Saturday Night Live: 6 Times Stars Were Injured On The Show
Like Gilda, Jane, and Laraine, we love when Chevy Chase falls down a flight of stairs, over a couch, or into the waiting jaws of a ravenous mountain lion. But physical comedy, especially when it’s performed live, has a cost -- namely, cuts, contusions, and concussions. Here are six excruciating times Saturday Night Live stars took one on the chin for us -- and sometimes got a trip to intensive care for their trouble.
For a show as hip and counterculture as SNL was in its inaugural season, it wasn’t afraid to slip on the proverbial banana peel for laughs. Chevy made a name for himself by constantly discovering new ways to fall down -- and paid the price for decades.
In one painful incident, his Gerald Ford was supposed to tumble over a padded podium. Problem was, no one actually padded it, causing Chevy to miss two shows while recovering. The press was told he had aggravated an old back injury; the reality was the Chase family jewels had taken the brunt of the impact. Woof.
That wasn’t the worst of it. (OK, maybe that was the worst of it.) But in 1986, he checked himself into rehab for an addiction to prescription pain killers. According to his publicist, he had chronic back issues from his years of pratfalls.
Farley put his body through a lot, all based on his assumption that audiences wanted to see what he called “fatty fall down.” That was an easy out for writers, who could always end a Matt “living in a van down by the river” Foley sketch with Farley falling out a window or destroying a coffee table with his butt.
The problem was, he had no idea how to fall without hurting himself. Once, Chevy Chase stopped by the SNL set when Chris was practicing pratfalls. He proudly showed the bit to Chevy, who asked “What are you breaking your fall on?” (With the exception of the unfortunate podium, Chase usually had something hidden to cushion his stumble.)
“But Chris had watched Chevy and bought the illusion of it,” says Lorne Michaels. “You just fall on the ground and you don’t mind the pain, because that’s the price of doing it. So there was an honesty and a straightforwardness in him that people responded to.”
In addition to the bumps and black eyes he suffered on the SNL set, he bruised himself bigtime by doing his own stunts on Beverly Hills Ninja. One scene called for him to hide, you know, like ninjas do, then jump through a wall that was designed to give way. On one take, he hit a stud--and the stud hit back, propelling a dazed Farley to the pavement.
Rachel DratchDratch threw her back out during an SNL readthrough by … doing virtually nothing?
Johnny Knoxville to the rescue! Lucky for Dratch, that week’s host (no stranger to crotch-crunching injury himself) was a walking pharmacy. “He very helpfully reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of loose pills,” says Poehler. “They were all different colors!” Other cast members gathered around when NBC medics showed up with Vicodin, an entertainers’ exercise in “I’ll have what she’s having.”
But the show must go on. Dratch spent the rest of the read-through flat on her back, on the floor, shouting her lines to the 100+ people in the room. Poehler thought Dratch’s pain was so hilarious that she wrote it into a scene for the Dratch/Poehler Netflix romp Wine Country.
Molly ShannonShannon might just be the Deadpool of comedy, with a body full of battle scars and bruises from her fearless physical style. And nothing took a toll more than Mary Katherine Gallagher, the SNL character that broke Chevy Chase’s record for tumbling over folding chairs.
Um … didn’t that hurt? “I didn't feel the pain when it was going on,” Shannon told David Spade and Dana Carvey on their Fly on the Wall podcast. "But then the next day when I would wake up, I would have cuts and bruises. But I also liked it because I feel like I threw myself into the character. I really did want to perform and be physical, and be 'like the boys' when I started."
Some of that physical frenzy was a way for Shannon to deal with stage anxiety. "It also helped me pour my nervous energy into the character. Because I was so nervous, the physical aspect of it felt like a release."
Chris KattanProbably no one has suffered more from his physical comedy than Kattan, who claims to have literally broken his neck on the 30 Rock stage.
According to Kattan, the injury happened during a sketch about a group of kids who roleplay as The Golden Girls. One planned laugh required Kattan to fall backwards in his chair -- a move that he says caused him to bang his skull on the stage.
His neck, understandably, was sore, a pain Kattan assumed would go away. Instead it got worse, eventually leading to five surgeries. For some reason, he never told his SNL bosses about the injury until years later, meaning workers’ compensation was no longer an option. For their part, SNL staffers say they were unaware that Kattan had suffered an accident.
John Belushi’s Samurai character was famous for waving his big-ass sword around--it was inevitable that it would eventually find someone’s face. That someone was host Buck Henry.
“In ‘Samurai Stockbroker,’ he cut my head open with the sword, but it was really my fault; I leaned in at the wrong time,” says Henry. “And I bled all over the set. It was a very amusing moment. You would not believe how much blood from a forehead was on that floor.”
During the commercial break, Belushi’s personal doctor, who suspiciously happened to be in the audience, clamped the wound shut. Chevy Chase came out for Weekend Update 10 minutes later with a bandage on his face, followed by Jane Curtin with her arm in a sling. It wasn’t sympathy, but it was comic solidarity.
Henry later regretted turning his gory head away from the audience (although you can definitely see his bleeding noggin if you watch the sketch. The blood starts a-gushin’ at the 4:07 mark). Instead, he wished that he’d walked directly toward the camera to prove that on live television, anything, including bloodshed, can happen.
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Top image: Broadway Video