‘Wild and Crazy Guys’ and a golden age of American comedy


Writer Nick de Semlyen clearly remembers the first time he saw “The Blues Brothers”.

“I was probably too young for this movie,” he said during a conversation with WPR’s “BETA”. “I was about 7 years old. I was on vacation with my family in Greece. Even at that age, I thought, ‘This is a weird movie.’ This big budget musical with a car chase and heroes wearing sunglasses, and you don’t really know what they’re talking about – they’re criminals but they eat fried chicken in it, but that’s what that makes it shiny. “

This comedy brilliance was available in spades in the 1980s. The original cast members of “Saturday Night Live” went on to write and appear in countless legendary Hollywood comedies over the decade.

In his book ‘Wild And Crazy Guys’, de Semlyen writes:’ The 80s comedy mavericks changed Hollywood forever. “

This original SNL cast included Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi, among others. Chase left after a season to pursue his film career, and when he returned to the show as a guest host during Season 3, it was newcomer Bill Murray who stepped forward on behalf of the cast for confront Chase with his abrupt departure after a season of the show.

The two had a physical argument moments before the show aired, with Murray accusing Chase of being “average talent,” de Semlyen said.

Did Murray and Chase mend their relationship in time to film “Caddyshack” of the 1980s together?

“Not as such,” said de Semlyen. “There was still tension there, but not to the point that they wouldn’t share a scene together.”

De Semlyen thinks that comedy in the ’70s was very low-key and subtle as America grappled with issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate. So this new wave of unpredictable and energetic talent in the late 1970s easily took Americans by storm. “They gave them this new kind of anarchic energy,” he said.

This energy also caught Hollywood studios by surprise.

I don’t think studio executives generally knew what was going on, and if you read about “Animal House”… they didn’t know if it was going to work or not, ”said de Semlyen.

Released in 1978, “Animal House” set the stage for the comedy boom of the 1980s.

“If you look at the movies that came out after ‘Animal House’, stuff like ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Stripes’, they’re all trying to capture that magic of ‘Animal House’. You know, a lot of them have that same. dynamic slobs versus snobs, “said de Semlyen.” John Belushi is just rampant in this movie and he’s so watchable. “

De Semlyen thinks things could have been very different for 1980s comedy if Belushi hadn’t died in 1982 at the age of 33.

“On the one hand, he would have been in ‘Ghostbusters’,” he said.

Aykroyd wrote “Ghostbusters” and “Spies Like Us” as followed by “The Blues Brothers” for himself and Belushi. Murray and Chase eventually appeared in these films, respectively, following Belushi’s death.

“I think Belushi would have done some really interesting things,” said de Semlyen. “He was talking to Robert De Niro and Sergio Leone about doing ‘Once Upon A Time In America.’ Like a lot of these comedians he sort of wanted to do serious stuff as well as silly stuff so he could have become a dramatic actor. really interesting.”

Watching a movie like “Ghostbusters”, it’s now hard to imagine it without Murray as Venkman.

“He brings such an essential quality to this film,” said de Semlyen. “He’s got that cynical sideways look on the whole thing. He’s like a surrogate for the audience, so as stupid and fat and crazy as the movie is, he’s here to say, ‘Come on, that’s kinda stupid, n’ is this not? ‘”

Belushi, Chase and Murray were impulsive and unpredictable, but Martin was meticulous in his craft, de Semlyen said, with fellow comedian Rick Moranis once describing Martin’s style as “anti-comedy.”

“He was just very cerebral and really didn’t tell jokes but didn’t make jokes about jokes,” said de Semlyen. “He was taller than all of them in the mid-’70s, he was the only stand-up that could fill the arenas while the others started ‘Saturday Night Live’.”

Eddie Murphy was another comedian who could fill arenas, but his path was a little different. With specials like “Delirious” and “Raw” and movies like “Beverly Hills Cop”, Murphy was a true “rock star” of comedy.

“Eddie Murphy was the same offstage as he was onstage,” said de Semlyen. “When he was a kid he would go around and say to everyone, ‘I’m gonna be a movie star. i will be a millionaire, ‘and he made it possible. “

But, he tried and tried to get on SNL without success. When they finally hired him, he gave nothing to do at first.

“But he kept them and finally he got his chance,” said de Semlyen.

There were also a lot of talented and very funny women, including Jane Curtin and Radner, who appeared alongside the “Wild And Crazy Guys” on SNL, but they didn’t enjoy the same notoriety and success on big. screen than their male colleagues.

“It was a time sort of known as ‘New Macho’ as one of the ‘Saturday Night Live’ writers called it,” de Semlyen said. “I think John Belushi didn’t think women were particularly funny, so I think that unfortunately fueled him. But yeah, that’s a real shame.”

So, after having plunged into the great comedies of the 80s, does Semlyen have an absolute crush?

“I’m going to take ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ because it’s just a perfect movie, I think,” he said. “And it’s fascinating that your sympathies change the more you watch him. John Candy plays this super boring guy who annoys you as the person watching him and then you move around and think Steve Martin is some sort of guy. asshole for not treating him better and you go back and forth between the people you’re in a relationship with. And then in the end, you both like them. “



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