CBC Digital Archives

Lorne Michaels and Gilda Radner talk SNL

Whether they're homegrown comics or jokers from abroad, CBC has hosted more than its fair share of comedians over the years. From Buster Keaton of the silent-film era to a young Jim Carrey, CBC Digital Archives presents a selection of guests that have kept us laughing.

media clip
Lorne Michaels always thought Saturday Night Live would work when he took it over at the age of 31. He sums up his reasoning in this 1978 clip from 90 Minutes Live. "The thing that Saturday Night was rooted in was that it was going to either succeed or fail on whether or not the audience laughed," Michaels reasons. "It wasn't kind of heading in any new direction. It was actually going backwards to theatre and to also the very first television, which was all live." Gilda Radner, one of the program's biggest early stars, supports the assertion. "In our show we know, if we're not getting a response, you see it in our face ... we either do something to get a laugh or the audience is in on it with us." The serious explanation of this success becomes less so when Radner breaks into character as Baba Wawa and Emily Littela, eliciting great laughter from the 90 Minutes Live audience.
• Michaels was born Lorne David Lipowitz in Toronto, in 1944. After beginning his career with CBC Radio as a writer and broadcaster, he moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to work as a writer for Laugh-In and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show.

Saturday Night Live was created by Michaels, fellow NBC employee Dick Ebersol and network president Herb Schlosser. It was originally called NBC's Saturday Night. The name was changed permanently in 1977. The show immediately gained a reputation as being edgy and unpredictable, and launched the careers of many of the best known comedians in North America. It's one of the longest-running network shows in American television history.

• Michaels left the show for seasons six through 10, but has otherwise been there during its entire 34-year run (as of 2008). He began as its producer and writer, and later became executive producer.

• Utilizing the talent he helped introduce on SNL, Michaels went on to produce such memorable films and shows such as 30 Rock, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Coneheads, and Wayne's World.

• He has received a host of honours for his legion of work. In 1999, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. In 2002 he became a member of the Order of Canada and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The next year he received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. In 2004 he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour, and in 2006 in Canada, he was given the Governor General's Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

• Radner was the first actor cast for the show, and was in the original lineup of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Her most famous characters include the obnoxious wild-haired Rosanne Roseannadanna, who told stories about celebrities' disgusting habits. She also parodied Lucille Ball and gymnast Olga Korbut, amongst other celebrities.

• Radner could be considered a near-Canadian. She was born in Detroit and had a true Canadian connection. The nanny who raised her, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, whom she calls "Dibby" in this clip and who is the inspiration for her character Emily Litella, later moved just east of Hamilton, Ontario.

• Radner battled bulimia throughout her time on the show. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986 and died of the disease in 1989, at age 42. Her passing helped increase public awareness of the disease and the need for earlier detection and treatment.

• Radner married comedic actor Gene Wilder in 1989. After she died, Wilder established the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, to screen high-risk candidates and run basic diagnostic tests.

• Radner won an Emmy in 1978 for her SNL work. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: Feb. 2, 1978
Guest(s): Lorne Michaels, Gilda Radner
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 18:59

Last updated: January 28, 2013

Page consulted on August 19, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Peter Gzowski: Voice of Canada

For three hours a day, five days a week - for 15 years - millions tuned in to CBC Radio's Morn...

1978: Robin Williams freestyles on 90 Minutes...

Comedian Robin Williams brings his frenetic brand of comedy to Peter Gzowski's TV talk show.

1962: Funny man Jim Carrey born in Newmarket,...

Aspiring comedian Jim Carrey talks about his early success on the comedy club circuit.

An outpouring of grief greets death of Peter ...

Canadians mourn the death of "Captain Canada".

From Naked Man Hill to Skedaddle Ridge

Peter Gzowski discusses place names of Atlantic Canada with author Bill Hamilton.

John Allan Cameron: Canada's 'godfather' of C...

John Allan Cameron, patriarch of Canada's traditional music scene, died on Nov. 22, 2006 at ag...