Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Feast of Saint John

My Fellow Comedists,

This weekend would have been the 52nd birthday of John Belushi, the Hunter S. Thompson of comedy. He was born in Chicago to first-generation Albanian-Americans in Chicago, growing up just outside the city. In high-school, he was a model student and star middle linebacker and captain of the football team. He had intended to become a football coach, but appearing in school variety shows, he caught the drama bug. He went to college to major in drama, but after a bout of freshmanitis, transferred to a junior college in the Chicago-area.

He found himself preferring comic roles to the serious ones he had been playing and started an improv troupe in Chicago. When it got some notice, he earned an invitation to join THE improv troup in Chicago. His time at Second City led him to work with some of those who would help him fill out that cohort of comedic geniuses.

His Joe Cocker impression, later made famous on Saturday Night Live, got him a spot in a National Lampoon stage show, "Lemmings," that spoofed Woodstock. It got him in the door with National Lampoon and he became part of their radio troupe, ultimately taking over as director. Here, he worked with many of those who would become the "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" when they made the move to television with Saturday Night Live.

In a spot that had been re-runs of various bits from The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson's heyday, NBC tried something akin to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, a comedy/variety show aimed at the younger generation. Little was expected of it, but Belushi led the company to change American comedy giving it the Second City gonzo edge. Leaving the troupe to pursue a film career, he made several films two that that define the comic generation: Animal House and The Blues Brothers.

Here's the bit that started him:

Favorite Belushi moments?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve