We live in an increasingly unfunny world, which might be why comedy is booming in our culture like never before. Today, every ad tries to be funny, every politician tries to be funny. Many of us get our news from comedy show, if we haven't already been filled in by the day's viral tweets and Facebook memes. Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings has a new book out about our comedy-first culture, called Planet Funny, which is on sale now, so we've asked him to spend June debunking some popular misconceptions about humor and comedy. He'll be here all month! Tip your waitress.
The Debunker: When Was Steve Martin an SNL Cast Member?
This might only qualify as a misconception if you're under 35. Not only can you not be president, you relative youngsters, you probably assume that Steve Martin used to be on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s! And why not? Everyone's seen the clips of him dancing with Gilda Radner, being bemused by the Coneheads, originating his "wild and crazy guy!" catchphrase as one of the swinging Festrunk brothers, or singing his novelty hit "King Tut" in the a Egyptian headdress. (Does it count as cultural appropriation if the culture in question effectively ended over two thousand years ago?)
In fact, Steve Martin was never a Saturday Night Live cast member, even though he's been on the show twenty times, is a close friend of many of its writers and performers, and even asked producer Lorne Michaels to serve as the best man at his 2007 wedding. Younger viewers, who have seen Martin starring alongside SNL vets like Martin Short and Chevy Chase in ¡Three Amigos! (a film Martin co-wrote with Michaels) or Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger or Tina Fey in Baby Mama would be forgiven for assuming that Martin had been one of the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" during the show's early days.
When Saturday Night Live first hit the airwaves in 1975, Martin was not yet a big enough name even to guest-host the show. But he quickly skyrocketed to fame as the top-selling comedian in the world at exactly the same time SNL was reinventing TV comedy, and in the span of just a year a half, between 1976 and 1978, he hosted the show five times, often enough to create his own recurring characters like the Festrunk brothers. He has since guest-hosted another ten times, a record that stood until Alec Baldwin passed him in 2011. (Martin hasn't hosted the show since 2009.) In a 2002 interview, Buck Henry said that Martin and three other frequent guests (Baldwin, Tom Hanks, and John Goodman) were "essentially cast members, because they really fit into the format, and they understood their work." Steve Martin became one of the most iconic faces in Saturday Night Live history without ever working for the show.
Quick Quiz: Which musician is always included in the show's "Five-Timers Club" even though he only officially hosted four times, between 1975 and 1986?
Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.