Charles Grodin Actively Tried to Break ‘SNL’ When He Guest Hosted

The one host who flubbed their lines on purpose
Charles Grodin Actively Tried to Break ‘SNL’ When He Guest Hosted

Becoming an adult means realizing that Charles Grodin is a comedic genius, and not merely a cranky old sourpuss who hates adorable St. Bernards.  

The late actor/comedian/writer’s knack for postmodern hijinks was evident in many of his late-night talk show appearances, such as when he brought his attorney with him to Late Night with David Letterman, out of concerns that the host had committed libel against him.

But the best example of Grodin turning a standard guest spot into a high-concept comedic bit occurred when he hosted Saturday Night Live for the first and only time.

Grodin’s 1977 episode began with Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Garrett Morris behind the scenes, getting ready for the show, and complaining that “this Chuck Grodin guy” had missed most of the rehearsals. ”He doesn’t smoke dope, he’s just not one of us,” Belushi argued.

When Grodin delivered his monologue shortly thereafter, still wearing his jacket, he professed that he had never actually seen Saturday Night Live before, didn’t realize it was live and was sorry that he didn’t get to rehearse too much. “How can you come to New York and not see a couple of Broadway shows?” he sheepishly asked the audience.

Grodin went on to purposefully torpedo every sketch he appeared in, calling cast members by their real names, struggling to read the cue cards and constantly questioning the sketches he was supposedly participating in. During the “Killer Bees” segment, he paused to comment on Belushi’s costume. “Gilda, did you know they were going to be dressed like this? I’m really thrown,” Grodin deadpanned.   


He also performed a tone-deaf duet with Paul Simon while wearing an Art Garfunkel wig, only to have said wig confiscated by none other than Art Garfunkel. 


Even though Grodin casually admitted that the whole thing was “just a joke” in the final moments of the show, rumors have persisted over the years that Grodin was banned from SNLAs Mental Floss claimed, this was because he “reportedly missed rehearsals and, when the show went live, he came across as unprepared and clumsy while stepping over the cast members’ lines and ad-libbing much of his dialogue.” 

While this theory was seemingly validated by the fact that Grodin never hosted the show again, it sure didn’t explain why SNL devoted the entire cold open that night to “candid footage” of the show’s stars shit-talking the host. The whole thing was clearly a bit.

As Grodin revealed to The A.V. Club in 2009, “I just got the idea that that would be funny, that I didn’t know it was live, that I had just come in from New York, and then I say, ‘This is live?’” Per Grodin, the folks at SNL did offer him a follow-up invitation, but he turned them down. “They asked me to do it again, but I chose not to, because I can do two things: I can learn a script, or I can improvise.” But at SNL, there’s no room for improv, and the script is constantly changing. “I just didn’t want to do it again,” he confessed.

Grodin’s performance is, from what I can tell, the only time that a host has created an underlying meta joke throughout an entire episode of SNL — unless, of course, we find out that “Steven Seagal” is really an Andy Kaufman-esque performance artist. 

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