comedy, music, x marks the pod

X Marks the Pod parodies 60 Songs That Explain the 90s

I love the podcast 60 Songs That Explain the 90s, by The Ringer’s Rob Harvilla. It’s now inaccurately named, having gone beyond 60 songs.

Rob goes on entertaining personal digressions. He has a unique style.

Which, of course, I have felt compelled to parody, like Weird Al doing Eat It or Ridin’ Dirty.

So this is also full of personal digressions that I hope are entertaining. Either that or you’re going to come out of saying you now know way too much about me.

Enjoy.

politics

A social contract (updated for 2022)

Most of us don’t want a civil war.

Most of us want politicians who are smart enough to understand the issues and humble enough to know when they need outside expertise.

Most of us want drivers at a four-way stop sign to go in the order of when they arrived at the intersection.

And yet the media insist we’re divided. …

Consider poll numbers right after Jan. 6. (The one in 2021, not the year in which you’re reading this.) A Reuters/Ipsos poll released two days after the Capitol assault found:

  • 57% of Americans wanted Trump out. Immediately. Not Jan. 20.
  • 72% strongly opposed the assailants’ actions. 9% somewhat opposed.
  • 79% described the assailants as either “criminals” or “fools.”
  • 55% strongly disapproved of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6. 7% somewhat disapproved. 6% “lean toward” disapproval. Only 16% “strongly approved.” (Again, this was 18 months before the hearings on the matter.)
  • 57% said lawmakers trying to block certification of the election were “criminals” or “fools,” while another 16% didn’t know.

The purpose here isn’t to put forth some sort of Milquetoast Moderatism. There’s no middle ground between “the left” and the people who ran into the Capitol alongside people bearing Confederate flags and anti-Semitic slogans. The people on the “left” who commit political violence are swiftly denounced and hold no real power; the people on the “right” who do so are given political cover by a party that refuses to participate in an investigation of an assault on democracy.

But there’s no reason We the Common People Who Have Things in Common can’t rise above all of the hatred, all of the ignorance and all of the fundamental disrespect that manifests itself everywhere from political protests to merge lanes on the interstate. We have more in common that we think, and we need to demonstrate that in a show of strength to disarm the haters.

And we agree on a lot more than simply denouncing the Proud Boys, “antifa” or the misinformation miscreants who have taken over cable “news” in prime time. We generally agree on guns, abortion and immigration. Agreement, though, makes poor prime-time ratings.

The social contract I’m proposing here has three stages:

  1. Stop the Republican Party now. Apologies to old-school Republicans, but given the evolution of the two-party system, the GOP mainstream has become driven by a desire to “own the libs” and limit our freedoms to do so. The Democrats are the lesser of two evils, or in some cases, a bit better than that.
  2. Get rid of the two-party system.
  3. Just be nicer. Period.

In doing so, we’ll have better tools for building on the things on which most of us agree. Maybe the good feelings will even trickle down to four-way stops. Or at least stop people in a backup on the interstate from pulling into the shoulder and passing five cars before merging back in.

Through a lot of American history, we’ve agreed on what we wanted to do but disagreed on the specifics. The sooner we can get back to disagreeing on things like “the role of private corporations in health care” instead of things like “the use of misinformation to enable violent hatred” or “whether it’s OK to threaten health officials,” the better.

So the following is a list of common goals. We can debate the specifics while the white supremacists go back to playing soldier in the woods, “antifa” goes back to the drum circles, and Putin’s apologists fight their Twitter bans.

Here goes …

The basics

1. Amplify experts, not “alternative facts”

We should be debating how to address climate change, not whether it exists. We shouldn’t be able to lie about crime statistics to demonize immigrants or people of color. We shouldn’t spread fatal deceptions about COVID-19. And we shouldn’t be stirring up violent mobs with fanciful tales of election fraud that have been rejected by every possible adjudicating body. (Also, we did indeed land on the moon, and the Earth is not flat.)

