Friday, September 21, 2018


That's what we were afraid of.
You might not be familiar with them, but there was a time when the Ritz Brothers were one of the hottest acts in comedy. For close to five decades, they were the darlings of audiences and critics alike, due in no small part to ringleader Harry Ritz. 

When George Carlin said Harry "created the moves for an entire generation of comedians", he wasn't exaggerating. Watch him for one minute, and you'll see the genesis of Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Jack Carter, Sid Caesar and a dozen other of their brethren. All of them and more considered Harry Ritz the funniest man who ever lived. 

I give you this slice of show biz history by way of calling your attention to a recent Washington Post piece about Chevy Chase, where we learn "The 74 year-old comedy star is sober and ready to work. The problem is, nobody wants to work with him."

Hello, Chevy? It's 2018 calling. Nobody likes you anymore.
And that's no surprise. For as time passes ever quicker, it becomes difficult to recall the brief period when Chevy Chase was the biggest star of the biggest TV show of its time, Saturday Night Live. He is, instead, better known for an endless string of bad movies, alcoholism, drug addiction, self-destructive professional behavior, picking fights with colleagues, and -- this can't be stressed enough -- alienating at least one generation of comedians who once worshipped at his altar. 

Chevy has become a bitter, delusional, splenetic ghost of himself, a punch drunk boxer chewing your ear off about his glory days while putting down every champ who's come along since. 

Blind to the fact everybody hates him
It's not like this is a shock. My late friend Bert Gould attended the now-legendary 2002 Friars Roast of Chevy, which, even by Friars standards, was extraordinarily brutal. Unlike other events of its kind, when friends "singe but never burn", the dais consisted of B-list comedians unknown to Chevy, filled to overflowing with contempt for the so-called legend. Only one of his SNL co-stars, Lorraine Newman, bothered showing up -- and even she went for blood. Bert later told me it was the most uncomfortable thing he'd ever experienced, with Chevy never removing his sunglasses, as if it was too painful for him to watch. 

Ask any subsequent SNL cast member what it was like the times Chevy came back to host. All of them agree that it went from thrilling to horrible before the week of rehearsal was over. Chevy's response is to blame the victim --  the object of his bile, you see, doesn't understand his dry sense of humor. His first recourse, in fact, is to blame anybody else for his behavior, whether it's his parents for a physically and psychologically abusive childhood, or his writers, or his co-stars, or his managers, or you if he's given half a chance.

In the Washington Post, the latest target of Chevy's wrath is the current incarnation of Saturday Night Live. Or, rather, any season of SNL since he made the spectacularly wrong-headed decision to leave mid-way into his second season. That was when, he says, "it went downhill". Considering that his departure dovetailed with emergence of the great Bill Murray as featured player and the show coalescing into comedic brilliance, Chevy's comment reeks of rueful self-denial. 

Not even his friend, SNL producer Lorne Michaels, is spared. "I’m amazed that Lorne has gone so low. I had to watch a little of it, and I just couldn’t fucking believe it," Chevy says,adding "a whole generation of shitheads laughs at the worst fucking humor in the world. You know what I mean? How could you dare give that generation worse shit than they already have in their lives?" That's pretty rich, coming from the star of Funny Farm, Cops and Robbersons, Snow Day, Goose on the Loose, Bad Meat, and The Karate Dog. Not to mention The Chevy Chase Show, the Hindenburg of talk shows.

Grandpa doesn't like kids these days.
In a business notorious for ass-kissing, it's strangely refreshing to hear Chevy speak so frankly. I might even agree with him. But therein lies the problem: we're not SNL's target audience. I believe it was Dick Van Dyke who, back during SNL's original incarnation, told TV Guide that The Not Ready For Prime Time Players were aptly named. 

Of course, I thought he was full of shit, but I gave him the benefit of a doubt: he's too old. As I have been regarding SNL for at least a quarter-century. And as is Chevy Chase since 1976.

By the same token, contemporary audiences aren't necessarily swayed by what previous generations thought was entertainment. No matter how much people howled at the Ritz Brothers in 1939, today's laptop jockeys aren't afraid to say that not only do they find them unfunny, they openly hate Harry Ritz in particular. 

That is, Harry Ritz the comedian. In 2018, people hate Chevy Chase the comedian and the person. Perhaps it's time for a new spin on an old catchphrase. I'm Chevy Chase, and I suck.


No comments: