My Summer Vacation Book Report

Filed Under Print, Sketch Comedy

Back from Maine, having had my fill of lobster meat and bargain clothing. Also read Gasping for Airtime by Jay Mohr. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, Jay Mohr talks candidly about his two years on Saturday Night Live. Or rather, not on. Jay didn’t really make much of an impact on the show, though it’s not from a lack of trying on his part.

Jay’s short tenure fell, pretty indisputably, in a nadir for SNL. Numerous magazine stories abounded in 1993-1995 with the zombie-like headline “Saturday Night Dead.” Most notable was a way-pre-Bonnie-Fuller “US Magazine” piece about the treatment of women on the show and a general piece from Kurt Andersen era “New York Magazine” that just slammed the show. (Here’s a funny thread showing Kurt Andersen’s attempt to publicize the piece on the Internet, with a response by yours-truly circa 1995.) For a while there, it looked like SNL was going to get cancelled or Lorne Michaels was going to get fired. Even though the show is still wildly uneven (the only can’t miss part of it is Tina Fey’s Weekend Update), the show’s fate being that dire is a little hard to believe now. Heck, Lorne’s wining the Mark Twain Prize for Humor this year.

One of the most interesting parts about the book is Jay’s confession that he stole material from Rick Shapiro to create one of the few sketches of, er, his that saw the light of day. Rick, who’s kinda the patron saint/cautionary tale for downtown comics, apparently threatened to sue and according to this account proved the bit was his own. And presumably got a big check that prevented him from sucking dick for heroin for a while.

Jay feels pretty horrible about the whole affair (and by the time you get to this point with him in the book, you have some sympathy). Stealing someone else’s act is one of things that’ll get you loathed by half the comedians out there. (Though it seems a pretty typical way to start out… I recall numerous comic profiles I’ve read which state “For the first year or so, I just did (Richard Pryor/Woody Allen)‘s act.”) The fact that Jay Mohr brings it up shows a little bit of guts and makes the criticisms in the rest of the book more interesting.

More on Gasping For Airtime and other SNL books this week. Maybe I’ll even go dig up that old NY Mag article and we’ll see if any of those criticisms still stand.

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