In Memoriam: Chevy Chase’s Career, 1975   1993

Chevy Chase. Credit: Matt Sayles/AP

The esteemed British actor Edmund Kean is famously quoted as having said, “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.”

Had Keane said this in 1993, he may have instead uttered, “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.  But watching The Chevy Chase Show?  Oof—that’s, like, impossible.”  (Of course, considering that in 1993 Kean had been dead for 160 years makes that more the ghoulishly noteworthy headline than his quotable thoughts on Chase’s late night disaster, but stay with me here, I’m building to a point.)

Being funny is hard.  Really hard, and Chevy Chase should know because he used to be.  Anyway, I think he was.  More on that in a bit.  When someone makes you laugh, it seems effortless. After all, laughter is a reflex…something that happens naturally.

David Letterman

David Letterman file photo. Credit: Bebeto Matthews

And the better a professional funny person is, the easier the funny seems to come out of them.  That’s why Chevy Chase was such a natural choice to host his own late night comedy show this very week back in 1993 (right alongside the beginning of Letterman’s CBS Late Show years…

…and Conan’s takeover of Late Night, more than a smidge of competition).

Conan O'Brien

Conan O’Brien. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Even though a famous comedian (I’m totally in show business, whatever) once said to me that, Chevy Chase is an unfunny person trapped in a funny person’s career, Chase had been making most of America laugh since prat-fell into our collective heart in 1975’s first season of Saturday Night Live.  As the host of SNL’s Weekend Update, Chase is the Godfather of the funny newscast, so good that a 1975 New York magazine cover story called him, “The funniest man in America.”  (I went to a state school, but I believe 1975 was before the Westward Expansion, so America was then only roughly the size of Cleveland.)

Chevy Chase was hungry (as we say in “the biz”), so much so that he not only bit, but bit off the hand that had been feeding him by leaving SNL after just one season to wing his way to the coast (as we also say in “the biz”…provided you’re in the biz 1939 – 1975) to make movies.  And he made a bunch and they were funny.  Foul Play, the Caddy Shack movies (OK, not Caddy Shack II), Seems Like Old Times, the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies (OK, not Christmas Vacation), and the Fletch movies (OK, not Fletch Lives)—for the most part, from 1975 to 1993, it was all green lights for Chevy Chase.

So if Chase was indeed an unfunny person trapped in a funny person’s career, he finally found a way to escape on Sept.7, 1993.  (Even the very dead Edmund Kean would have agreed that he should have stayed put.)  The Fox network wasn’t crazy to think Chevy Chase had the chops to host late night comedy, but after mere minutes in to his debut show, it was obvious to everyone that this had been an big mistake…”Dewey Defeats Truman” big, ”New Coke” big, marrying me big.  (This probably isn’t the time or place…right?)

The show was cancelled after five weeks, lawyers were involved, and it was never tried again.  Sorry, I’m still talking about my marriage, but coincidentally, all those facts apply to The Chevy Chase Show as well.  After the first episode, anyone with two of the five senses knew that Chevy Chase was no longer funny, but Fox cruelly let Chase host 13 more before pulling plug, and they’ve never taken a shot at late night since.  And since then, Chase gets laughs for all the wrong reasons.  (You know, the difference between laughing with and at?)

Chevy Chase & Goldie Hawn

Chevy Chase dancing with Goldie Hawn on an episode of The Chevy Chase Show. Photo Credit: Screen grab from video below. 

 

Dear reader, my point is this:

Being funny is hard.  Really hard, so the next time someone is making you laugh, after you wipe away the tears and your sides stop hurting, take a moment and respect the effort.  No, the accomplishment.  Then again, the other way to go is the other side of that coin, our old friend Schadenfreude, some foreign language’s way of saying, “deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others.”  The Chevy Chase Show clips below afford you that opportunity, though I’d be surprised if you can make it more than a minute or so into each—they’re just that bad.  Dying may be easy and comedy hard, but dying at the hands of bad comedy two decades later on YouTube?  Oof—that’s, like, impossible.