Listen to Frank Zappa read a passage from William Burroughs book 'Naked Lunch', 1978
(Credit: Jean-Luc)

The tragic reason Frank Zappa was banned from ‘Saturday Night Live’

SNL, the now-iconic late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show, has been running prolifically each week since launching in 1975.

Each episode features a musical guest, in the shape of a solo act or a band, who will then perform two or three tracks after being introduced by the host of the show. Make no mistake about it, being booked to perform on SNL can make or break a musician.

Over the years, SNL has seen several acts break the rules and find themselves on the wrong end of Lorne Michaels’ wrath. While the likes of Sinead O’Connor, System of a Down, Rage Against The Machine and more have all made a statement in their moment of madness, Frank Zappa’s addition to the banned list is nothing more than a little bit sad.

The mercurial talent, the multi-instrumentalist musician, the pioneer of counterculture and experimental free-form improvisation, fell flat on his face after being invited onto Saturday Night Live for the October 21, 1978 episode.

Welcomed to the show as the featured musical guest, Zappa also took up hosting duties in what can only be described as a cringe-worthy scenario. Looking like a fish-out-of-water, Zappa struggled to interact with the production staff of SNL prior to the show. In fact, the musician seemingly made it his overall goal to avoid contact with anybody associated with the show in the build-up to his big moment.

Clearly out of his comfort zone and unsure how to conform to SNL’s strict guidelines, Zappa decided the best approach for him to take on the biggest stage was one of nonconformity — a stance that goes in line with his prolific career of avoiding the mainstream.

Kicking things off, Zappa starts the show by reminding the audience to “keep in mind” that he is reading off of cue cards and, from there, continued to hammer home the fact that he is not taking the position as host of the show with any sincerity. While it may have been an attempt at ironic humour, Zappa’s efforts fell flat across all aspects.

His refusal to make an effort with SNL staff in the week of rehearsal prior to the recording would go on to become a major downfall. While some of the specific details of what happened behind the scenes have yet to surface, a number of cast members eventually refused to take part during the “goodnight” segment at the end of the show in protest of Zappa’s role.

The eventual line from SNL was that Zappa was banned after doing a “disastrous job of hosting the show” 1978.

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