Saturday Night Live begins its 38th season this weekend, with host Seth MacFarlane and musical guest Frank Ocean. (Consider this your reminder that we’ll have a recap up Sunday morning.) There’s been a large turnover since last season ended with the cast, Mick Jagger, Arcade Fire, and the Foo Fighters singing “She’s a Rainbow” to Kristen Wiig, who departed along with Abby Elliott and Andy Samberg. They’ve all had largely nice things to say about their time working on SNL since leaving, but that hasn’t always been the case. There’s been plenty of fussin’ and fightin’ amongst cast members, writers, guest stars, the network, and (especially) Lorne Michaels since the sketch series first aired in 1975. Here are 10 of the most bitter behind-the-scenes feuds.
Chris Kattan vs. Norm Macdonald
In November 1997, Mr. Macdonald talked about his feelings toward Mr. Kattan in an interview with Rolling Stone: “I don’t know, but to me he seems gay…He claims he’s not, but I’ve never seen, like, a guy who’s not gay seem so gay. I don’t find him funny. What can I say? Never made me laugh.”
In the same article, Mr. Kattan responded: “Norm gives me a hard time…If Norm says I’m gay, then put in that I say he’s an asshole.”
While the in-print bickering made for good copy, people who were around Saturday Night Live when both Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Kattan were cast members said it carried over into the show. “They had a very acrimonious relationship,” said a source connected to SNL. “Norm would rip [Mr. Kattan] to his face. Norm’s a weird guy. If he doesn’t like someone, he’ll say it to his face.” (Via)
Winner: What, Chris Kattan seems gay? In that outfit? In one sense, Norm’s comments made perfect sense (again, see the Mango outfit), but in all other senses, the hell is he talking about? What does seeming gay have to do with being funny? Still, because he’s Norm Macdonald, who’s almost always hilarious, and not Chris Kattan, who’s rarely if ever funny, Norm wins. Then again, I haven’t seen Delgo in awhile…
Chevy Chase vs. Bill Murray
Chevy Chase had left the show to pursue a movie career, and when he returned to host an episode, his jilted castmates asked Murray to confront him backstage. As legend has it, insults were thrown (“Medium talent!” being Murray’s rumoured slight of choice) and so were fists.
“It was really a Hollywood fight, a ‘Don’t touch my face!’ kind of thing,” recalls Murray with a smile. “Chevy is a big man, I’m not a small guy, and we were separated by my brother Brian [Doyle-Murray], who comes up to my chest. So it was kind of a non-event. It was just the significance of it. It was an Oedipal thing, a rupture. Because we all felt mad he had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone. But Chevy and I are friends now. It’s all fine.” (Via)
Winner: They’re allegedly friends now (or at least friendly), but I’m not going to declare a winner until Murray makes a guest appearance on Community as Jeff’s dad. Is it weird that I want to see that more than Annie and Britta go full CJ and Abby? Didn’t think so.
Victoria Jackson vs. Everyone
In the 2002 book Live From New York, an oral history of the show, castmate Jan Hooks sniped: “I just have a particular repulsion to grown women who talk like little girls. It’s like: ‘You’re a grown woman! Use your lower register!'” (Victoria, by the way, claims her weird voice is the result of a medical defect: a “congenital palatal insufficiency.”)
“Look, I’m not qualified for this,” Victoria recalls thinking. “Maybe this is my mission field. I’m supposed to tell my cast members about Jesus!”
But Hartman didn’t want to talk about the Son of God. And Lovitz asked how Jesus, “a grown man,” could have fit in his mother’s womb to be born again. When Victoria left audiocassette box sets of the Bible in each castmate’s mail slot for Christmas, they were angrily returned.
Writer and performer Al Franken, now a Democratic U.S. senator for Minnesota, cornered her once, Victoria says. He said he was “offended” by her “ditzy” act. “Maybe I’m overcompensating,” she retorted, “because everybody here is dying and going to hell, and I’m supposed to tell them about Jesus.”
Franken went white, she says. “He never talked to me again.” (Via)
Winner: Everyone. She nearly ruins the otherwise-perfect UHF.
Al Franken vs. NBC
Another Franken sketch, “A Limo for the Lamo”, had a dramatic effect on SNL. Aired in 1980, it was a blistering on-air attack on NBC President Fred Silverman, with Franken calling Silverman “a total unequivocal failure” while holding up a graph showing the network’s prime time ratings plummeting. Silverman didn’t laugh at all, and reportedly started treating Michaels like crap, leading to Michaels’ departure from SNL at the season’s end — along with the entire cast. (Via)
Winner: While at NBC, Silverman had a hand in developing Hill Street Blues, The David Letterman Show, Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Cheers, and later in life, through his own production company, Matlock, Jake and the Fatman, and Diagnosis: Murder. Franken became a United States senator. The winner, obviously, is Jake and the Fatman, I mean, Silverman.
