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The golden era of Saturday Night Live: John Belushi's 10 most iconic moments

I guess happiness is not a state you want to be in all the time.”

With a wild sense of humour and a knack for comedy, John Belushi was one of the seven original cast members of the very popular NBC show Saturday Night Live, an entertainer who later went on to become a successful actor and comedian. Born to first-generation immigrants in Chicago on January 24, 1949, Belushi was always a prolific performer. Just ten years before the first sketch of SNL aired, he formed a band with his classmates in high school where he sang and played the drums. Although the band dismantled, Belushi soon found his calling. 

Having started his own comedy troupe named the West Compass trio with Steve Beshekas and Tino Insana, Belushi soon found success. The Second City’s founder Bernard Sahlins was in awe of Belushi’s energy and style and asked him to subsequently join the Second City. After various other comedic stints, he was recommended to Lorne Michaels just as the latter was about to produce Saturday Night Live. Initially reluctant as he did not expect much out of Belushi’s physical and obnoxious style of comedy, right after the audition, Michael instantly changed his mind.   

During his time at SNL, he successfully developed recurring characters which brought great joy to the audience members. He was a non-conformist and a great thinker. The quirky ideas in his head as a result of his genius. Although a lot of people mistook his larger than life nature as somewhat rude and poor, it was just a component of his raw comic genius. Out of the original cast, he always received highest ratings and was the literal showstopper. 

However, he really did embrace the dark side of stardom by indulging in substance abuse. His drug problem alienated him from his friends and was the main cause of annoyance to the producer Lorne Michaels. He was caught “somewhere between rage and very little sympathy”. At only 33 years of age, he passed away, overdosing on a speedball. The world lost a comic genius and the golden period of SNL slowly started fading away. Belushi was the forebearer of the comedic torch that lit up the show and cracked up the audience. 

As do all geniuses, John Belushi, a comedic legend, left way before his time. Comedy has never been the same ever since. With his manic approach and a straight face, Belushi delivered hilarious dialogues with utmost seriousness which induced a wild reaction from the audience. No matter how hard SNL tries, they fail to recreate the magic that Belushi produced with his witty and somewhat sardonic sense of humour. Today, on this prolific comic’s 72nd birth anniversary, let us take a look at his ten best moments on SNL. 

John Belushi’s 10 most iconic SNL moments

10. Little Chocolate Donuts (Season 3, 1977)

A cigarette-smoking, visibly obese decathlon winner attributes his athletic abilities and swift-footed agility to the sugar rush he derives from little chocolate doughnuts, which also have the tagline ‘Donuts for Champions’. 

John Belushi’s eponymous character is clad in a blue USA vest as he runs and jumps, defeating other well-toned athletes. Unhealthy eating habits of Americans is parodied in this short skit; in my opinion, one of the best brand endorsements ever. 

“They’ve got the sugar I need to get me going in the morning.” 

9. Weekend Update: John Belushi on March Weather (Season 1,1976)

On daily weather updates, John Belushi appears as a chief meteorologist who talks about the departure of the month of March and how it differs from country to country. As he always does in his weekend update skits, he gets extremely agitated, strikes his co-host and inadvertently falls out of his chair. 

The lines used in the skit were extremely funny and made the viewers go ballistic. The writers must have had a ball while writing that and Belushi did absolute justice as the wacky and excitable host.  

“There are nine different countries where March comes in like a frog and goes out like a golden retriever! But that’s not the weird part.”

8. Samurai Night Fever (Season 3,1978)

 John Belushi had based his recurring character of Samurai Futaba on a character from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo played by Toshiro Mifune. An archetypal samurai, speaking mock Japanese gibberish and clad in a white kimono and carrying a katana, Belushi’s Futaba grooves away to glory to BeeGees’ “Stayin’ Alive” which is not only hilarious but also gives off infectious energy.

The episode was a parody on the Saturday Night fever hosted by OJ Simpson. Simpson appeared as Futaba’s older brother John who did not want to be black anymore. Futaba here is essentially Tony, a grown man who is lost in this persona of a samurai. Ironically, given OJ’s history, it was in this episode that Tony tried to stab himself. Stabbing. OJ Simpson. Does it ring a bell?

7. The Killer Bees: Home Invasion (Season 1,1976)

Dressed in yellow and black, overweight killer bees hold people hostage to get extra bags of pollen. With John Belushi and Elliott Gould as the main bees, the killer bees have been a recurring character in the show. 