An epidemiologist might know more about COVID-19 than your “liberal”-bashing pastor. Climate scientists might know more about climate than economists. If you don’t believe that, let your doctor fix your plumbing and vice versa.

I know, I know — she was great in the Iron Man films and on SNL.

A journalist spends more time researching the issues than the majority of people do. They’re human, and they’re subject to biases — most of them not partisan but economic. For some reason, we’ve decided to exalt talk-show hosts who don’t do any homework or even admit that their shows aren’t good sources of fact. And we’re getting medical info from Gwyneth Paltrow rather than medical experts. We’re falling for dangerous conspiracy theories.

It’s too easy for progressives to think this is simply a right-wing problem or limited to Joe Rogan’s podcast. The fact is that a lot of today’s bullshit stems from the postmodern relativism incubated in academia. You can’t peddle theories about science being nothing more than a hegemonic patriarchal social construct and then expect people to show up at a climate change rally. This anti-expert bias has, of course, moved into the media.

You don’t have to assume someone’s right just because someone has initials after their names. We have plenty of quack doctors shilling for bullshit products, after all. But if an overwhelming number of biologists see evolution as the fundamental backbone of biology, you might want to use some skepticism when you step into that creationist museum.

2. Respect empathy — and each other

The USA is built in part around a belief in the “rugged individual.” And to some extent, that’s not a bad thing. Nothing wrong with self-reliance. The problem is when we think we owe nothing to each other, and that’s a problem that’s growing.

If World War II happened today, would we have the national resolve to sacrifice everything from our material comfort to our lives to turn back fascism? Back then, people ran unprotected at machine-gun nests to help their fellow human being. At the height of COVID, a lot of people wouldn’t even get a shot or wear a mask in an effort to protect other people from getting a disease that could kill them, hospitalize them or give them long-term problems. “It’s my choice whether I want to protect myself,” the argument went. The arguer showed no capacity to consider the impact of letting a disease run rampant, putting a lot of other people — or even themselves — into overtaxed hospitals.

A bit of hostility isn’t new. We had an actual Civil War. We’ve always had bumper stickers venting hostility. But it’s becoming more mainstream, with public servants (please note the word “servant”) no longer trying to stay above the fray. It’s bad enough when someone puts a “Let’s Go Brandon” sticker on a car. It’s worse when Florida’s governor alludes to that juvenile slogan while signing an order against COVID vaccine mandates.

We’ve turned empathy into a weakness. Donald Trump Jr. in particular loves to gloat about people feeling “triggered.” The people he’s trying to bully are far more courageous than he is because they’re brave enough to care. We need that bravery.

3. No more violent or destructive protests

Yes, this applies to the downtown Portland occupation and other left-wing protests as well. Leaders who matter, like Joe Biden and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, denounced the looting and the attempts to bait police into responding.

It applies to showing up at Josh Hawley’s house (near mine, incidentally) or Brett Kavanaugh’s house.

This isn’t a case of “bothsidesism.” It’s just recognition that this is a reasonable conversation:

“Jan. 6 was abhorrent.”

“Would you say the same about the protest in East Urbanville in which someone was killed?”

“Yes.”

Well, that was simple.

So no more destruction of property. Public or private. Doesn’t matter. The people who suffer from this destruction — the shopowners, the sanitation workers, the taxpayers, the Capitol Police — are never the people you’re trying to hold accountable.

No more death threats toward election officials trying to oversee a fair vote or school board members trying to keep schools safe. Nor more assaulting college professors who bring conservative-ish speakers to campus. And “Antifa”? You’ve given anti-fascism a bad name.

Again, no “bothsidesism” or “whataboutism” here. One “side” is more dangerous than the other when you look at the number of armed groups rehearsing for war and the willingness to stampede past the police into the Capitol, and they still have apologists in Congress. Doesn’t matter. You can denounce murder while also denouncing sucker-punching someone in the street.

4. Listening, not lecturing

Speaking of counterproductive measures — “cancel culture” and “woke” excesses are clearly turning people against progressives. Rushing to judgment inevitably leads to hypocrisy.

