17 November 2002 | jhclues
The Best of the Best
He juggles, he plays the banjo, he writes his own material, and just by using the right combination of body language and facial expressions he can merely walk onto a stage and the audience will explode into gales of laughter. His name is Steve Martin, and the way he blends his unique observations of the human condition with physical comedy, he just may be the funniest man on the planet. Unfortunately, since his segue into a successful acting career in motion pictures, he doesn't do stand-up anymore, so thanks be to the comedy gods who provided us with this compilation, `The Best of Saturday Night Live, Hosted by Steve Martin,' which features the best of the best and the funniest of the funniest moments that ever visited your living room via the magic portal of the television set.
For those who were around when these shows were first broadcast, this will be a trip down memory lane that you'll want to take again and again, because this is the kind of stuff you can watch over and over and it somehow just keeps getting funnier. For the younger crowd who only know the current incarnation of Saturday Night Live, this will be a real eye-opener, because the `comedy' we're subjected to today simply doesn't hold a candle to that proffered by the Not Quite Ready For Prime Time Players of the early, `golden' years of SNL, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Bill Murray, Garret Morris and Gilda Radner. And when Martin joined this bunch as host, well...it just didn't get any better than that.
Does this mean that everything the current crop of comics foists upon an unsuspecting audience is without merit and that everything the SNL gang did in '78 and '79 was a masterpiece of comedy to be enshrined in stone? Of course not; the nature of comedy being what it is, and given the fact that the early SNL players were on the cutting edge of things that had never been done on TV before, it follows that some of the bits were not only going to fail, but go down in flames. There were even entire shows back then that weren't funny at all. But stacked against most of what comes down the pike today, there just isn't any comparison. Times change, attitudes change, people change; and with that, comedy must necessarily change. But that doesn't mean necessarily for the better.
Consider some of the bits from this collection, crafted and delivered by Martin (with a little help from his friends): You get a sampling of Steve's opening monologues, which don't even have to be ABOUT anything to be funny (a precursor to `Seinfeld,' perhaps?); then there's the hilarious Festrunk Brothers (Martin and Aykroyd), those `wild and crazy guys!' who get laughs just by walking from one side of the room to the other; `Theodoric of York/Medieval Barber' has an underlying intelligence that today's players wouldn't even attempt, and wisely so, as this kind of humor would be beyond the capacity of, and lost on most of today's audience; `Dancing In the Dark' is a hysterically funny interlude featuring Martin and Radner simply dancing (ah, shades of Fred and Ginger); but the highlight of the show has to be Steve doing his now famous `King Tut' bit, which illustrates the ingenuity with which Martin was able to satirically tap into current events and contemporary sensibilities to capture forevermore a reflection of our society as it was at the moment.
This collection also features some of the best moments of SNL in which Martin did not participate: The weekend update (when it was still fresh and original) with Curtin and Aykroyd, and another segment featuring Curtin, Murray and Father Guido Sarducci; a `commercial' with the inimitable Gilda Radner; and another highlight, that historical night that Jake and Elwood, `The Blues Brothers,' were introduced to the world. How fitting that it came on a night that Martin was hosting the show.
Without question, comedy is subjective, and the basic impetus shifts from generation to generation; but whether the contemporary audience adapts to the material, or the material adapts to the audience, is open for debate. Still, the `classic' bits that were funny twenty, thirty or fifty years ago remain funny today because they were created in a way and captured an `essence' rooted in human nature that transcends time. And so it is with this collection of singularly entertaining moments offered up for perusal in `The Best of Saturday Night Live, Hosted by Steve Martin,' which says more than a little bit about who we were at a particular point in time, as well as something about who and where we are today. And it makes me want to find Steve Martin, just so I can walk up and say to him, `Steve, how did you ever get to be SO funny?'