“No, but seriously, who is Griffin Dunne?”
~Everyone Born After 1976
As we stated earlier this week, not everyone who has hosted Saturday Night Live ended up being names that carried a lot of weight years down the line. Hell, even today, SNL hosts tend to be a mix of famous former cast members, big stars looking to promote a movie, and the occasional “he’s not super famous, but they clearly brought him in because he’s funny and we needed a funny episode this week.”
But as weird as it is that like, Miley Cyrus has hosted multiple times, no decade had more strange hosting decisions than the 1980s, where the show was struggling to survive purely on cocaine, stubbornness, and Eddie Murphy’s weird hiccup-laugh. In fact, even though we talked about a bunch of puzzling SNL hosts from the 80s in the first entry of this series, there are still more to cover. So let’s get ready to huff on some Freon to try to get yourself in the mindset of the show’s casting director from 1981 through 1987 with…
The SNL Host Series: Most Random Hosts in Saturday Night Live History (Part 2: More of the Dreaded 80s)
Dick and Tom Smothers
As a general rule, in the 1980s, Saturday Night Live was desperate for any hosts they could get their hands on. To give you a good idea how desperate they were, The Smothers hosted SNL twice. In the 80s. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was cancelled in 1969. That’d be like SNL having Salt-N-Pepa come on now as the host and musical guest. Which actually we want more than anything in the world right now.
Now, these two were pretty well seasoned performers, during a period of the show where they could really use all the seasoned performers they could get, but still, we’re always surprised and a bit confused whenever the show brings in a host who literally is doing nothing at the time. Anyway, here’s a clip from their 1982 episode where a bunch of people on the street are approached and asked, “If you were homosexual who would you find attractive” that surprisingly didn’t age super badly. Enjoy!
Wh..…who? Like…who is this guy? He’s apparently best known for playing Jim West in the TV series The Wild Wild West, which was in the 1960s. Why was he hosting here? And like, again, who is this guy? This is a guy whose “best known” page on IMDB includes the illustrious role of “Officer Hummell” in Jingle All the Way. But he hosted SNL in 1982, a year which, as you might notice, is not the 1960s, which is when he starred in the show he (probably) best known for. So…what?
This is the deepest darkest mystery we’ve found on the internet, because while we’ve found a review that goes through the entire episode, he doesn’t once address like, why Robert Conrad was there? Hell, we’ve found the goddamn monologue, which is available online, and even that doesn’t address it. Seriously, we’ve never seen anything like this—the monologue for Conrad’s episode is 26 seconds long. He walks out with the cast, awkwardly puts his arm on Eddie Murphy’s shoulder, and says “Hi it’s great to be here. And we’re gonna have a great show. And we’re gonna be right back. And thank you.” Why did they have Robert Conrad hosting Saturday Night Live in 1982!? This is going to haunt us.
No but, seriously okay, who? Who is this? As best as we can tell, this guy’s biggest roles were An American Werewolf in London in 1981, and like, the movie After Hours in 1985. This is a guy whose kind of sparse Wikipedia page makes a point to emphasize how he was in three different episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Yet, somehow, in 1986, he was deemed “famous enough to host Saturday Night Live.” We get that the 80s were a rough time for the show, but what is going on here?
We watched his monologue to see if he was pitching any movie or anything like that, but instead what we got was some chuckle-worthy “I’m so nervous hosting” gags before playing the drum solo from the song “Wipe Out” one-handed on a surf board held by Terry Sweeney and Anthony Michael Hall. Wait, what, really? The 1980s only start to make sense if you let yourself believe that God spent the decade playing Mad Libs while high on paint thinner.
Now, Dunne’s episode actually ended up being kind of eventful. Penn and Teller were on the show, again, which, again, “Penn and Teller regularly appeared on Saturday Night Live as stand-alone acts” is one of those sentences that doesn’t make any sense outside of the 1980s. And it’s the episode where Damon Wayans decided to play a minor part as a stereotypical flamboyant gay cop and got his ass promptly fired. It was also the last episode of A. Whitney Brown, but he’s not nearly as famous nor was he fired for pissing off Lorne Michaels. Either way, man, the 80s version of SNL was so weird you guys.
Wait, MONGO HOSTED SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE? We’re 100% cool with that. He hosted in 1985, which was a good ten years after Blazing Saddles, but he was also the dad on Webster at the time, so like, as far as “desperate for hosts 1985 SNL” goes, he’s almost shockingly relevant. Granted, his monologue was like, just him chuckling at his own…jokes (?) in a super awkward way, but we don’t care, Mongo hosted SNL, all is right in the world.
Okay what the fuck, SNL’s casting director in the 1980s. What. The. Fuck. Like, was it an 80s thing to just let people host under the assumption of “if he won a Pulitzer for writing, surely he can talk jokes good”? Even the editors of Jimmy Breslin’s Wikipedia page are confused by this—the only mention of him becoming notable enough to host Saturday Night Live comes in a footnote. He at least acknowledges that he’s just some newspaper guy randomly hosting Saturday Night Live in his monologue, but why did they choose him? Well we actually have a pretty good idea for this one.
Now, of course part of it is that, as you can see *waves hands depressingly at the previous entries on this article* SNL was hard up for hosts for much of the 80s. But really, this is probably a lot like that time that Rudy Giuliani hosted in the 1990s to trick everyone in the flyover states into thinking he was more of an influential politician than he actually ever ended up being (we’ll get to that in a later article).
That’s to say that this was 100% an instance of the New York show wanting to have a New York Guy host for the New York crowd. And sure, that sounds like the cynical anti-New York bias you’d expect from a site who shits on their hot dogs and insists that Chicago pizza is superior, but watch that monologue and tell us we’re wrong here. He starts off with this gruff “I don’t have to be nice, I’m a journalism guy” to way more applause than you’d expect, then he complains about Mayor Koch to hoots and hollers before launching into like a three minute story about the Mets in excruciating detail. He also pronounces “idea” as “idear.” The whole thing is extremely New York.
Now, given the quality of the show this particular season (*sadly points to the whole “Wipe Out” Griffin Dunne thing from this same season*) we can’t really fault SNL for giving its local fans what they want. But, like, man, it’s still super weird that Jimmy Breslin was what they wanted in 1986.
And it’ll continue to get weirder. We’ve got four more of these Saturday Night Live features coming your way, and we don’t know how to prepare you for it better than by saying that the most well-known, but still surprising, entry remaining is Russell Brand, and it’s not even close. Man, remember Russel Brand?