To give an example for Millennials and younger generations: A lot of people over 35 didn’t grow up knowing how to be allies or anti-racist. If you’re under 35 and learned such things, congratulations. If you’d rather pass judgment on older people (and dismiss their life experience/expertise), isn’t that a little ageist?

If you won’t listen to other people, why would they listen to you?

We need to fight racism. Obviously. But that means unifying people against racism, not making them feel they can never help. Condemning other people only hardens your alleged enemies’ minds. We need persuasion.

5. Listening, not labeling

Norm Macdonald greets Phil Hartman, except these are the real-life versions. RIP Norm and Phil.

Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff wrote the following:

“For democracies to work, politicians need to respect the difference between an enemy and an adversary. An adversary is someone you want to defeat. An enemy is someone you have to destroy. With adversaries, compromise is honorable: Today’s adversary could be tomorrow’s ally. With enemies, on the other hand, compromise is appeasement.”

On a more basic level, we equate listening with weakness. Trump rose to power because he seemed less willing to compromise than the Bush family and their peers. And he didn’t listen to anybody. Not even his intelligence briefing, according to those radicals at the CIA.

Listening will help to get rid of the labels. A “progressive” is simply someone who wants progress, which should apply to all of us. A “liberal” should be someone who loves anything that liberates. A “Christian” should be someone who welcomes other people with humility and compassion in the name of Christ, reserving judgment to higher powers. A “Southerner” is someone who lives in or was born in the South, not necessarily an uneducated racist.

Joe Biden isn’t a communist. He’s not even socialist. And in this country, we hardly know what “socialist” means, anyway. We certainly don’t know what “conservative” means — the Venn diagram between Ronald Reagan’s ideology and Donald Trump’s is nearly two separate circles. There’s also a considerable amount of diversity within the Democratic Party, plus third parties such as the Libertarians, Greens, actual Socialists, and the American Solidarity (Christian Democrat) Party.

When we see multiple perspectives rather than two “sides,” we can stop the knee-jerk opposition. Put country above party. Stop whataboutism. Be skeptical, but not cynical.

What we need

6. Work toward economic security

Trump preyed on those who felt they were being left behind in Obama’s strong economic recovery. We can debate the solutions he offered and the sincerity with which he offered them, but we can see that people wanted to feel like they were heard and that someone was going to take care of them. Democrats should make the argument that a strong safety net and opportunities to switch careers are the best path forward, and Republicans should certainly have a say in how to do that.

7. Let no one go uninsured

Obamacare, single-payer, Medicare for all or most, or a public-private partnership we haven’t considered — debate the options all you want, but recognize that the model of having employers foot the bill has fallen apart because it’s an albatross on small businesses and the “gig economy” leaves people stranded. Also, consider the economic argument that someone is paying for emergency treatment for the uninsured, and that’s hardly the most efficient system.

Another advantage of #6 and #7 here: If your basic needs are met, you’re free to innovate. You can take risks. A safety net with insurance is stereotyped as a benefit for leeches, lazy people who refuse to work. If you’d like to build in safeguards, go ahead. But bear in mind that this isn’t a strictly socialist idea. Universal basic income, after all, has long had conservative backers. (Not that we’re keeping labels.)

The reforms

8. Rein in presidential power.

We shouldn’t have to spend the last days of a president’s term worrying that he’s going to pardon everyone who has inflicted damage on our country. And both parties have complained over the decades about the expanding power of the executive branch.

9. Rein in the major parties.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.” – George Washington

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” – John Adams

They warned us of a cycle of retribution between two warring parties who put their own interests ahead of the country’s. They anticipated a future in which “owning the libs” (or “cons”) passes as ideology.

The point of elections isn’t to put a specific “party” in office. It’s to hold people accountable for their misdeeds. And mistruths.

10. Reconsider our election process.

The Electoral College disenfranchises people who aren’t in “swing” states, and it can easily give us presidents who didn’t win a majority of votes. Tying yourself in legal pretzels to try to invalidate or suppress votes is anti-democratic.

