Saturday Night Live has been a comedy behemoth since 1975 when it began to blast the airwaves with subversive comedy aimed at disrupting the status quo of network television. Behind the scenes, SNL was even more caustic and rowdy than it was onscreen, with drug-fueled writing sessions that lasted for days, and after parties that would go on until the sun came up. Drugs at SNL didn’t end when the original cast moved on to bigger and better things, the cast simply became less open about their usage with the press. Some late period Saturday Night Live performers struggled with addictions while they were appearing on camera, and a few of them even lost their lives to the habit. Keep reading to take a look at SNL behind the scenes.
For the last half of the '70s, Saturday Night Live was synonymous with drug culture. The show was essentially a celebration of the boomer generation ousting Nixon out of office, and despite their sardonic nature there was still an optimism for what the next day could bring. The drug culture of the late '70s was a grim sewer world that led to the deaths of many prominent figures in the entertainment industry, and SNL wasn’t immune to the loss of life. Throughout SNL’s 40-plus years on television there have been several cast members with drug problems, and stories of wild parties happening in the writers rooms. For some fans of SNL, drugs will always be synonymous with the greatest comedy show on television.
Read on to discover some pretty shocking stories of just how much drug use was going on backstage of SNL back in the day.
Dan Aykroyd Saves the Day
Before Saturday Night Live was Saturday Night Live it was called NBC's Saturday Night because another show had that title. Some of the cast wanted to see what the deal was with this other Saturday show so they got together with some of the writers, smoked a lot of African pot and started watching TV.
One of the writers, Neil Levy, got so stoned that he locked himself in the bathroom and refused to come out. The only person that could talk Neil out of his paranoia was Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd knocked on the door and said, "Neil, this is Dan. You probably smoked some of that weed, you're probably paranoid, and you probably think you're the only one. Let me tell you my friend, you're not the only one." Then Aykroyd went on to pull his pants down and perform a proto version of the refrigerator repair man character that would go on to drive audiences wild.
Nose Candy by the Car Load
Famed Texas author and screenwriter Terry Southern (Easy Rider, Doctor Strangelove) wrote for Saturday Night Live during the '80s, and although he hasn't done any interviews about his time on the show, he did send a fax to the authors of Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live that summed up the drug use in his time on the show.
"Perhaps the most memorable aspect of working at SNL was the quantity of dope or drugs on hand. We were well nigh up to our proverbial A's in toot, hemp, speed, oil, and hash, what have you. Talk about your everlovin' cornucopias of sense-derangement."
Garrett Morris's Invisible Hypnotic Robot
Garret Morris was one of the most underappreciated performers of SNL's original cast. He brought a sense of serenity and actual cool to a show full of hopped up Canadians and guys from the Midwest. But he also loved to freebase heroin and cocaine. . . so he wasn't all roses.
One of his favorite pastimes was getting high in his dressing room instead of working out the blocking prior to the show. Morris's drug use got so bad that he began to claim that an "invisible hypnotist robot" was sitting on his shoulder and controlling his actions. His cocaine use and paranoia got so out of control that during one rehearsal for a scene with Jim Downey, Morris ripped off his shirt and shouted, "How dare you interrupt me during a sacred moment!" Was everyone crazy in the '70s?
You Can't Take Cypress Hill Anywhere
Ugh you guys, how many times do we have to tell you to not light a joint onstage before smashing your instruments? In 1993, Cypress Hill were at the apex of their stoner, hesher-rapper thing and before they performed their second song of the evening in an October episode of SNL, DJ Muggs shouted, "Yo, New York City, they said I couldn’t light my joint, you know what I’m saying? Well, we ain’t going out like that!” Real cool DJ Muggs, real cool. He proceeded to light up a joint and Cypress Hill was banned from SNL for life.
Darrell Hammond Should Not Be Alive
Most of SNL's classic drug stories orbit around performers like John Belushi or Chris Farley, but the heaviest drug user/guy who needed help was impression master Darell Hammond who, aside from his crack and cocaine use, was cutting himself in order to keep the psychotic images in his head tamped down. In his memoir he wrote, "I kept a pint of Remy in my desk at work. The drinking calmed my nerves and quieted the disturbing images that sprang into my head. . . when drinking didn’t work, I cut myself.”
Chevy Chase Finds His Muse in Cocaine
According to every book about the early days of Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase was a complete d-bag before he started doing cocaine and he got even worse after he found a taste for Colombian nose candy. According to people who were backstage with Chase, once he got into heavy coke use he started ordering people around constantly and basically stopped working.
How Did Tom Davis Ever Get Work Done?
You might not know Tom Davis's name from the opening credits of SNL, but you've definitely seen some of his sketches. He was one of the original writers on the show and paired off with Al Franken to write some of the most subversive sketches in the show's history. It's no wonder that the duo pop in and out of Saturday Night Live's checkered drug tales.
One of the strangest stories about Davis is one he shared in his book about when he took LSD and decided to handwrite all of the copy for his sketches. "My handwriting was illegible. That was the biggest problem. The material was usable, but the process was less productive."
Laraine Newman: Cocaine and Solitaire
According to people who worked with Newman, the actress had a "hornet's nest of drug problems," and she spent so much of her time in her dressing playing Solitaire that Gilda Radner printed up a personalized deck of cards for the actress.
When she wasn't playing Solitaire, Newman and Radner would get together and indulge in their parallel addictions. In the book Live from New York, Newman remembered, "There were times when she and I would hang out at her house, and I would be snorting heroin and she would be eating a gallon of ice cream. And I remember her staggering to the bathroom to throw up, and saying, 'I’m so full I can’t hear.' And I laughed so hard. There we were, practicing our illnesses together. She was still funny throughout all of it."