Dana Carvey Shares Never-Before-Seen Phil Hartman Sketch
Dana Carvey threw his own birthday party for what would have been Phil Hartman’s 75th birthday last month, gathering lots of Hartman’s old SNL pals on the Fly on the Wall podcast to reminisce about the old castmate everyone called The Glue. But Carvey saved the best birthday present for last — an unaired sketch starring Carvey, Hartman and Jon Lovitz that had never been seen. Until now.
Why haven’t we seen the sketch before? According to Carvey, “Chaplin” absolutely died in dress rehearsal, playing “to crickets, live crickets, and we still maintain that a human audience might have liked it.”
Carvey is probably right. The filmed sketch has an ingenious concept, but it’s not the kind of bit that’s going to send an audience into hysterics like a dog chewing on Carvey’s bloody head in “Massive Head Wound Harry.” But like the short films of SNL director Tom Schiller, which also relied on mood and cleverness over screaming and sight gags, “Chaplin” would likely have lived on as a fan favorite.
Hartman plays a role he could do in his sleep — an unctuous arts show host putting on cultural airs while discussing an icon of the American cinema. He introduces Charlie Chaplin, played by Carvey, as a typical silent film comedian, all attitude and high-stepping as he enters a bar looking for a beer. In hushed tones, Hartman describes Chaplin’s genius at work, continually revising the scene by stealing funny bit after funny bit from Lovitz’s hapless waiter. First, he steals the bit player’s top hat, then his Hitler mustache, his twirling cane, and his pigeon-toed walk until he’s appropriated the Little Tramp persona entirely. Chaplin’s final piece of comedy brilliance? Kicking the waiter out of the scene entirely once there was nothing left to steal.
It’s a wry commentary on joke theft, and Lovitz is a perfect sad-sack foil. Why did SNL let this one sit under wraps for so long? That’s what Bob Odenkirk wants to know. On The Best Show With Tom Scharpling this week, he called “Chaplin” his favorite sketch that no one has ever seen.
Hartman’s host “never ever says you can see (Chaplin) stealing. You just see him say things like ‘Chaplin has an idea! He's going to approach the character from a new point of view,’” says Odenkirk. “He never cops to the fact that he's just lifting it off this guy.”
Blame the dress rehearsal. “It got no laughs and it was brilliant,” marvels Odenkirk. “That audience deprived the world of one of the greatest comedy pieces ever made.”