Why Billy Crystal is the Juiciest Role in the ‘SNL’ History Movie

Things didn’t go so ‘mahvelous’ back in 1975
Why Billy Crystal is the Juiciest Role in the ‘SNL’ History Movie

Jason Reitman, the director of Juno, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the Twins sequel that only exists in a parallel universe somewhere is currently working on the biopic SNL 1975. Reportedly, the movie will chronicle all the behind-the-scenes drama that transpired on October 11, 1975 during the production of the very first episode of Saturday Night Live. So I guess it will be kind of like a more serious 30 Rock. Or maybe a less serious Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

The production has already cast Gabriel LaBelle from The Fabelmans as Lorne Michaels — after all, once you’ve played the guy who directed Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, how hard could it be to portray the co-writer of Three Amigos? Now we’ve just gotten word that the cast will also include Nicholas Braun, aka Cousin Greg, as Jim Henson, and actor Nicholas Podany as Billy Crystal.

While Michaels and SNL’s “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” will no doubt be the focus of the film, “Billy Crystal” may actually end up being the juiciest part. That’s because the most intense drama that went down that first fateful night involved Crystal, whose contribution never made it to air.

Just three months before SNL debuted, Michaels saw a 27-year-old Crystal at a comedy club and hired him to perform in just six episodes, with the suggestion that he could take on a larger role down the road. According to Crystal’s manager Buddy Morra, Crystal “turned down a Bill Cosby special” to accept Michaels’ offer, which, in retrospect, might seem like Crystal dodged a creeptastic bullet, but at the time, it would have been a big deal for his career.

Crystal planned to do an “African safari thing” that involved “audience participation” and would have found him trying to knock a “tarantula off Rita Hayworth’s chest,” which sounds pretty terrible, to be honest. The bit ran for six and a half minutes, but after the Friday night runthrough, Michaels asked Crystal to cut it down to just two. Even worse, Crystal’s truncated segment was pushed back to the very end of the show.

An enraged Morra met with Michaels and things became, in Michaels’ words, “high drama… very heated.” Morra said that Michaels should, instead, cut Andy Kaufman’s “Mighty Mouse” routine. Michaels refused, pointing out that Kaufman’s segment was “surreal” and “there was nothing else like it on television.”

So Crystal’s representatives made the stunning decision to pull him out of the show entirely, just an hour before dress rehearsal. Crystal, with his makeup already applied, was hanging out with Gilda Radner. According to Crystal, he was “confused” as to what was happening, while Radner became “upset and angry.” Crystal was mad at his reps for pulling him, not wanting to become known as “the guy who stormed off the show,” though he ultimately realized that they were just trying to “protect” him.  

Michaels later acknowledged that it was likely “terribly hurtful” for Crystal, stressing that the decision had nothing to do with the quality of his routine. John Belushi would later tell Crystal that he got “screwed” by his managers. I guess we can judge for ourselves when the movie comes out — unless Jason Reitman, ironically, cuts out all of the Billy Crystal scenes. 

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