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John Belushi and Joe Flaherty on Death Row, in a sketch from 1971

Listing the notable talents who learned their craft at Chicago’s improvisational theater The Second City is de rigueur for any article that covers the troupe’s illustrious past, so that’s what I’ll do right here. The early casts included Alan Arkin, both Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Del Close (who essentially founded the rigorous form of improv that has blossomed in the last 15 years or so), Joan Rivers, Fred Willard, Peter Boyle, and Robert Klein. In the early to mid-1970s a healthy chunk of the people who would dominate American comedy for the next few decades passed through its doors, including Harold Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray and his little brother Bill, Shelley Long, Dan Aykroyd, and virtually the entire cast of SCTV, which isn’t very surprising, considering that the name stands for “Second City Television.”

John Belushi was the closest thing American comedy had to a rock star in the 1970s, and his untimely death in 1982 from a cocaine overdose only cemented his outsized legend. By the time he hit Saturday Night Live, Belushi had honed his ungainly and manic brilliance through years of training on stages like that of Second City. Joe Flaherty, while never as big a star as Belushi, was and is similarly a consummate pro, doing a ridiculous number of celebrity impersonations on SCTV as well as enhancing projects as diverse as Johnny Dangerously, Heavy Metal, Detroit Rock City, Used Cars, 1941, Stripes, and, best of all, Freaks and Geeks.

The comedy blog Splitsider recently posted a delicious clip, from Second City’s own archives, that dates from 1971, and it just has to be one of the very earliest records we have of John Belushi plying his craft. Deriving from Second City’s 41st revue from 1971, titled No, No Wilmette, the sketch is called simply “Jail” and it’s a pleasure to watch Belushi’s patient and skillful underplaying. It’s not every sketch that features the hasty preparation for a suicide, as this one does, which might serve as an index to the “revolutionary/countercultural” identity of the Second City players at that time.


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘So You’re Dead; Now What?’: RIP Harold Ramis
02:33 pm


Harold Ramis

The news of the death of the legendary comedy writer, performer and film director Harold Ramis—just as credible rumors about the filming of his long-awaited Ghostbusters 3 were beginning to look more and more real—is blowing up the Internet as we speak.

We can think of no eulogy more fitting for the darkly brilliant mind behind Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day than this one, delivered by the man himself, early on in his career, in 1977 on SCTV. You will be greatly missed, sir.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
The legendary Toronto production of ‘Godspell’ that had half the cast of SCTV in it

Program, Godspell Toronto production
Godspell, the musical version of several biblical parables with music by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, was a spectacle perfectly suited for its times. It was a hippie version of the Bible, complete with a clown concept, and it was jam-packed with great, hummable songs. Having originated at Carnegie Mellon University, it debuted in 1971 off-Broadway in New York City at the La Mama Experimental Theatre Club on the Lower East Side before moving to the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Promenade Theatre—it closed in 1976 after a whopping 2,124 performances.

The Toronto production of Godspell opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1972, with an expectation of running for just a few dozen performances. It was a massive hit as well, closing more than a year later after 488 performances. That production is legendary for the budding young talent in the show—including Victor Garber (Alias, Titanic) as Jesus as well as future comedy stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas, and Martin Short. The show’s musical director was a sassy young fellow named Paul Shaffer.
Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy in Godspell
Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy in Godspell
Radner, of course, would achieve national fame a few years later when she joined the inaugural cast of Saturday Night Live, while Levy, Martin, Short, and Thomas ended up as the core of an experimental sketch comedy show called SCTV.

There’s an exhaustive website dedicated to the production, and it’s chock full of details. Short and Radner dated during the run, but Short ended up marrying Gilda’s understudy, Nancy Dolman. The show was Gilda Radner’s professional stage debut. Dave Thomas was not in the original cast, but he joined the show near the end of its run.
Godspell original cast program
Godspell original cast program
Levy later reminisced about Gilda Radner:

The first image of Gilda was at the final audition for “Godspell.” We were all there. They’d narrowed it down to about 80 people. I just remember this girl getting up on stage and singing “Zippity Do Dah” as her song. I remember thinking, “Oh, this poor girl. She’s so cute, but what a terrible song!” [laughs] And the entire room by the end of the song just fell in love with her, she was so adorable. We always referred to her as the “Zippity Do Dah” girl in the beginning. She was charming and sweet and loved to laugh. She went out with Marty Short for most of the run, and Marty was my roommate, so we were all hanging out. I just remember her always being up and loving to laugh.

In 2011 Martin Short and Paul Shaffer were on Seth Rudetsky’s SiriusXM show “Seth Speaks.” After essaying “It’s Raining Men,” Short and Shaffer decide to close the show with a rousing rendition of “Save the People” from Godspell.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The Plasmatics blow shit up on SCTV’s ‘The Fishin’ Musician’

John Candy as Gil Fisher, the fishin’ musician, is paid a visit by The Plasmatics in this wonderful bit from SCTV circa 1981.

This predated John Lurie’s Fishing with John TV series by 10 years. Goes to show you just how ahead of their time the crew at SCTV were.

Watch as Wendy O. Williams blows up things real good.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
John Candy as Divine as Peter Pan

From the Canadian sketch show SCTV, this clip has been causing some confusion among Divine fans as it’s labelled on YouTube “Divine as Peter Pan”. Thankfully original Dreamlander Mink Stole was on hand to help clear the matter up:

That’s not Divine— I think it’s actually John Candy doing a Divine parody—which is in itself a tribute.

Who knew Candy made such a good drag queen?!

BONUS! Here’s Candy, again as Divine, doing “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me”

via I Am Divine with thanks to Mink Stole

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Cathode ray rock & roll apocalypse: Crosby,Stills, Nash and Young meet The Queen Haters
03:29 am


THE Queen Haters

The Gerry Todd Show and Mel’s Rock Pile were the gold standard of rock and roll television. Here’s a rare performance of the reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the Todd show followed by the only television appearance of the shortlived The Queen Haters on Rock Pile.

Gerry Todd was the proto videophile nerd and the CSNY clip may be the first video mashup.

The Queen Haters only television appearance and a bonus video after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment