8 Real People Who Inspired Iconic SNL Characters
Warning: If you make friends with a sketch comic, they just might turn you into an SNL character. Here are 8 real people who likely never realized they were going to be immortalized in comedy history.
Gilda Radner’s first breakout character was Emily Litella, a quirky goof she based on her hard-of-hearing childhood nanny, Aunt Dibby.
Emily’s first sketch appearance, written by Gilda and Tom Davis, promoted her book about “itsy bitsy teeny weeny” things, which accounts for the name “Litella.” The character became a fixture on Weekend Update, editorializing on topics like conserving national racehorses, endangered feces, and making Puerto Rico a steak.
“The character of Mango was actually kind of based on an ex-girlfriend,” says Chris Kattan. “There was a manipulation to her that was incredibly charming. It’s charming and coy and really, really mean.”
“She was from Russia,” he told Jimmy Fallon, “and when she was mad she would say, ‘Kattan, I kill you.'”
And the name Mango? Oh, that was the name of an actual stripper.
Back in the 1970s, New York’s East Village was actually dangerous. That’s why Tony Yoshida, who ran a local eatery, kept a Japanese samurai sword hanging behind his ice cream counter. It wasn’t just for show -- an awed young John Belushi actually witnessed Yoshida chase off some local hoodlums with the blade.
And thus, Belushi’s samurai character was born.
“People said that,” Yoshida says. “After the samurai sketch, people said, ‘Tony, that’s you.’”
Wayne and Garth
Was there a real-life Wayne? “Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto and (Wayne) was just basically the group of people I hung out with, Myers says. Wayne’s Mirth Mobile was known as the Red Rocket in Myer’s real-world hometown. “Sort of an adolescent-suburbia-heavy-metal thing — they were funny people to hang out with.”
As for Garth? He was based on Dana Carvey’s techno-wizard brother, Brad.
“That’s why Garth had the stun gun,” Carvey told Howard Stern. Brad “invented the Video Toaster (early video effects software) and he’s an engineer at Sandia Labs. I call him a genius.”
Brad is the master of understatement, Carvey says, the kind of guy who can MacGyver a nuclear device out of a paperclip. “And (Brad) was kind of the core voice for Garth,” he says. “There’s something very intoxicating about that understated lilt.”
This one is as simple as you might imagine: Wiig had an exchange with a cashier at a Los Angeles Target and a character was born. The clerk wasn’t particularly wacky -- Wiig simply borrowed “just the accent.”
And presumably, the enthusiasm.
And You Are …
David Spade’s rude receptionist -- the one who asks Jesus who he is -- was based on guest host Patrick Swayze’s personal assistant.
As an SNL writer, it was Spade’s job to talk the host through sketch ideas. But when he tried to approach Swayze in the writer’s room, Spade told Marc Maron, the assistant physically blocked him.
“I go, ‘Oh, I just wanted to say hi to Patrick,’ and she goes ‘And you are..?’”
“And I go ‘Uh... I’m David Spade?’ And she goes, ‘And he would know you because?’ I go, ‘Oh, I’m a writer here.’ And she goes ‘right, you’re a writer here at SNL? Mmm, it’s just, he’s so crazy right now. Can you come back in a little bit? It might be a better time.’”
“I go, ‘He’s reading People magazine right there. You sure?’”
“Yeah, it’s just a really tricky time right now.”
Bill Hader and John Mulaney based Stefon on two locals they encountered during their SNL days. The first, says Hader, was “a guy who used to serve coffee in Chelsea and was always touching his face— in the way that people on Ecstasy are always touching things.”
The other inspiration was a club promoter who emailed Mulaney about a fabulous new club that had everything, including "rooms full of broken glass."
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Top image: NBC