Sunday, June 15, 2008

Big Klein, Little Klein

The episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Robert Klein on January 28, 1978, would stand as a landmark, for several reasons. It boasted the first appearance of the nerds, for one thing, with Klein playing what would soon prove to be a superfluous nerd. They were a band called the Nerds, appearing on a radio station interview, and Bill Murray and Gilda Radner looked just as they would in sketches to come for time immemorial (except that Murray still had that cheesy mustache). Jane Curtin appeared as one of their moms, too.

Klein's show also marked the first appearance of the Cheeseborgie, Cheeseborgie crew. Now, this is why classic comedy shows tend to be written by people who are not me. I never would have dreamed that a skit with such limited variance - it's a diner that serves nothing but cheeseburgers and Pepsi, full stop - would not only be so funny but be worth reviving over and over.

Finally, it contains what I really think is the final appearance by a Killer Bee. I know I said that before, but I mean it this time. John Belushi appears onscreen in a Bee costume for about ten seconds as part of the episode-ending denouement in which giant mutant lobsters overtake the entire Eastern Seaboard.

I had written before about the brilliance of playing with the format of the show, and I suppose this could have fallen into that category, except for one thing: It wasn't funny. The setup was clever: The bit was introduced as just another joke during Weekend Update, then Klein mentioned the ravaging lobsters before he introduced Bonnie Raitt's second song. Then their squealing sounds (produced by Chevy Chase, according to the credits) interrupted a late sketch, and the rest of the show was given over to killer lobsters, with the end credits, finally, running over static.

I'm not sure what the goal was: No one was going to fall for it, "War of the Worlds"-style, and failing that, it needed to be funny. It wasn't.

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