Nora Dunn vs. Andrew Dice Clay
The Diceman (whose real name is Andrew Silverstein) is hardly surprised by such reactions anymore. His humor has drawn complaints from women, gays and other groups that have been its targets, and last year Clay was banned for life from MTV for ignoring a pledge to forgo profanity. Some of the offended have retaliated; a West Hollywood billboard with his picture was recently defaced by a group calling itself Activists Against Sexist Pigs. And two weeks ago both Saturday Night Live cast member Nora Dunn and Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor both refused to appear with him when he was SNL‘s guest host. The pair’s protest, however, stirred up so much publicity that SNL got a huge ratings boost, and the controversial comic wound up with his biggest audience yet. (Via)
Winner: No one? Dunn has appeared in a number of impressive movies and TV shows — Pineapple Express, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Zoolander, Futurama, Pushing Daisies — but usually in tiny roles, if not characters that go by “British Designer” instead of an actual name. The Diceman continues to be a farting nicotine stain on the art form known as stand-up comedy, though he will be in Woody Allen’s next movie, alongside Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K., and Alec Baldwin. But if I had to name a winner, I’d go with Dunn, simply because Andrew Dice Clay is awful, you bunch of f*cking smelly, d*ck-loving baboons. OH.
Eddie Murphy vs. David Spade (and SNL in general)
“They were shitty to me on Saturday Night Live a couple of times after I’d left the show,” he says. “They said some shitty things. There was that David Spade sketch [when Spade showed a picture of Murphy around the time of Vampire In Brooklyn and said, ‘Look, children, a falling star’]. I made a stink about it, it became part of the folklore. What really irritated me about it at the time was that it was a career shot.. I felt shitty about it for years, but now, I don’t have none of that.” (Via)
Winner: This scene is a metaphor for both of their careers.
Still, the winner is Murphy. Norbit > Grown Ups.
John Belushi vs. Female Writers
Jane Curtin appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on Tuesday as part of a panel on women in comedy, sitting alongside Tina Fey and Chevy Chase, among others. Known for her Coneheads sketches and Weekend Update anchoring, Curtin said that the women writers on the show were often unable to contribute their work thanks to sabotage by the show’s men. Especially breakout star John Belushi.
“Their battles were constant. They were working against John, who said women are just fundamentally not funny,” Curtin said. “So you’d go to a table read, and if a woman writer had written a piece for John, he would not read it in his full voice. He felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces written by women.” (Via)
Winner: Tina Fey.
Tracy Morgan vs. Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri
In his upcoming book, I Am the New Black, [Tracy Morgan] mentions who treated him like sh*t, namely then stars Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri. Morgan writes, “All I have to say about that is, where’s Chris Kattan now? Where’s Cheri Oteri now? That bitch can’t even get arrested.”
But the grudge apparently runs even deeper, because when Morgan sat down to record the audio version of that passage, he started ad-libbing, expanding on his earlier points: Morgan says he still counts Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon and Colin Quinn as friends, but as for Oteri and Kattan: “F*ck ’em.” (Via)
Winner: Tina Fey, because otherwise, Tracy Morgan would be just as irrelevant as Kattan and Oteri.
Fear vs. Lorne Michaels
This one’s a bit long, but it involves punk rock and pumpkins, so it’s totally worth it:
N: When Fear played on Saturday Night Live, did you go down and check it out in New York with Rollins and the gang?
Ian MacKaye [frontman of Fugazi and Minor Threat]: Rollins was not there. I’ll tell you the story if you’d like to hear the story about that. At eight in the morning, some point in October, I got a call. I was driving a newspaper truck for the Washington Post at the time, so eight in the morning was brutal. It was (Dick Ebersol)’s office, (Dick Ebersol) being the producer of Saturday Night Live, and I get this woman, “(Dick Ebersol)’s office, please hold.” I was completely delirious. (Dick Ebersol) gets on the phone, “Hi, Ian, it’s (Dick Ebersol) of Saturday Night Live, I’m calling you because I got your number from John Belushi. He says that you might be able to get some dancers up here ‘cause we want to have Fear on the show.” I was completely baffled by this. “Pardon me?” “Hold on a second.” John Belushi gets on the phone and he says, “This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with Saturday Night Live that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did Decline of Western Civilization and she said that you guys, Washington DC punk rock kids, know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.” It was worked out that we could all arrive at the Rockefeller Center where Saturday Night Live was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over. We were dancing and they were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again. If you watch the show – have you seen it?
N: Yes I have.
IM: If you watch it – during the show – before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, Bill MacKenzie, coming out holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.
N: They locked you in a room?
IM: Yeah, we were locked in a room. They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a TV show, particularly a punk band, that kind of has a momentum to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing. (Via)
Here’s some footage:
Winner: Whoever uploaded that (fittingly grainy) video, to let future generations witness such an amazing moment in TV history.
Lorne Michaels vs. Steven Seagal
According to the book, Live From New York: The Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Steven Seagal was named the worst host ever to appear on the show (a fact that Lorne Michaels mentioned when Nicolas Cage hosted in season 18) due to his bad sketch ideas and inability to work with the cast and crew. David Spade had stated that it was the first time in a long time that Lorne Michaels wanted to do a hostless episode (which hadn’t been done since the first episode of season 10). (Via)
Winner: Well, Seagal hosted in 1991 (with Michael Bolton as the musical guest!), which means his finest work was still ahead of him: Under Siege, On Deadly Ground, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, Executive Decision, Songs from the Crystal Cave, Mojo Cave…so, really, it was Seagal who got the last laugh, followed by an intricate-looking kick move on Lorne that somehow ripped his urethral sphincter out.