Monday, October 3, 2011


And speaking of fascinating failures...

In 1994, Saturday Night Live had one of its worst-ever seasons, and as longtime viewers know, that's really saying something. The repertory cast that Lorne Michaels had built up during the late 1980s and early 1990s was disintegrating, and the producer made the ill-advised decision to prop up the show with "ringers," i.e. performers who were already well-established in films and TV rather than newcomers. Couple this with a decline in writing and general sense of malaise, and you have the formula for disaster. The show was churning out clunker after clunker, dragging the hosts down with them.

One of these unfortunate victims was the brilliant John Turturro, who hosted on November 17, 1994. Turturro was hoodwinked into participating in one of the show's more memorably misbegotten sketches, "Taxi Driver: The Musical." I can remember watching the original broadcast with members of my family and having my sister beg me to press the "MUTE" button during this skit. Nearly 17 years later, I thought it was time to revisit this bit of comedic infamy. I had forgotten that Turturro plays two roles. He is actually quite brilliant as Martin Scorsese, but his tone deaf "singing" as Robert De Niro/Travis Bickle is hopeless. The other cast members, including Michael McKean, Jay Mohr, and Janeane Garofalo make very little attempt at imitating (respectively) Peter Boyle, Harvey Keitel, and Jodie Foster. The cutaways to Scorsese are quite good and funny, but the musical segments have an odd heaviness to them. The songs are actually played pretty straight, as if Taxi Driver really had been made into a serious Broadway musical. I remembered this as playing to dead silence from the audience, but it actually gets a respectable amount of laughs. In some ways, it's a precursor to the "quotation as satire" school of comedy so prevalent today.

Anyway, here's the sketch. Watch for yourself and decide:

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