Book Cover

Film journalist de Semlyen recounts
the migration from TV to film of a once-iconic generation of comedians.

The year 1975 saw the debut
of Saturday Night Live, with a cast of gifted, sardonic comedians
headed by Chevy Chase and John Belushi, who broke all kinds of rules and
regulations every time it turned around. Then came the second season, and Chase
departed the show for, as he admitted, “money. Lots of money.” The money
flowed, and though Chase would star in far more dogs than winners, the comics who
followed his path to Hollywood—Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Steve Martin, and
many others—overturned the comic image of the Woody Allen–dominated 1970s (“a
wimp in specs”) in favor of the smartass who couldn’t be bothered to follow
anyone else’s norms. Perhaps the most canonical of all the characters was
Belushi, who perfectly filled the role of John “Bluto” Blutarsky in the 1978
film Animal House. Others established their own characters for
better or worse and in between: Eddie Murphy was undeniably brilliant, Chase
could barely act, Candy and Martin had hidden depths, but all swallowed up
whatever was thrown to them as readily as some swallowed up whatever drug was
on the table. The book doesn’t have much of a thesis as such, but it’s full of
entertaining revelations: Murray was in the running to play Boon in Animal
; Dan Aykroyd was cerebral, anomic, and straitlaced all at once, so
much so that a writer described him as “a cross between a state trooper and an
android”; everyone loved The Blues Brothers except for Jerry
Garcia; and so on. The book is often overwritten (“Steve Martin, a keen student
of Picasso, was experiencing his own Blue Period”), but film buffs are
likely to forgive the excesses in exchange for its many anecdotal rewards.

It’s not deep, but fans of Steve
Martin, Dan Aykroyd, and their wild-and-crazy ilk will find pleasure here.


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