We can also get rid of the “lesser or two evils” phenomenon with voting systems that give third parties a chance. Yeah, some of them are a little “out there,” but plenty of them deserve to be heard. The problem today is that a candidate can win a Senate seat or electoral votes with less than a majority. Major Party A gets 49% of the vote in a state, Major Party B gets 48%, and Major Party B asks the other 3% why they wasted their votes or ruined Hillary Clinton’s chances of stopping Donald Trump. Consider a “ranked-choice” system or approval voting, and we should at least have a winner the majority of us can live with.

Maybe even get rid of presidential primaries, which give the first few states and states with “caucuses” far too much of a say.

11. Focus on solutions

It’s all well and good to put forth an idea like getting rid of prisons. But you have to follow up with details on how that’s supposed to work — in this case, without rapists and murderers roaming the streets.

And let’s not pretend problems just magically go away. From Y2K to polluted rivers, we human beings have solved a lot of issues.

Photo by Kelly on Pexels.com

Common-ground issues

Polls find that we agree on a lot of things:

  • A wealth tax
  • Minor tweaks to Obamacare — or allowing people to buy into Medicare. Anything that will keep people from going bankrupt because of an illness.
  • On guns: background checks and assault-weapon bans
  • Some legal abortion — at least, not a total ban
  • Legal immigration, which has been severely inhibited by some of the same people trying to stop illegal immigration

We can agree on a few more.

  • Job training. We’ll work with educators to prepare you for jobs of the 2020s, not the 1920s.
  • Education without crippling debt. We’ll work with colleges to get you in the door. If you can only afford to spend two years in college now, we’ll work to create a two-year degree that means something. You’ll be an informed citizen with job skills. And whenever you’re ready to complete a four-year degree, online or in-person, you can pick right back up where you left off.

How will we pay for all this? Simple. We’ll make the wealthiest people in the country pay a sum approaching what they paid back in the old days when America really was great, when we rebuilt the world after World War II and became the shining light of freedom and prosperity.

And in those days, the gap between rich and poor was smaller.

We surely also agree on rebuilding infrastructure — I don’t know of a “let us fall through a crumbling bridge” lobby. And improving education, even if the approaches vary wildly.

“Conservatives” can help to solve those problems when they don’t deny they exist.

“Progressives” can help to solve those problems when they’re not taking every question of viability as an ignorant attack by a worthless person.

“Centrists” can help to solve those problems when they’re following the facts and not simply trying to please everyone’s ill-supported whims.

“Libertarians” can help … somehow. Maybe?

Fascists and communists can move out of the way. Preferably to an as-yet-unpopulated part of the Sahara or Siberia.

And most of us don’t need these labels. We need to see past them.

Also, if you’re merging when an interstate drops one lane, wait your turn and do a zipper merge. Not because it’s the law, but because it’s the right bloody thing to do.

Deal?

politics

The legacy of George H.W. Bush

Originally posted to Facebook 12/6/18 …

I’ve been wrestling with the legacy of George Bush the Elder this week. It’s complicated.

The negatives that go beyond simple presidential competence (any president can have a recession) …

  • Brutal overt and covert action in Central America and the Middle East, including Iran-Contra and an unnecessary Gulf War.
  • A continuation of Reagan’s indifference on gay rights and AIDS, though he also took a few progressive steps, especially in his later years.
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Lee Atwater and racist dog whistles
  • Folding like a lawn chair and embracing the bullshit trickle-down theory he once called “voodoo economics.”

Positives:

I still think he was sincere in his calling to public service. His judgment — in the CIA, as VP and as president — can and should be questioned.

But the reason he’s being praised so heavily right now, aside from the fact that a funeral isn’t really the right time to dump on someone, is that he so easily clears the painfully low bar the Republicans have set today. He’s not just better than Trump. He’s better than McConnell. He’s better than Pence. He’s better than Cruz, Rubio, Rand Freaking Paul, Steve KKKing, and a bunch of people who shouldn’t let the door hit ’em on the way out.

