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


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Comments (18)
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  • 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.

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