Billy Joel Was Eyewitness to Chevy Chase/Bill Murray ‘SNL’ Fistfight

We didn’t start the fire — it was Chase and Murray
Billy Joel Was Eyewitness to Chevy Chase/Bill Murray ‘SNL’ Fistfight

It’s not the first time two comedians had beef, but thanks to brutal insults and furious haymakers, it just might be the best. Chevy Chase and Bill Murray dusted it up back in 1978 in a brawl that occurred backstage at Saturday Night Live, just minutes before Chase was about to shout “Live from New York!” on live television. Piano man Billy Joel was lucky enough to watch it all. 

Joel and his band were SNL’s musical guests that night and hanging out backstage, he recently told Howard Stern. “Chevy was kind of being overbearing and everybody was pissed off at Chevy,” Joel said, imitating Jane Curtin pacing backstage while muttering in a furious whisper: “God d***it, f*** him.” 

“We're like, these people are crazy. They're going to go do a TV show now?” Joel boggled. “And somebody said something and then Bill Murray goes to punch (Chevy). And we're like, they're going to go on TV like in three seconds!”

A few of the details that Joel doesn’t mention, at least according to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live

  • On Saturday afternoon, Murray confronted Chase in Franken and Davis’ dressing room, telling Chase he’d heard what an a-hole he’d been back in Season 1, leading to a shouting match.
  • The verbal fight continued in a hallway after dress rehearsal. Murray knew Chase was having marital issues, so he told Chase to “Go f*** your wife, she needs it.” Chase fired back by comparing Murray’s face to a craggy moon surface that Neil Armstrong would land on. 
  • Five minutes before air, Chase (who admitted to smoking more dope than usual that week) burst into John Belushi’s dressing room and challenged Murray to a fight. “Let’s go, sucker!” Later, Chase admits that might have been a mistake since Murray was from a tougher neighborhood and liked to mix it up.
  • Bill’s brother Brian tried to grab Chase’s arms. Belushi got between the two comics, who were throwing wild punches. Most of them landed on Belushi. Finally, they were pulled apart just as Chase ran for the stage. The clueless crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin recently were asked about the fight on Watch What Happens Live. “Jane and I and Gilda witnessed it,” Newman said. “It was very sad and painful and awful.”

“It was that same kind of tension that you would get in a family,” said Curtin. “And everybody goes to their corners because they don't want to have to deal with the tension. It was uncomfortable. There were these two bull mooses going at each other, the testosterone was surging and stuff happens.”

The real pain was inflicted with words, Newman says. “They both knew the one thing that they could say to one another that would hurt the most and that's what incited it.”

The brawl left an impression on Billy Joel. “We’re like, these guys are crazy,” he told Stern. “We think we’re crazy? These people are nuts.”


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