Julia Sweeney — best known for her character Pat — gave an interview to Salon this week, as a part of their series of interviews with former cast members of SNL. It’s kind of a downer of an interview, to be honest, if only because Sweeney’s memories of her time on SNL weren’t particularly fond. For instance, while she said she did have a great time at the 40th Anniversary reunion, she also ended up basically sitting alone (save for a conversation with Al Franken) during the 25th Anniversary reunion. She wasn’t even allowed to bring a date.
Sweeney’s years on SNL were mostly during the Sandler/Farley era, and — as she says — she never really felt connected. She loved Sandler and thought he was hilarious, but “they didn’t get me comedically. I would only get cast as the example of the ugly girl and then they would say, We have to hire a model to play the pretty girl because there’s no girl here who could play that.” In fact, when her closest friend on the show — Christine Zander, who had mostly written Nora Dunn’s sketches before Sweeney “replaced” Dunn — left, Sweeney left soon thereafter. She quit before her contract was up, much to the dismay of Lorne Michaels, because with all “that white-male energy” from Farley, Sandler, and Rob Schneider, “there really wasn’t enough for [her] to do.” In fact, it was Sandler who directly contributed to Sweeney’s decision to quit the series.
But one cast member she did feel very connected to was Phil Hartman, and when he died, her connection to the show — and the connection for a lot of other cast members to the show — died along with it.
As she told Salon:
The year before he died, I realized I had spent Thanksgiving Day, Easter and the Fourth of July at their house. That was this enormous rupture— for obvious reasons— and it was so upsetting and disturbing and it was almost hard to see the people I used to see there all the time. No one stepped in to fill that role and no one wanted to. It was like we all scattered and then I never really hung out with anyone. I would sometimes see Mike Myers somewhere, but it wasn’t like people wanted to get together. I think there was this nexus of Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler, a group of guys who were working so much together that they would see each other. But once Phil was gone, I didn’t have any contact with anyone but Christine.
Sweeney also mentioned that her writing partner, Christine Zander, was with Phil Hartman’s wife, Brynn, the night Hartman died.
Christine was having drinks with Brynn the night it happened! She had just met her somewhere for an early drink, and then Brynn was going off to meet other people. We were really tight. I remember Brynn calling me and I was getting on a train to go to visit another couple who were friends of ours and told her I couldn’t. You know, Brynn was troubled but we were in the mix of people who you’d call to say, Let’s meet for a drink at 5. When I got off the train, my friends are standing there saying, They’re dead.
Once Hartman died, Sweeney said, “I was really on my own,” because it was Hartman — and the little sister relationship she had with him — that pulled Sweeney toward the rest of SNL, even though she wasn’t “beloved or as successful or as part of the inner circle” as others in the cast, she told Salon.
That’s the double-whammy of Hartman’s death. We lost a great entertainer, a great comedian, and a great man. But many others also lost a great friend, a mentor, and a connection to their other friends. Phil Hartman was the glue that held so many people together, the sun around whom they orbited. Without him, they dispersed.