American comedy establishment Saturday Night Live (SNL) has been the making of multiple industry icons since its inception in 1975. Such individuals include Kristen Wiig, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, and perhaps most notably, the feuding comedians and consummate wild men, John Belushi and Chevy Chase.
The rivalry between Chase and Belushi existed long before their time sparring together on SNL. However, the two comedians were part of National Lampoon: Lemmings, a small-time stage show that parodied Woodstock. Helping to catapult both comedians into the industry spotlight, John Belushi made a more considerable impact with his off-brand, brash and abrasive style of comedy — a fact that Chase was envious of, particularly as Belushi was named as creative director of the new The National Lampoon Radio Hour ahead of Chase.
By the time they arrived at the doors of SNL, their rivalry had hit fever-pitch, as authors Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad in the book Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live note: “They had a knack for goading each other”. Hill and Weingrad go on to explain, “The first day Belushi arrived on the 17th floor, he walked into Chevy’s office and pointed at the picture of Jacqueline Carlin [Chase’s girlfriend] on Chevy’s desk. ‘Oh, you have one of those too?’ he said. ‘You’ve got the regular one. I’ve got the one with the donkey dick'”.
Their love/hate relationship stemmed from a place of rivalry but also in their comedic history, with Belushi representative of a working-class style of comedy, and Chase, often appearing arrogant in his upper-class demeanour.
Whilst Belushi was the star of National Lampoon: Lemmings, it was Chase that would claim the SNL crown, with help of his excellent stage presence, good looks and use of physical comedy. “John is radically pissed off, because he sees Chevy running away with the show. Now it’s going to be all about Chevy. Onstage, John had to be the star, not Chevy,” producer Dick Ebersol recalls.
Unhappy with his treatment on the show, Belushi explained: “They throw me bones dogs wouldn’t chew on,” referring to the low-brow quality of the sketches he was given. Though, as Chase’s popularity grew, so did his ego, and he began talking down to cast members, showing the arrogant persona that Belushi so very despised.
Regularly criticising Chevy Chase, the backstage drama of these two great comedians would soon spill out on screen on July 24 1976, when Belushi would saunter onto the set of the new series in a sharp white suit. Looking toward his rival, Belushi commented, “Listen, Chevy, I’ve been thinking about what I said… We’ve been together a long time, friends a long time, and I don’t think that should stop us from being friends”.
All a pre-prepared sketch, Chase accepts the apology before engaging in a complicated high-five rehearsal that ends with Belushi’ punching Chase in the face. Whilst it might have been a joke, it was obviously inspired by reality. Years later, as Chevy Chase recalled to Time magazine: “[Belushi] was a little bit jealous that I had become the standout guy the first year, when John [felt he] deserved to”.
Continuing, he notes, “And he did; John was our ringer. But television doesn’t care too much about ringers who are short and have a beard. Somehow, they took to the tall, thin, handsome guy”.
The duo’s feud would eventually fizzle out, and with Belushi’s tragic passing, Chase has been left to butt heads all on his own. Something he’s remarkably good at.