He was more compassionate than today’s Republicans. He was more reality-based than today’s Republicans.

How we judge him overall is actually quite similar to how we judge all leaders of the past. Do we think ill of Washington and Jefferson for perpetuating slavery? Do we think ill of generations of presidents who never even thought about LGBTQ rights?

In short — do we forgive people for being products of their time? Do we write off Bush’s attitudes toward the Third World and people of color in general because society simply hadn’t progressed very far in his day?

I don’t know. But it’s a lot easier to forgive Bush than it is to forgive the current crop, and at least we have something positive to say about him. And I don’t mind in the least pointing to those positives as well as the bipartisan philanthropy of his post-presidential life and saying, “See that? THAT’S how you’re supposed to act.”

cynicism, journalism, personal, politics, tv

Why bother with news?

The Washington Post has informed me that I’m not the only journalist with decades of experience who’s gotten pretty bloody tired of “news.”

Then one day a journalist friend confided that she was avoiding the news, too. Then I heard it from another journalist. And another. (Most were women, I noticed, though not all.) This news about disliking news was always whispered, a dirty little secret. It reminded me of the scene in “The Social Dilemma,” when all those tech executives admitted that they didn’t let their kids use the products they had created.

Amanda Ripley, WaPo

The basic problem is simple.

Negativity.

“Whoa, whoa!” you say. “News may be negative, but we need people to be informed!”

Sure, but it doesn’t have to be so negative. And viewers who dwell almost exclusively in the negative (Fox and MSNBC infotainment) are not well-informed. Satirists may do a better job of informing the public than journalists do, given the numbers from a 2007 study that showed viewers of The Daily Show were better informed than most.

Even if you’re smart enough to avoid watching the people whose job is to make you afraid to change the channel, your knowledge may skew toward the negative.

You probably know about monkeypox. Or new COVID subvariants. Or the Jan. 6 committee hearings.

Did you know 9 billion COVID vaccine doses were administered in 2021? How about the new Ebola vaccine? How about the disappearance of the Victoria flu virus that used to kill hundreds of thousands of people each year? Did you hear about Biden expanding protections for waterways and wetlands? Maybe the restoration of biodiversity in the Thames? Expanding abortion rights in Latin America? Support for same-sex marriage in the USA rising from 27% in 1996 to 70% today? The global decline in coal production? The tuna populations that have rebounded after years of overfishing?

You may also be taken in by sensationalism, even if you’d consider that story “positive.” How many times have we heard Trump is on the verge of being ruined or arrested? How many of the stories along those lines mention the fact that he continues to be relatively unscathed even after his fraud settlements, his sexual immorality, his use of the White House to enrich himself and his family, everything we already know about Jan. 6, etc., etc.? And we’re supposed to believe that he’s finally going to prison because he yelled at a Secret Service agent to take him to the Capitol?

Suppose we actually consumed news in a constructive way?

Back to Ripley’s WaPo piece: “There is a way to communicate news — including very bad news — that leaves us better off as a result. A way to spark anger and action. Empathy alongside dignity. Hope alongside fear. There is another way, and it doesn’t lead to bankruptcy or puffery. But right now, these examples I’ve listed remain far too rare.”

I don’t know how to reach low-information voters and explain the realities of climate change, COVID prevention or domestic terrorism. What I do know is that we’re not going to fix the problem with doomscrolling. It’s not a coincidence that the longest song on the new Metric album, maybe the longest they’ve ever done, is called Doomscroller.

I’m trying to find a way to find good stories while we have such a high signal-to-fear ratio. The battleground area for me is my Gmail, my subscriptions and my filters:

  • Washington Post: I don’t get the full daily newsletters I used to get, but I’m sticking with Must Reads and the Post Most in the hopes of catching those stories that aren’t all doom and gloom.
  • The Guardian: I’ve re-subscribed to the daily briefing because I need to know what ran in the sports section. They usually have some good reads in culture and other sections as well.
  • The Atlantic: Their specialty newsletters such as Up for Debate, The Third Rail and Galaxy Brain are good for alternate viewpoints.
  • USA TODAY: Their fact-check newsletter is good.
  • Vox: Unsubscribed
  • Mic: Unsubscribed. Sorry, Millennials.
  • The Bulwark (conservative anti-Trump): I’m down to one of their many newsletters.

