Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blow Me Down



O'Donoghue surrounds me. I've compared writing this book to writing Mr. Mike, only I'm more in control and this one is better written. Still, Michael's spirit is present.

I saw him recently in a vivid dream. I haven't seen Michael since the Mr. Mike years, when he appeared in my dreams to help with problems, answer questions. (He even visited Nan, who was stressed about the process, telling her that the book would be fine.) We met in the wings of a theater featuring some comedy show. He looked to be in his forties -- short hair, light beard, clear plastic glasses. He wasn't smoking, which surprised me. He was very genial, upbeat.

"How you doing, Dennis?"

"Michael! I have so much to tell you!"

"I already know."

Michael's voice soothed me. His snickering laugh reassuring. He seemed not to have a care. We caught up, hugged, then he disappeared through the curtains. I awoke right after, his presence tangible in the room.

Michael's visit wasn't the only reminder of earlier days. I've been getting more O'Donoghue mail than usual, mostly younger guys asking questions, one of which is, How would O'Donoghue view today's America? I have a pretty good idea, but people change, even influential humorists. I do know this: Michael couldn't stand Dennis Miller when he was considered "good"; I doubt that Michael would embrace Miller's current reactionary act.

Yesterday on my Twitter feed, the gifted comic actor Michael McKean wrote "Someone needs to hunt up a copy of Michael O'Donoghue's letter to the LA Herald-Examiner." I replied that I had several copies. MM asked that I post it. So I am.

Some background.

When Lorne Michaels returned to SNL in 1985, he brought along several veterans from the original show. Al Franken and Tom Davis were producers; Jim Downey head writer. O'Donoghue was also hired, but Michael didn't want to write for the live show. His battles with Lorne and Standards led him to leave after the third season. He desired no more of that. Basically, Michael wanted to be paid to stay home and write short films, a la Albert Brooks and Tom Schiller. The producers accepted. Michael's name appeared in SNL's closing credits.

As SNL geeks know, the 1985-86 year was a disaster. Tom Davis called it a Death Ship. The first show, hosted by Madonna, tanked on all fronts. Critics sank their yellow teeth into the episode, taking delight in how badly it came off. Gregg Kilday, a TV writer for the Los Angeles Herald-Tribune, saw O'Donoghue's name in the credits and assumed that he contributed to the mess. Most critics called the Madonna show tasteless, and who was best known for tasteless comedy? Problem was, Kilday's assumption was wrong.

One sketch received particular attention -- National Inquirer Theatre. It featured Madonna as Marilyn Monroe being attacked by John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy, with only Elvis Presley to protect her. The King fails, and Marilyn is smothered to death by a villainous JFK. When O'Donoghue read Kilday's column, he reached for his typewriter. Here's the letter in full.

* * *

Nov. 22nd

Listen dickwad . . .

You made two mistakes in your Tuesday 12th review of Saturday Night Live on page two of the L.A. Herald-Examiner:

Mistake #1 -- I didn't contribute a sentence, a word, a syllable, a fucking dust mote to SNL's opening show so don't blame me if it turned out to be a big bowl of fucking dog snot. Yes the Marilyn Monroe sketch was lacking in wit and so was every other sketch on the show but it sure as fuck was lacking in my wit because I don't work on the live show! I'm hired only to write and direct short films/videos.

On real newspapers -- as opposed to the tar-pit pennysaver you work for -- they have this novel policy of "checking the facts" before writing a story. Here are the facts --

FACT -- The Marilyn Monroe sketch was written by producers Tom Davis and Al Franken, head-writer Jim Downey and staffer George Meyer.

FACT -- Almost everything else on the premiere show was written by Davis, Franken and Downey.

FACT -- My agreement with Lorne Michaels is only to write and direct short film/videos.

FACT -- These short film/videos will begin with the credit "WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY MICHAEL O'DONOGHUE" so that mentally-challenged TV reviewers will be able to identify them.

FACT -- The only thing you did before shooting your mouth off was to pull out the donkey dong you were gnawing on.

Let me put it in upper case so that even a screaming jizzbag like you with a Bundt cake for a brain and the I.Q. of an eggtimer can grasp it -- I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH SNL'S FIRST SHOW; I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SECOND SHOW; I WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE THIRD SHOW; AND, IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, I WON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SHOWS FOUR, FIVE AND SIX!!! Can you "dig it," touchhole?? Am I getting through???

In the great Southern California tradition of airhead journalism, I'm sure you don't give a flying fuck about "Truth" nor would you accept culpability (Look it up!) for your errors so I don't expect an apology or a retraction. I write this only as a Zen exercise. And you can return to your work in the flak factory retyping press handouts from the Amanda Foundation.

Mistake #2 -- You were much too easy on the show.

Let me close with the sincere hope that you and everyone you love catches rectal cancer and dies screaming.

. . .Blow me,

Michael O'Donoghue

* * *

The brutal irony is that Michael died screaming. Wishing painful death on others isn't karmically wise. Still, no one wrote a poisoned letter like Mr. Mike. Imagine anyone now connected with SNL attacking the press this way. Wouldn't happen. The corporate lock down is complete. That said, this outburst didn't help Michael back then. When he later told the New York Times that SNL '85 lacked heart, intelligence and that he gave it an F, Michael was fired. None of his films/videos were completed or aired.

Michael told me that writing for SNL was "hot," that he loved the money and access. It's fitting that his final SNL gig consisted of getting paid to publicly trash the show. Only Michael O'Donoghue could pull that off.