There was a technical difficulty on set which let the producer get mad at the director. It was all a part of the act and John Belushi delivers a wonderful and insanely funny monologue in the end while keeping a straight face. It is hard to even take him seriously due to the antenna heads bobbing up and down on both sides of his head. This episode breaks the fourth wall as the actors break character and blurs the reel and the real. 

“But let me  tell you one thing Elliot, I wouldn’t be in Lorne Michaels’ shoes for all the money in the world because right now, he is probably firing his own father.”

6. The Olympia Restaurant: Cheeseburger, Chips and Pepsi (Season 3,1978) 

A busy restaurant named the Olympia Restaurant serves only cheeseburgers, chips and coke. They stock nothing except these which annoys a nameless patron who just wants his breakfast eggs and gets into a slight verbal scuffle with the restaurant headliner staff Pete. 

John Belushi with his heavily accented dapper smile is extremely annoying yet adorable in this skit. His nonchalance when he dismisses other customer’s orders due to unavailability of the food items is hilarious. He is not ashamed, instead, he coaxes them into having whatever is available on the menu.  

“No eggs. Only cheeseburger.”

5. Lily Tomlin / Howard Shore and His All Nurse Band (Season 1,1976)

Ludwig Van Beethoven is stoic and deaf and refuses to eat. He ignores his female servants and continues to embark on a neverending quest for the perfect sonata. As soon as the maids leave, our homie snorts some cocaine, puts on sunglasses and transforms into a mystic cross between the two distinct personalities. 

A product of Belushi’s wild imagination and comedic genius, this character is probably one of his very best. He plays the part of the piano prodigy with effortless ease, seamlessly transforming into a classic Ray Charles, gaining considerable momentum from the coke. 

4. The Godfather Goes to Group Therapy (Season 1,1976) 

In the very first season of SNL, the cast came up with a hilarious representation of The Godfather, right out of Mario Puzo’s book and Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the same. The Godfather, Vito Corleone, is troubled and attends a therapy session where he is asked to elucidate his feelings. What follows is ridiculously funny and left the audience in splits. 

John Belushi spotless parody of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone was impeccable. His anguish about his monetary losses overtakes his grief for his dead son. He chokes on an orange peel to enact his emotions and puts up a wonderful show.  

“Also, they shot my Santino 56 times.”

3. With A Little Help From My Friends (Season 1,1976)

There was indeed a time when two legends John Belushi and Joe Cocker coexisted in this world. In compliance with Rob Reiner’s introduction, Belushi put forward his best impression of Cocker which was not only heartfelt and eerily accurate but also caught Cocker’s attention. The episode has Belushi imitating Cocker’s facial expressions, twisted movements and eventually, he rolls on the ground before falling off the stage. 

Cocker, as every good sport should, loved the brilliant impersonation and appeared soon alongside John, where they both dished out a wonderful rendition of ‘Feelin’ Alright’. Dressed in matching clothes, their brilliant camaraderie won the hearts of the audience. 

2. Blues Brothers: Soul Man (Season 4,1978)

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s camaraderie led to some brilliant on-screen productions which also included their band Blues Brothers. They made an appearance in SNL in the fourth season to perform ‘Soul Man’. Dressed in crisp suits and sunglasses, they exude pure swagger as they chew gum and Belushi cartwheels into the sage before breaking out into a wonderful rendition. 

Aykroyd’s genius shines through his goofy moves which are extremely fluid and in tune with Belushi’s well-timed ones the back-band is a delight and together, the men light the screen on fire. 

1. Don’t Look Back in Anger (Season 3, 1978)

In a rather poignant episode peppered with humorous anecdotes about his fellow castmates, an elderly John Belushi visits their graves while dubbing that “the Not Ready For Prime Time Cemetery”. With bushy white eyebrows and a moustache, the elderly Belushi talks about how he misses them before breaking out into a wonderful catchy dance.

The episode has Belushi ominously uttering how they all thought he would be the “first one to go”. Sadly, he indeed was the first SNL member to lose his life to a speedball overdose. A bittersweet episode, it is appropriately titled and foresaw the future with Belushi’s monologue sending chills down their spine. 

Saturday Night Show was the best experience of my life and now they are all gone and I miss every one of them. Why me? Why did I live so long? They’re all dead. I’ll tell you why. ‘Cuz I’m a dancer.”