describes as a “Reefer Madness” face, before they cut to commercial is hilarious.
Really, it’s the stuff with Arnaz that works best on this episode. We get a few ho-hum sketches before a bit that probably got the biggest laugh from me since I started watching this first season: a sketch called “Literary Recital.” The sketch is nothing more than Arnaz reading the Lewis Carroll poem “Jabberwocky,” but the extent to which he butchers the poem with his thick Cuban accent is hilarious, as well as the parts where he interrupts the reading to question the unusual words which comprise “Yaberwocky,” as Arnaz pronounces it. Maybe. The white guilt part of me feels bad for laughing but since it’s Arnaz making fun of himself, I guess it’s alright.
A couple of faux I Love Lucy failed pilots (examples: “I Loathe Lucy”, “I Love Louie” (as in … Armstrong) and “I Love Asparagus”) give special guest Desi Arnaz Jr. aka “Little Ricky” a chance to parody his dad’s legacy, as well as give the tragically underused Tom Schiller a chance to bust out his dead-on Ricky Ricardo impression which he debuted two weeks ago during Weekend Update.
After that is an Untouchables skit that goes on a bit too long, followed by Gilda Radner doing a commendable Lucille Ball impression (complete with a few impressively quick costume changes) leading into a spirited rendition of Cuban Pete by the elder Arnaz, backed up by Howard Shore, Paul Schaffer and featuring guest vocals by Laraine Newman. The audience, by the way, seems to be absolutely bonkers for Arnaz throughout the show. Maybe it’s my imagination or the mic volume is turned up, but they definitely seem louder than usual.
A weird, but kind of amusing Gary Weis short film is next, in which New York poet and Andy Warhol associate Taylor Mead talks about his cat. Like most first season short films, it’s completely out of place, but would probably work in a different context.
Arnaz is featured in one more skit, playing a Cuban acupuncturist who uses cigars instead of needles. It’s pretty stupid. Finally, Gilda plugs Arnaz’s just-released memoirs before we get the show-closing “Babalu” and Congo line.
No Muppets this week! They seem to be phasing out the Muppets. I am glad.
And there’s your show. I skipped past the non-Arnaz sketches, but you’re not missing much. For a complete list of sketches, check out the SNL Archives. I’m just here to give you the good stuff – and the really bad stuff.
In summary, this one’s a great episode for nostalgia’s sake. It’s worth noting that, even today, Saturday Night Live likes to play the nostalgia card when it comes to guest hosts – most recently, with an episode featuring Betty White (I suppose a recent episode from this season featuring Dana Carvey also fits into this category.)
I enjoyed this episode. Maybe I’m a bit biased as a Lucy fan, but I think anyone can appreciate this one for its historical value.
Next: 1.15 – 2/28/76: Jill Clayburgh / Leon Redbone