As It Happens

That time Barbara Frum claimed comedian Gilda Radner as a Canadian

Remembering the late great comedian Gilda Radner, 30 years after she left us. We revisit an As It Happens interview from 1977 when Barbara Frum claimed the original SNL cast member as a Canadian.

The late comedian and original Saturday Night Live cast member died 30 years ago

Comedian Gilda Radner died 30 years ago today at age 42. She died of ovarian cancer and friends established Gilda's Club in her memory to offer support for those dealing with cancer. (Suzanne Vlamis/Associated Press)

Of all the talents who have stepped onto the Saturday Night Live stage, a handful of names from the original cast members stand out for most: Chase, Belushi, Aykroyd, Radner.

The late comedian and original SNL cast member died 30 years ago of ovarian cancer at the age of 42. 

In the '70s, sketch comedy was macho and male-dominated. And by most accounts, the culture at SNL was no better. But that didn't faze Radner.

Radner was versatile. Whether she was doing a parody of a celebrity or poking fun at her own neuroses — Radner could pivot between characters and set a pace few could match.

In doing so, she paved the way for others — think Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Elaine in Seinfeld or Tina Fey's Liz Lemon in 30 Rock

 In 1977, former As It Happens host Barbara Frum spoke to Radner about SNL and how she created characters like Emily Litella — a hard-of-hearing commentator who frequently interrupted Weekend Update host Chevy Chase — who she called "Cheddar Cheese."

From our archives, here's part of Frum's conversation with Radner.

Gilda, knowing we were going to talk to you, we've been looking for all your old fans and friends here to get the lowdown and the dirt on you and they all are crazy about you.

And they told you everything, right?

Everything. Drinking bourbon in the park in the middle of the night...

I was just going to say that!

I used to walked through the park to visit Valri Bromfield who lived across the park from me. I think I'd have a drink and I'd walk through there and I'd see people in the park. It was like a cocktail party.

I think at this point people are watching Saturday Night Live because of you.



Well, I don't know. I don't think so.

They're still waiting maybe for some of the old characters to come back, but you seem to be the top banana.

Well, I don't believe that. 

I think it's like there's an incredible family here, you know. And it's the support and the energy that's created by the comfort in that family.

I'm just precocious, I guess. I'm the precocious kid.

Do they set you up? Did they create Baba Wawa for you? Was that your own creation?

The first time I did that was at the suggestion of the guys that I worked with in the lampoon show that I did here in New York, off Broadway.

One of our scenes was a press conference and they said, well, what woman could you do and someone suggested Barbara Walters.

She became a very public figure since then. So it just worked to my advantage that way.

I met her once at a at a party. She said, "Come here, come here. Show me what you do — how do you do it?"

I showed her. She kind of laughed. But she was real nice, real spunky.

Gilda Radner as her character Emily Litelle for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." (Edie Baskin/Associated Press)

Did you create Emily too? 


I find that the magic of the night is when you and Jane Curtin are working against each other.

Yeah, she's sitting right across from me now.

Really? Well, I turn off the show after that.


Do you realize that we think of you as Canadian, isn't that awful? We're so chauvinist we'll claim anything.

Go right ahead.

You don't mind if we claim you? 

No, not at all. I've always been connected there. My dad has his business in Windsor and because I lived in Detroit, right across, and it always seemed the most natural thing when I became a landed immigrant there. But don't tell immigration!

We're very grateful to you.

Thank you.

Written by John McGill. Q&A edited for length and clarity.


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