And I get a couple of roundups. Pocket has some good reads that its users save. Something called 1440 has a Daily Digest that quickly covers the top stories but has a bit of serendipity as well. On my phone, I can check my personalized Google News briefing and Apple News, which also lets me check out stories I spot from The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and a lot of lifestyle, sports and music magazines.

It’s not perfect. I love having one Apple News subscription that covers a lot of magazines and daily news sources, but I don’t need yet another roundup of today’s doom.

Finding the healthy mix, though, is worthwhile. Mental health is a serious issue. Don’t sacrifice yours when there’s no need to do so.

comedy, journalism, videos, web

Mostly Memorable Media: Links for July 7

A irregularly published assortment of the best reads on the web.

The future

Whither office parks? Younger workers would rather live and work in cities (NYT). But aren’t cities prohibitively expensive? Seems easier to spruce up these parks with nice strips of restaurants and other diversions. That’s basically what Tysons Corner is doing on a Very Large Scale.

Bubbles vs. climate change: MIT scientists have a Montgomery Burns-ian solution to climate change. Make a Brazil-sized shield of bubbles in space. Not from champagne, sadly. (Freethink)

Photo by pineapplelove 🙂 on Pexels.com

Doomscrolling

Give up on Manchin already. Try Collins or Murkowski. And just get some climate deal done before the GOP potentially takes the House. (WaPo)

We nearly had another mass shooting July 4. But an anonymous tip led to arrests that may have prevented countless casualties in Richmond, Va. (Axios Richmond)

Who killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh? We’re not sure it was Israel. But we’re pretty sure it was Israel. (Politico)

News deserts abound … Roughly one-fifth of the country lives in or is likely soon to live in an area not covered by local media, allowing elected officials to do their dirty work unwatched. Newspaper newsroom employment has dropped by nearly 60% since 2005. (Northwestern/Medill)

… while a prominent J-school collapses. The once-proud University of North Carolina journalism school is turning into a wingnut’s plaything. (Poynter)

COVID is outrunning the vaccines. Thanks in part to the FDA’s sloth (Matthew Yglesias). But that’s about to change (Reuters). And these variants continue to be less scary, especially if you have any kind of vaccine protection (Yale). Less than one-third of people studied (disclaimer: it’s self-reported) are even reporting a fever (NBC). If it’s up to me, everyone would either be up to date on vaccines (preventing serious illness and hospitalization) or wear a mask (preventing infection). We don’t have the political will to mandate that, so we’ll have to rely on the honor system. Which would be easier if we were honorable people.

Will Trump ever really get caught in a legal quagmire? Probably, but not by the Jan. 6 committee, which is more about Trumpism than it is about Trump, no matter how many revelations remind us that the ex-president will forever be in the conversation as the Worst Ever. But it’s in Georgia where the man who’s as orange as a peach is likely in real trouble. (The Atlantic)

Insight

Why Russians believe the “Nazi” tag in Ukraine: It’s not just misinformation. It’s a different way of looking at Nazis, rooted in WWII:

The common Russian understanding of Nazism hinges on the notion of Nazi Germany as the antithesis of the Soviet Union rather than on the persecution of Jews specifically said Jeffrey Veidlinger, a professor of history and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan. “That’s why they can call a state that has a Jewish president a Nazi state and it doesn’t seem all that discordant to them,” he said

Also noteworthy in this story: “We tolerate in most Western democracies significantly higher rates of far-right extremism,” said Monika Richter, head of research and analysis at Semantic Visions and a fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. Ouch. (WaPo)

Silly rabbit. Twitter is for journalists! Among U.S. journalists, 69% take Twitter Very Seriously, a number that rises to 83% for young’uns. How many average Americans get news from Twitter? Just 13%. And they say we’re out of touch. Oh, wait, they’re right. (Pew)

And on the lighter side …

Problems explained in pizza: Canadian comedian Julie Nolke is back with Part 7 of her “Explaining the Pandemic to Her Past Self” series, and this one tackles other issues.

