The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There
Email this review


A disappointing memoir from four-time Emmy winner Davis on his transgressive life and high times as an original writer with Saturday Night Live.

Much of this reads like a prototypical countercultural/showbiz autobiography: the upbringing in suburban Minnesota with a conservative father; the Jimi Hendrix concert that changed his life; obligatory drug-fueled hijinks in San Francisco and India; narrow scrapes with the law; friendships with Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia. How could this recounting, a veritable miracle of memory given all the pot, LSD, coke, hashish and heroin consumed along the way, even occur? Davis—now rehabbed after three years in a methadone program in the mid-’90s—poses this question himself, noting what happened after he and fellow SNL writer Michael O’Donoghue snorted heroin on the way to John Belushi’s funeral: “My memory of the event is so flawed that it demonstrates how I sublimated this catastrophe.” Readers will grasp at anything, no matter how nasty or unspecific, to break the consistent deadpan delivery of these events, such as the author’s excoriation of short-lived SNL regulars Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr. for behaving “like school bullies with a substitute teacher.” Although Davis discusses the highs and lows of his longtime friendship with entertainer-politician Al Franken—from their debut as stand-up comics at Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis through their hiring as SNL writers in July 1975—he is oddly silent on why they reconciled after an acrimonious breakup of their partnership in 1990. Twelve years with SNL provided countless stories but little perspective on its manic environment, nor on the creation of his memorable, censor-baiting skits (several are reproduced verbatim). Moreover, while Davis relates how Lorne Michaels forced his 1994 departure from the show, he never analyzes how the “brilliant” producer molded it into a pop-culture institution.

For a truly reflective, present-at-the-creation look at the long-running weekend mainstay, turn to Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live (2002).

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1880-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2009