Fallon Fast

Things you will learn from a forthcoming oral history of Saturday Night Live: Dan Aykroyd slept with, among others, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman and writer Rosie Shuster, the latter of whom was, at the time, married to the show's producer and creator, Lorne Michaels. To this day, Chevy Chase regrets leaving the show after its first season: "I still grieve," he says, "for all those years that I could have had there." John Belushi used to psyche out hosts, including Richard Dreyfuss, by pretending to be ill during the days before the show was to air in order to sucker punch them in front of the cameras. Newman once snorted heroin while a bulimic Radner vomited up a gallon of ice cream in a nearby bathroom. Michaels and Jane Curtin only communicated through Radner. Harry Shearer considered Billy Crystal a sell-out during their single season on the show. Several of writer Larry David's rejected SNL sketches would reappear years later on the NBC series he co-created, Seinfeld. Jan Hooks was repulsed by Victoria Jackson, because she was "a grown woman who spoke like a little girl." And every time Chase has returned to host the show, he's been despised by the cast--and, apparently, on some heavy doses of drugs.

Those are but a few of the revelations from Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller's forthcoming book Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, which is excerpted in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. Some of these tales are old news, yellowed myth to those who were weaned on the 27-year-old show. If the excerpt provides any indication, the book's as much a gossipy gaze into ancient history as it is a solicitous look at how a show so erratic in quality has managed to remain relevant, or at least animate.

But what's most telling is how, toward excerpt's end, the story brightens: Backbiting and other acts of nibbling give way to a group hug; the sneer becomes a giant smile. If yesterday's Saturday Night Live was defined as much by its sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll excess as its impudence and irreverence, then today's show is its polar opposite--a happy, if exhausting, place to work, the "fun" at long last extracted from the dysfunctional. Says head writer and Weekend Update co-host Tina Fey, "I would have been terrified if I was here back in the old days."

Perhaps no one better represents the new SNL--the shinier, happier version--than Fey and her Weekend Update partner, Jimmy Fallon, whose perpetually bemused grin and tousled hair suggest that somewhere beneath the shaggy exterior is very little interior. Fallon and Fey are the cutesy couple of late-night television, a tag team pretty enough to land on magazine covers and sardonic enough to brighten what had become SNL's bleakest of black holes during Colin Quinn's wobbly tenure behind the anchor's desk. Theirs is an Update of the absurd, a place where Chris Kattan's Gay Hitler drops by to offer a rose to Will Ferrell's Neil Diamond; where Fallon takes a pie to the face; where Fey will explain, with a bright smile, that Hugh Hefner's seven young girlfriends are with him only because "they were molested by a family friend." Fallon repeatedly refused Michaels' offer to audition for the job and accepted only when Fey signed on.

"Lorne was like, 'You could be the kid who's goofy, and she could be the girl who does her homework,'" Fallon recalls now. "And I tell you what, best move I ever made in my career. I love Tina Fey to death."

Not since Chase anchored Weekend Update has the segment been so popular; the show's ratings now rise, slightly, during the half-hour when Update airs. When they depart, and they will, it will leave a vacuum--and SNL will, most likely, be all sucking sound once more.

Fallon especially has become SNL's latest breakthrough star, a former "featured player" who's transcended the late-night ghetto. He's done film, appearing in both Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous as bearded manager Dennis Hope and Woody Allen's due-in-2003 Anything Else, in which he stars alongside Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci and Allen. He appeared in the episode of HBO's Band of Brothers, "Crossroads," directed by Tom Hanks. Fallon hosted last year's MTV Movie Awards with Kirsten Dunst, and on August 29, he goes it alone as emcee at MTV's Video Music Awards, where he will introduce the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Eminem. Two days before that, DreamWorks will release his first album, a comedy-music hybrid titled The Bathroom Wall from which there will even be a single, the Leo Sayer-styled "Idiot Boyfriend."

He has become as ubiquitous as any SNL cast member since, perhaps, Mike Myers--a multimedia juggernaut at 27, if one takes into account his breezy, brooding 1999 book I Hate This Place: The Pessimist's Guide to Life, co-written with sister Gloria (as much as one can co-write a book with 12 words per page). In short order, he has become the show's most popular performer and managed to move to movies without quitting or pandering or, worse still, expanding a skit into a shit feature. There are no plans, at present, for a film about Nick Burns, Your Company Computer Guy, or Scully, the Boston teen with a hard-on for No-mah.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky