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 House; 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.