Reading with the Roost: Live From New York

By Chris

You can’t win a championship every year. With some sports franchises, that lofty goal is set for themselves at the beginning of every preseason or spring training. If they’re not lifting that trophy over their heads at the end of the season, then all of the hard work that got them there is considered for nothing.

For those that have been to that promised land before, nothing is as good as your first championship. For the new players coming on, they wonder what it was like to be a part of those glory days, the days everyone–players, critics and fans alike–compares the current standard to.

There’s a reason why television, like sports, is broken up into seasons. With the start of each new season, old faces are gone and new faces emerge. Finding the right combination to put together a winning season every year is a constant struggle and the pieces don’t always come together.

Saturday Night Live has been going not for a championship, but for it to be the funniest it can be for 35 years now. Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller get the byline for Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, a massive 600-page book about the television institution, but the words, for the most part are not theirs. Shales and Miller conducted countless interviews with everyone from the stars to the writers to the production assistants. It is their words that tell the story from the beginning to 2002, when the book was published.

While it is lengthy, the multitude of quotes from so many familiar names actually makes for a quick read. Everyone from Lore Michaels to Chevy Chase to Conan O’Brien is interviewed, save for Eddie Murphy who seems to want nothing to do with the show that made him a household name.

Being a part of the show, for many, was the best time of their lives. Most of the interviewees, especially those that found success afterwards, look upon the show with fondness, reverence and gratitude. The harshest words spoken are from and about those who feel bitter about their experience because the show wasn’t the launching pad they expected it to be. Harry Shearer and Janeane Garofalo are among the leading gripers.

The person who most interested me through it all was Jane Curtain. An original Not Ready For Primetime Player, Curtin was a bit older than the rest of her castmates and had a different perspective on it all because of it. She really didn’t need the show the way the others did, she had a house, a husband and a dog to go back to after the show. She didn’t need the extracurricular sex and drugs like everyone else. Her quotes are usually short and to the point. Her tolerance levels for all the non-professional stuff that went on was very low but she dealt with it because she really loved the job and the opportunity it presented. She doesn’t mince words when she doesn’t have to and is brutally honest.

Curtin’s working environment attitude is the norm on the show today. The drug atmosphere is so far removed from the current set that many of the cast can’t even fathom doing the show stoned. Staying on your game is hard enough without all of those the destructive habits.

Those drug habits, along with other tragic events have cost the Saturday Night Live family some great talents. Among them are Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman and Michael O’Donoghue, one of the show’s most influential writers. Each is talked about fondly with the spirits of Radner and Farley seeming to take center stage. You can see smiles form whenever someone conjures up memories of Farley’s kindness and Gilda’s warm heart.

Everyone always compares the show to the early years. Some say that the show will never live up to those glory days. Maybe that’s true. But it’s mainly because when the show first came on the air, there were no expectations. They went out and made history. The show today can’t possibly be what the show was the fist five years. It was a revolution back then and the stories are those of legends. It’s a tamer show now for sure, but it’s because the early years set the tone and SNL has been stretching the limits ever since.

The book seems at times to glorify the show a bit too much, but the authors don’t apologize for it. Live From New York is a celebration of the show and what it has brought to popular culture. Every year may not exactly be a championship season, but it’s entertaining and interesting regardless. The book is a must-read for any fan of the show just makes sure you give yourself a few lazy weekends to read it.

One Comment

  1. Heather B.

    I’m not a big fan of SNL – sketch comedy isn’t really my thing – but for some reason I read this a few years ago and I really enjoyed it.