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A photo of the original cast of SNL. From left...

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I was a big fan of comedy growing up, and in particular the old Saturday Night Live episodes that used to air on Nick at Nite. Of all the talent that was on that early cast, my favorite cast member was always Steve Martin.

You read that correctly and yes, I was mistaken.

Martin hosted Saturday Night Live on occasion, but was never actually a part of the cast. It just seemed that way because he was such a vibrant and electric personality that stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the early cast.

One gets the impression from watching those early years that the cast members know they’re onto something big. The backstage stories that later leaked out through interviews, anecdotes, and memoirs showed on the stage; they were comic rock stars, the whole lot of them. Steve Martin was different. He seemed to be genuinely having fun, regardless of who was on stage or what the material was. As a result, he stuck out like a sore thumb; a tall, white-haired figure who shot exuberance out of his fingertips.

It wasn’t until I was almost in my teens that I found out Martin was only a host and not a cast member. I had seen every episode and memorized so many skits by heart. How could I have operated under such a wildly incorrect assumption? I checked back thinking maybe – just maybe – Martin had hosted and appeared with such frequency that he might as well have been a cast member. To my surprise, he was a frequent host but still in those early years only appeared a half dozen times. Though he would go on over the course of the next two decades to host the program a record fifteen times, the fact that he was only a semi-frequent host rather than a regular cast member was surprising.

Martin with Dan Akroyd, seen above trying to convince Martin that 9/11 was an inside job.

The reason I thought he was a permanent cast member is because I wanted him so badly to be one. When watching those old episodes now, many of the bits don’t hold water. Some jokes are so hyper-relevant they dated themselves the morning after they aired, while others seemed so inside you could almost hear the audience faking their way through a skit, hoping the others around them will think they’re in on the joke and this special thing occurring onstage that they didn’t quite understand.

Martin was different. He brought with him a weighty charisma and enthusiasm that put him leaps and bounds above his contemporaries. I always imagined watching Martin perform must be the closest thing we can approximate to the experience of seeing those old Vaudeville performers that gave it their all in front of an audience, which would look desperate were it not for the fact that it worked and, more importantly, a complete lack of self-consciousness.

That’s what made Martin truly special to me. Murray, Chase, Belushi and others didn’t want you to know they were performing. Martin knew you knew, but it didn’t matter. As the youngest of five children who was desperate for acceptance and trying to carve out an identity for himself, I latched onto Martin’s performances and he became an early and lifelong favorite.

I still remained an SNL fan through the years, and that original cast and writing staff contianed some truly gifted minds. But as great as those old episodes of Saturday Night Live were, imagine if instead they had ten or twelve Steve Martins performing every weekend. Now that would be something worth staying up for.

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9 Responses to Steve Martin’s first impression

  1. Tony Barbaro says:

    Did Nick at night show the “what the hell is that thing?” scetch? That’s my favorite.

  2. LM says:

    I think this (watching SNL) is the last time I forced myself to stay awake until 11:30 on a weekend. Excellently strange show!

  3. Peter Bowden says:

    Martin in “The Jerk”…..classic!

  4. Maureen says:

    I remember seeing King Tut live (yes I’m that old) And I remember my brother listening to Steve’s first album. Now that’s a classic!

  5. u2 says:

    Dig the new background. You join American Top Team?

    Norm MacDonald gets my nod as the top SNL’er, but I dig Martin. (Both Canucks I think. Aren’t they all.)

    P.S. Wife digs the overweightdate (I’m actually laughing myself as I type).


  6. Ellen says:

    I saw Steve Martin do his standup act many, many years ago at SPAC. Funny guy… I liked him on SNL also. Several of his movies are good also… but I never liked The Jerk.

  7. Hal Jordan says:

    All kidding aside, Dan Akroyd makes a pretty good vodka.

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