Mar 9, 2014

Saturday Night Live and the Ambiguously Gay Bill Murray

Chevy Chase
In the spring of 1976, during my sophomore year at Rocky High, my friend Darry started talking about a new late-night tv program, with musical numbers and comedy sketches.

"A variety show!" I exclaimed in disgust, thinking of Carol Burnett, with its boring sketches and songs from the dinosaur era.

No, this is different!  Songs by ABBA and Paul Simon!  Spoofs of tv commercials! The cast is young, our age!

So at 10:30 on February 21st, 1976, I heard the words "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night" for the first time.

The guest host was Desi Arnaz, who starred on I Love Lucy in the 1950s.  At that time I had never actually seen an episode, but I had heard of it, so I was mildly amused by sketches involving failed I Love Lucy Pilots (one was I Love Louie, with him married to jazz musician Louie Armstrong!)  

I didn't see it again until April 17th, 1976. I had never heard of the guest host Ron Nessen (Press secretary for President Ford), but I liked a short film about men singing at a urinal, and Weekend Update, with Emily Litella (Gilda Radner) riffing on "Presidential erections" (of statues).

On April 24th, 1976, the guest host was 1960s icon Raquel Welch.  The men kept trying to get her to take her top off and display her breasts.  I didn't like that, but I liked the sketch "One Flew over the Hornet's Nest," where the Bees weren't allowed to watch the Oscars on tv, and the musical guest, Phoebe Snow, singing "All Over":  "The night queen fright wig street Parade may fade, when we laugh at the statues of gods we have made."

And on like that through high school and college, watching occasionally, when I was home and there was nothing good on Creature Feature.  Pleasant but not hilarious, cozy and intimate, like the kinds of spoofs you do among friends.

Occasional gay references, especially in 1977, when Bill Murray joined the cast; he was so flamboyant, with a Castro Clone moustache and a shirt unbuttoned all the way down his chest, that we all assumed he was openly gay.  (Meatballs in 1979 "confirmed" the rumors.)

For the next few years, everyone between age 15 and 30, male or female, gay or straight, knew "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not," "Jane, you ignorant slut," "Land Shark," "Cheeseburger cheeseburger coke coke," and "Oh, no, Mr. Hands."  It was a set of common references for everyone age 15 to 30, male or female, gay or straight.  It was one of the few places in the "straight world" where I felt like I belonged.

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, it came on at 11:30 pm, when I was either out or otherwise occupied.  Besides, I was living in a "good place," so I didn't need it anymore.  I haven't seen it in years.

The phrase "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" still brings back memories of high school, when the whole world was fresh and new.