Just as Buck Henry had me stumped in the last episode (Buck Who?), Peter Cook threw me for a loop right off the bat here.
Dudley Moore I knew, but Cook? No idea. In terms of firsts, this appears to be the first SNL hosted by more than one person (simultaneously).
Cook met Moore while at Cambridge University as a student (Cook) of Radley and (later) Pembroke Colleges. Moore, on the other hand, was himself a student at Magdalene College (pronounced “maudlin”) of Oxford University. They started performing together in these school days.
But the act which Cook and Moore were essentially reviving on this night in 1976 was their comedy duo which powered the BBC’s Not Only…But Also (1965-1970). We can be fairly confident of this based on their throwback chestnut Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling.
Sir Streeb-Greebling’s featured skit (Table Talk) is one of the highlights of this episode. In it, we learn of the knighted eccentric’s restaurant Frog & Peach (which serves, unsurprisingly, frog…and peaches [exclusively]). If I remember correctly, the two dishes on the menu are frog à la pêche and, conversely, pêche à la frog. This bit of absurd, excellent humor is indicative of the talents which Cook and Moore possessed as both writers and comedians.
Cook and Moore additionally did film work together such as Bedazzled (1967). For all of you Yo La Tengo fans out there, this gives me an opportunity to wax informative on the song “Tom Courtenay”. It is one of my favorite YLT songs (from the excellent Electr-O-Pura album). Perusing the lyric sheet of the above song, not only is English actor Courtenay mentioned in the title (the narrative is likely from his perspective) but Julie Christie makes an appearance (her name being the first words sung by Ira Kaplan). For our purposes, however, it is simply enough to point out that the real “star” of said lyrics (Eleanor Bron) played Margaret Spencer in Bedazzled.
Now that I have spent an inordinate amount of time on Cook and Moore, I should point out something important. Saturday Night Live in its inaugural season was attracting what might be called B-list entertainers. To illustrate this point, I would direct readers to my piece on the previous episode. To have Bill Withers do but one song and have it be a tune from 1971 (on a 1976 broadcast) illustrates this point which has a parallel in Cook and Moore (who were ostensibly rehashing material from their show which ran 1965-1970).
But credit must be given to the comedic duo in question who persevered and relocated to New York City in 1973. They did, in fact, win a Tony and Grammy for their production Good Evening. This success was parlayed (partially) into a more risqué act where they assumed the personalities Derek and Clive. In total, this new incarnation was featured on three LPs (that would be, for the young’uns, VI-NYL/RE-CORDS).
Ok, so Cook and Moore weren’t totally washed up. That much is obvious when seeing this episode. In fact, I find their humor much more effective than most of the hacks which preceded them as hosts. The “One Legged Tarzan” skit near the top of the show exemplifies their shrewd method of laugh-getting.
It should also be mentioned that stars on one side of the pond aren’t necessarily stars on the other. And so, dear readers, you must forgive my ignorance regarding Cook. I have now done my research.
I should mention a further two bits. Cook himself went on to work with some of my favorite musical acts (Sparks and 10cc). That Ron Mael, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme saw something in this chap is good enough for me.
Again, the separation between British and American entertainment really can’t be overemphasized. I know there is a Doctor Who craze in the States now, but (back to Peter Cook) this bloke had a bleeding planet named after him in 1999 [20468 Petercook].
Furthermore, I am ashamed to say that I needed Wikipedia to tell me that Mr. Cook gave the world “mayorwidge” as the clergyman in The Princess Bride (1987).
Ok, ok…enough about Cook. [I’ve hardly said a word about Moore, but we must press on.]
This is generally a great episode (with the notable exception of Neil Sedaka). I really don’t want to hate on this guy, but his repertoire…ugh. And his sartorial choices (burgundy velvet jacket). The jacket would have been great if he didn’t have Meathead’s haircut (Rob Reiner…Archie Bunker). [“And now I would like to impersonate the Archie Bunker. (…) Tank you veddy much.”]
To be fair, Sedaka had talent. Singing voice? Check. Piano chops? Check. But the schmaltz gluing it all together is what made it unpalatable. Not to mention, what was an MOR guy like this doing on such a counterculture show as SNL? Look to the corner office, my friend…the corner office.
On the whole, a great episode. Just bite the bullet when Neil starts crooning 🙂