Bill Murray, the Struggling New SNL Cast Member, Apologizes for Not Being Funny (1977)

In 1977, after a few under­whelm­ing months as the first new guy in Sat­ur­day Night Live’s then-brief his­to­ry, a 26-year-old Bill Mur­ray reached out to home view­ers with the emo­tion­al equiv­a­lent of a Kick­starter cam­paign. The audi­ence expect­ed the Not Ready for Prime Time Play­ers to be fun­ny, and in every­day life, Mur­ray claims above, he was. It just wasn’t com­ing togeth­er in front of the cam­eras yet.

It didn’t help that he was replac­ing audi­ence favorite, Chevy Chase.

He was also an unknown quan­ti­ty in the eyes of the writ­ers. Rather than entrust their pre­cious mate­r­i­al to a guy who’d yet to prove him­self, they saved their plum assign­ments for the likes of  John Belushi  and Dan Aykroyd.

Mur­ray was rel­e­gat­ed to the sort of pal­lid sup­port­ing roles that require no par­tic­u­lar talent—“the sec­ond cop, the sec­ond FBI agent, the guy hold­ing the mop…” is how he described them to Howard Stern in an inter­view last week. It’s a sto­ry that’s also recount­ed in the book, Live From New York: The Com­plete, Uncen­sored His­to­ry of Sat­ur­day Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writ­ers, and Guests.

Back in ’77, he wise­ly chose not to blame the mate­r­i­al.

Instead he cur­ried favor with ref­er­ences to his late father, his hard work­ing mom, and his nine sib­lings, one of whom was a nun. (Anoth­er had polio, but he left that out. Appar­ent­ly, some things are sacred.)

Lat­er in his career, he’d become cel­e­brat­ed for his smirk­ing insin­cer­i­ty, but his direct appeal, as pro­duc­er Lorne Michaels dubbed it, had none of that.

He wasn’t look­ing for view­ers to write in on his behalf, just an assur­ance that they’d root for him (and his large, father­less Catholic fam­i­ly) dur­ing his tenure at Rock­e­feller Plaza (“New York City, New York 10020”).

It’s doubt­ful whether a sim­i­lar gam­bit would’ve paid off for Gar­rett Mor­ris or Laraine New­man. Com­e­dy, like life, is not fair.

Now that he’s rich and famous, he advis­es peo­ple who dream of sim­i­lar glo­ries to check if the first part alone won’t be suf­fi­cient to cov­er the bulk of their fan­tasies.

But we, the pub­lic, need Bill Mur­ray to be famous, too, in order to crash our par­ties, and help us under­stand Shake­speare, and read poet­ry to con­struc­tion work­ers.

Turns out he’s not the only one to reap long term med­i­c­i­nal ben­e­fits from those two “table­spoons of humil­i­ty” he swal­lowed live on air, all those years ago.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bill Mur­ray Sings the Poet­ry of Bob Dylan: Shel­ter From the Storm

Bill Mur­ray Gives a Delight­ful Dra­mat­ic Read­ing of Twain’s Huck­le­ber­ry Finn (1996)

Watch Bill Mur­ray Per­form a Satir­i­cal Anti-Tech­nol­o­gy Rant (1982)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the cre­ator of The Mer­maid­’s Legs, a trau­ma-filled Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen reboot debut­ing in the shad­ow of Rock­e­feller Cen­ter in less than two weeks. See it! And fol­low her @AyunHalliday

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • marsupialis says:

    You do real­ize this is satire, right?

  • Joe Fonebone says:

    “This video is not avail­able in your loca­tion due to provider license restric­tions.
    Feel free to check out one of these relat­ed videos:…”

    Yeah, thanks for that.

  • You'reWrong,TheMascaraSnake says:

    Chase was a fan favorite, but he per­haps undu­ly so: he com­pen­sat­ed for his inabil­i­ty to read the news with a gift for ad lib recov­ery. Because of his good looks, he was also called on to play the show’s roman­tic lead in most of the ear­ly skits. Mur­ray, though, was hilar­i­ous from the start, and his apol­o­gy was tongue-in-cheek. In his first skit, he played a turn­ing-bit­ter grand­fa­ther await­ing a phone call from his grand­son and drew huge laughs. In his sec­ond skit, Mur­ray played a tv direc­tor orga­niz­ing the live exe­cu­tion of a Texas mass mur­der and again drew huge laughs. These skits were on sea­son two, episode eleven, host­ed by Ralph Nad­er with musi­cal guest George Ben­son. I think you missed the point.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.