The Night John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on Saturday Night Live, And They Got Banned from the Show

Punk rock has a robust tradition of gross-out, offensive comedy—one carried into the present by bands like Fat White Family and Diarrhea Planet, who may not exist were it not for Fear, an unstable L.A. band lead by an obnoxious provocateur who goes by the name Lee Ving. Like fellow L.A. punks the Germs, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag, Fear gets credit for pioneering a California punk sound known for adolescent brattiness and a total lack of pretension to any kind of artfulness or cool.

Like many of their peers, Fear rose to prominence when Penelope Spheeris featured them in her 1981 punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Part I. But before that seminal film’s release, Fear was discovered by John Belushi, who first caught the band on a local L.A. music show called New Wave Theatre in 1980. He tracked down Ving, who tells Rolling Stone, “we had a couple of beers and became fast friends.” At the time, Belushi was at work on his comedy Neighbors with Dan Aykroyd and contracted the band to record a song for the film (his last before his death in 1982).

The film’s producers, Rolling Stone writes, “were appalled” by the song “and refused to use it,” so to make it up to Ving and company, Belushi pushed to have the band booked on Saturday Night Live on Halloween, 1981. The resulting performance has become legendary for what happened, and what didn’t, and led to Fear becoming, says Ving, “one of the esteemed members of the permanently banned.” You can watch a clip above of the band playing “Beef Boloney” and “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones” above (introduced by Donald Pleasance), and just below see Ving in a clip from a recent interview show discussing the ill-fated gig.

Belushi stage managed the band’s appearance, striving for authenticity by bringing into the studio what Ving calls “an actual punk rock audience rather than just Mr. and Mrs. Missouri.” (That audience included now-legends Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, members of New York hardcore band the Cro-Mags, and Tesco Vee of the Meatmen.)  The resulting mosh pit was nothing out of the ordinary for the typical punk show. But, unsurprisingly, “the real audience at Saturday Night Live was scared to death,” says Ving, “They didn’t know what was happening with all the mayhem.”

During the riotous proceedings, SNL producer Dick Ebersol “got hit in the chest with a pumpkin,” some equipment was damaged, and during the final song, “Let’s Have a War,” an audience member grabbed the microphone and yelled out “F*ck New York!” The profanity freaked out NBC, who cut the broadcast short and shelved the footage for several years. The New York Post later quoted an unnamed NBC technician as saying, “This was a life-threatening situation. They went crazy. It’s amazing no one got killed.” The paper also quoted a figure of $400,000 for damages to the Rockefeller Center set.

But as Billboard reported two weeks later, the figure was totally erroneous (supplied to the Post by Ving as a practical joke, as he says above). “We had to pay $40 in labor penalties. That was the extent of it,” said SNL spokesman Peter Hamilton. As for the shock to viewers, it seems the network received “all of 12 complaints” after the broadcast. Ving himself found the overreaction ridiculous, and NBC’s long shelving of the footage—only recently made available in a truncated version—a humorless mistake. “They seem to be… losing the sense of humor about the whole idea,” he told Rolling Stone, “I had a sense of humor at the whole idea of starting Fear. It was extremely humorous to me, and I think John saw that humor.”

Indeed he did, but Belushi’s appreciation for Fear’s antics was ahead of its time. Now we can see, at least in part, what all the fuss was about. And we can also finally hear the long-shelved single for Neighbors that Belushi recorded with the band.

Related Content:

Young John Belushi Imitates Truman Capote & Performs Live on Second City Stage (1972)

The Stunt That Got Elvis Costello Banned From Saturday Night Live

5 Musical Guests Banned From Saturday Night Live: From Elvis Costello to Frank Zappa

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


by | Permalink | Comments (18) |

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 (18)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • speedy says:

    old school skateboards has a link. awesome stuff!!

  • Rod says:

    Actually, it was John Brennan who yelled in the mic. He screamed “Negative Approach is going to fuck you up! “

  • BW says:

    The music festival Riotfest shared it out which is how i got here

  • Skimch says:

    Old fart skateboarders, still living our youth. Great article.

  • Lily Whyte says:

    hahaha, geezer.

  • skaterat says:

    riot fest facebook page

  • Kevin Schofield says:

    Epic Riotous performance yet normal amongst the LA punk scene that I would see come through my small west coast hick hometown of Bakersfield Ca. Glad this footage was brought out for us to check out.

  • Mike R says:

    You could say that there wasn’t a band that was more punk rock than Fear, and you wouldn’t be wrong! It’s great to finally see this footage come out of hiding. It’s been a punk rock legend for decades.

  • Christco says:

    The “audience member” that said “fuck New York” was John Brannon of Negative Approach.

  • Cameron says:

    The Official FEAR Facebook page just posted the link.

  • Jonathan says:

    Lee Ving’s Facebook sent me here.

  • hugo bonilla says:

    Lets get something straight here …
    Fear already had a huge fan base before Belushi’s so called discovery of them
    The crowd was mostly comprised of people from Washington D.C. and a few from N.Y.
    that found out Fear was playing and managed to sneak in..
    I watched the show that night knowing Fear was going to play, a couple of my friends received the intel a head of time, and were able to sneak in , i
    Yes Fear was one of the most notorious hardcore/punk bands from L.A. that would cause riots where ever they went
    It was Ian MacKaye that got up on stage and said “New York Sucks!” at the end of
    “Lets Have a War!” NBC cut and went straight to a commercial
    Back then just about every hardcore/punk scene in the U.S hated NYC !
    If you can describe what playing “N.Y.’s Allright If You Like Saxophones!’ on SNL was like It would probably be like going behind enemy lines taking over one of N.Y.C ‘s most sacred entertainment outlets and expressing their contempt for NYC ‘s music Scene…

  • John Sox says:

    I saw it in my FB feed. It is the 35th anniversary of the 81 hardcore punk explosion so not surprising it is going around.

  • Dad says:

    Fat Whites stem from the Country Teasers who stem from Half Man Half Biscuit not a pseudo punk band like Fear.

  • Gabe says:

    Piss off faggot.

  • Deeknow says:

    “Pseudo punk” says the Pho’ king douche.

  • Russ says:

    Ian MacKaye was asked about this during a W and A. He said “you will here someone scream ‘New York sucks!’ That would be me”

  • Alonzo says:

    THIS is punk! Let’s see how wannabe punters like Avril Lavigne or Green Day handle this! True, hardcore Punk is dead.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.