Gilda Radner Does a Comic Impersonation of Patti Smith: Watch the Classic SNL Skit, “Rock Against Yeast” (1979)

Gimme Mick, gimme Mick
Baby’s hair, bulgin’ eyes, lips so thick
Are you woman, are you man
I’m your biggest funked-up fan
So rock me and roll meeee…
‘Til I’m sick

                                —(the fic­tion­al) Can­dy Slice, Sat­ur­day Night Live

Sir Michael Philip—aka Mick Jag­ger—cel­e­brat­ed his 77th birth­day ear­li­er this sum­mer, a mile­stone his fel­low Rolling Stones Kei­th Richards and Ron­nie Wood observed remote­ly, as befits seniors at par­tic­u­lar risk from COVID-19 infec­tion.

You, Mick Jag­ger, are Eng­lish and go out with a mod­el and get an incred­i­ble amount of pub­lic­i­ty

You, Mick Jag­ger, don’t keep reg­u­lar hours

You, Mick Jag­ger, have the great­est rock ‘n roll band in the his­to­ry of rock ‘n roll, and you don’t even play an instru­ment your­self

It’s a bit sober­ing, watch­ing the late Gil­da Rad­ner, expert­ly preen­ing and pranc­ing as the then-36-year-old, yet-to-be-knight­ed Mick in “Rock Against Yeast,” the star stud­ded Sat­ur­day Night Live Sketch from 1979, above.

Read­ers over the age of 36 who want to get seri­ous­ly bummed out, poll your under-35 friends to see who’s heard of the ver­sa­tile Gil­da, an orig­i­nal Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Play­er and one of America’s most com­pli­cat­ed sweet­hearts.

For­tu­nate­ly, she’s not entire­ly for­got­ten:

I can per­son­al­ly attest, and I feel com­fort­able speak­ing for Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch when I say that see­ing Gil­da as a kid…[she was] so authen­ti­cal­ly her­self and so reg­u­lar in so many ways. She was not a piece of cast­ing, she was who she was on TV. We all saw that and said, ‘I want to do that, and it’s pos­si­ble because I see her doing that. It was an ear­ly exam­ple for me of how impor­tant rep­re­sen­ta­tion is, for every­one from every walk of life. Gil­da was our equiv­a­lent of Michelle Oba­ma. —Tina Fey

Gilda’s not alone in hav­ing left us at a young age. Some of her “Rock Against Yeast” cast­mates and the celebri­ties they spoofed made sim­i­lar­ly shock­ing ear­ly exits:

John Belushi 

Bob Mar­ley

Guest host Ricky Nel­son, appear­ing as him­self

Music pro­duc­er Don Kir­sh­n­er—embod­ied here by musi­cian Paul Shaffer—made it to a ripe old age, ie: just a year younger than Sir Mick is now.

Actu­al­ly, Gilda’s Mick rou­tine was fil­tered through the fic­tion­al Can­dy Slice, a satir­i­cal take on God­moth­er of Punk Pat­ti Smith—now a ven­er­a­ble 73-year-old Nation­al Book award-win­ning mem­oirist, gear­ing up for next month’s “high-end mul­ti-cam­era visu­al and son­ic expe­ri­ence,” i.e. vir­tu­al book read­ing for last year’s Year Of The Mon­key.

Smith, who over the years has proved her­self to be a very good egg, admit­ted to NPR that while  her band found Gilda’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion “hilar­i­ous,” she took a while to warm up to it:

When I was younger, I—it sort of both­ered me because, you know, she makes a big thing about, you know, I think it’s like the white pow­der and the vast amounts of cocaine in the record­ing stu­dio. I had nev­er even had cocaine. It was­n’t how—it’s not how I work. But I thought it was actu­al­ly hilar­i­ous besides that. She was a great artist.

It was—actually, it was a priv­i­lege to be played—it was a priv­i­lege to have Gil­da Rad­ner project what she thought I might be like. And the fun­ni­est part was since there was a big con­tro­ver­sy over the armpit hair on the cov­er of “East­er,” she brushed the hair under her arms, and I think she had like a foot of hair com­ing from her armpit, and we were all laugh­ing so hard.

She was a great artist, and cocaine or not, I salute her. And I feel very lucky to have been, you know, por­trayed by Gil­da.

Read a full tran­script of “Rock Against Yeast” here, while heav­ing a sigh of relief that that singer Dol­ly Par­ton (Jane Curtin) con­tin­ues to walk so vig­or­ous­ly amongst us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bill Mur­ray & Gil­da Rad­ner Deliv­er the Laughs in Two 1970s Skits for Nation­al Lam­poon

Lorne Michaels Intro­duces Sat­ur­day Night Live and Its Bril­liant First Cast for the Very First Time (1975)

When William S. Bur­roughs Appeared on Sat­ur­day Night Live: His First TV Appear­ance (1981)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (4)
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  • Dorianne Marsh says:

    That’s a weird mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion to say that she’s ‘doing’ Mick Jag­ger, when she’s actu­al­ly imi­tat­ing Pat­ti Smith chan­nel­ing of Mick Jag­ger.

  • Lonnie says:

    Too bad they could­n’t erad­i­cate that yeast thing

  • Robert Burrows says:

    I remem­ber watch­ing this live and think­ing that Gilda’s imi­ta­tion of Pat­ti Smith was mean spir­it­ed. I feel the same
    way watch­ing it decades lat­er.

  • Paul Nelson says:

    When I first watched it in 70’s,I believed it showed Gil­da immense tal­ent and exu­ber­ance at mak­ing peo­ple laugh.No mali­cious intent on her part.The was the time one of ruth­less parody.And laugh­ing at our­selves and the world the time,was some the best com­e­dy there was.I wish the same was true today instead of the banal stuff we are forced to see today.Imitation and par­o­dy is the sin­cere form flat­tery this.Thank you Gil­da and oth­er come­di­ennes and writers.That sad­ly are falling into obscu­ri­ty.

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