Saturday Night Live has showcased legends since it began. The original cast of performers birthed that precedent. They had no idea how big SNL was going to be. Maybe that is why they took so many risks that would define the forty-plus year institution. The first cast member to sign with the show was no exception. Like her colleagues, she was a game changer. She was Gilda Radner.
From 1975-1980, Radner was a key player on SNL. She had a diverse range of recurring characters. Baba Wawa was her Barbara Walters parody with a speech impediment. Roseanne Roseannadanna was a brash woman with giant frizzy hair answering the letters of Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Roseanne would start with a direct response but end up telling a hygienically gross story. Emily Litella was the hard of hearing old lady who would opine over confused headlines, such as violins [violence] on TV or making Puerto Rico a steak [state]. Whenever Chevy Chase would correct her, Litella would hilariously respond with “oh, that’s very different,” and turn to the camera while meekly saying, “Never mind.”
Candy Slice was her Patti Smith parody, showing up to the rock stage looking incapacitated, and a few moments later, like a switch was flipped, she was jumping up and down, singing punk songs. She had the Judy Miller Show which was a bored little girl making up stories and plays to entertain herself. Lisa Loopner was one half of The Nerds sketches. Loopner was the filler in TV history between Mary Tyler Moore and Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. Bill Murray played Todd DiLaMuca, the other half.
Radner got her start with Murray, John Belushi, and Chevy Chase on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy radio show started by National Lampoon magazine. Before that, she was doing the Second City in Toronto with Dan Akroyd. She was a college dropout from Detroit, Michigan. She grew up attending Broadway shows with her father. In her last year on SNL, she had her own one-woman show on Broadway, Gilda- Live from New York.
NBC actually offered her own variety TV show. She turned them down citing that she wanted something with a different working schedule. In 1978, she won the Emmy for “Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music.” Radner has been described over and over again as a comedic genius. If comedy has its version of an America’s Sweetheart, she was it. She had an innocence, and she was capable of being smart and funny.
She received an Emmy nomination in 1988 for her appearance on the It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. On that occasion, Radnder informed Shandling after a warm entrance from the audience, “I haven’t been on television for a while.” Shandling responded, “Oh that, yeah, what was wrong?” “Oh, I had cancer,” replied Radner. “What did you have?” “I just had a series of bad career moves,” said Shandling. She was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. While Radner’s life was cut short in 1989, her impact has lasted. Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Lena Dunham, to name a few, have all credited the comedienne as an influence. June 28, 2016, would have marked her 70th birthday. Gilda Radner maybe gone, but her game is still going strong.
You can rep Radner with one of our sweet legends of comedy Game Changers tees.