Well the Missus and I trundled down to Suffolk University’s C. Walsh Theatre last night to catch the Ford Hall Forum‘s tribute to Saturday Night Live writer James Downey and it was swell.
From FHF’s website:
James Downey has been a writer for Saturday Night Live for over three decades, putting his hilarious words in the mouths of countless comedic actors. Year after year, he has provided material for a show that continues to define popular culture, and no political figure has escaped his rapier wit. Notably, Downey’s consistent commentary on current events holds a mirror up to America, allowing life to respond to his art as much as vice versa. His work is a tribute not just to American culture itself, but also to the value of freely expressing sentiment that may not always be welcome but is certainly necessary. As the Ford Hall Forum at Suffolk University presents Downey with our coveted First Amendment Award, his friend, actor Bill Murray, moderates the discussion on his career of political satire and the many truths told in jest.
Actually, Murray didn’t so much moderate as meander: He and Downey freely admitted that they had planned to map out the evening on the drive from New York to Boston, but spent most of their time listening to the music Downey brought along.
Leading indicator #1:
Murray moved the lectern four times in response to an audience complaint “We can’t see you!”
Leading indicator #2:
After showing some SNL clips, Downey conceded “This concludes the organized portion” of the evening.
No problem – the rest of the event was a free-form free-flowing delight.
Murray was relentlessly funny in a low-key sort of way, and Downey was a popcorn machine of amusing anecdotes – from being fired in the late ’90s (“because my boss [Don Ohlmeyer] was a douchebag”) over his O.J. Simpson jokes on Weekend Update, to dead-on impersonations of Rodney Dangerfield, whose professional reincarnation was jet-fueled by SNL.
Murray added an anecdote about a creative meeting he had with Dangerfield in a sauna that was downright side-splitting.
None of this resembled what was predicted in a Sunday Boston Globe exchange with Downey:
Q. What can the audience expect from you and Bill Murray on Tuesday?
A. We’re talking about maybe performing a piece together. Doing a reading of a piece written for John Belushi. . . . Or a piece written for Paris Hilton when she hosted the show and she refused to do the piece the night of the show. She threw a tantrum and locked herself in her dressing room and would not come out. She was allowed to get away with that. We didn’t do the piece. Joey Buttafuoco, who was going to be in the piece with her, was part of the issue, I guess. . . . I’m going to show one [filmed] piece that I’m determined to show that was cut from a dress rehearsal. It will be like a world premiere. A John Kerry piece. . . . Basically, he’s just obsessed with ending prenuptial agreements. Our audience did not really understand the background. Or maybe they did and didn’t find it was funny.
None of that happened but the Kerry piece, which was moderately funny, the way most things Kerry are.
During the obligatory Q&A waterboarding, Murray face-washed a questioner who spewed some film-theory gobbledygook about manipulating American icons to influence American cultural consciousness, and threw candy at other inquisitors.
Downey, when asked about the ongoing status of SNL, said it’s not just a show, it’s more like a college now. “No one says Princeton? Is that still going now? Wasn’t that like the 1840s?”
Comcast recorded the whole thing and will offer it On Demand (not sure when).
But whenever – make sure to check it out. It’ll be worth your while.