Metal marching, I’ve been told! Metal marching, I’ve been told! Keeps our Navy feeling bold. Keeps out Navy feeling bold. Andres Antunes, the man who made Kenneth Copeland’s judgment on COVID-19 go viral (sorry) with a metal remix, has done it again with a terrific Navy marching cadence.

Rock on.

comedy, tv

Farewell to a great SNL group

Once upon a time, Saturday Night Live went through waves of wholesale changes, allowing us to divide the show into several eras.

Original

1975-80: The original Not Ready for Prime Time Players dwindled from their 1975 debut to the end of their fifth season in 1980. Chevy Chase left after one season and change, later replaced by Bill Murray. Next out were John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, leaving the core of Murray, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner to be supplemented by the quirky duo of Al Franken and Tom Davis, later joined by Harry Shearer and some cast appearances by band member Paul Shaffer and an array of bit players.

(Coincidentally, as chronicled last week in a marvelous WaPo oral history, Radner, Shaffer, future SNL cast member Martin Short and Short’s SCTV castmates Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin had all appeared together in a 1972 production of Godspell.)

Lorne-less

1980-84: Lorne Michaels, the man now synonymous with his show, departed after that 1979-80 season along with the entire cast. Enter a new group that couldn’t carry the torch aside from a young featured player named Eddie Murphy, though Gilbert Gottfried went on to an entertaining career. Only Murphy and Joe Piscopo survived the 1981 clearout. The cast overhauls were a little less drastic the next couple of years, and four 1982 and 1983 arrivals — including Jim Belushi and a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfuss — carried over to the next season …

1984-85: Producer Dick Ebersol, best known for his distinguished career in sports, swung for the fences in this unique season packed with established talents such as Short, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Rich Hall, Pamela Stephenson and the prodigal Harry Shearer.

Carvey/Hartman to Sandler/Farley (via Myers)

1985-86: Michaels returned in 1985 and started from scratch, building around the hot-at-the-time Anthony Michael Hall and some people who would eventually be huge — Robert Downey Jr., Randy Quaid, Damon Wayans and Dennis Miller. It sucked.

1986-95: So on top of the complete overhauls in 1980, 1981 and 1985, SNL had a near-total clean slate, keeping only Miller, Jon Lovitz and Nora Dunn. Then, just as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw the benefits of his job-saving class in 1986, Michaels brought in a show-saving class — Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson. Add Mike Myers (and briefly Ben Stiller) in 1989, and you have a strong case for the show’s all-time best cast.

That group evolved slowly over the next few years. Departing (in order, more or less, though some cast members returned for occasional appearances): Dunn, Lovitz, Miller, Hooks, Jackson, Carvey, Hartman. But the cast kept swelling with the additions of (among others) Chris Rock, Chris Farley, Julia Sweeney, Tim Meadows, David Spade and Adam Sandler. (Most of the others were women, and unfortunately, this was not a time in which women were developed into stars on the show.)

The loss of Hartman in 1994 nearly destroyed the show. Myers stuck around for increasingly infrequent appearances, and Michaels once again reached out to get some veterans who were, to some extent or another, already recognizable — Michael McKean, Mark McKinney, Chris Elliott, Norm Macdonald and Janeane Garofalo. Unfortunately, no one told Sandler, Spade and Farley that they weren’t in charge of the show, and they ran it into the ground. Garofalo fled after a few months of being underused, citing a sexist atmosphere.

Time for another clearout. McKinney and Macdonald stuck around along with lower-profile castmates Tim Meadows and the recently added Molly Shannon.

Continue reading