[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] other shows. But by then the worm of comedy had wriggled in.
The roots of it probably go back to the Dixie Theater in New Orleans. I'd go there on Saturdays to see Slappy White and Redd Foxx. Redd used to break me up. He still can do no wrong. I laugh as soon as he comes onstage. I think of him as the godfather - ahead of Lenny Bruce and everybody. It's the way he does it that gets me. I mean, you take Don Rickies. I don't have anything particular against the man, but he can be so . . . ing cold sometimes. Foxx always did it with love and a feeling of sensitivity, even when the material was bluer than hell."
Some would say "Saturday Night" is bluer than hell. And hold the sensitivity, please The show, now in its third season on NBC, was at first a cult hit for people who couldn't get a date or those who wanted to stay home and get lit. Now it draws governors who want to be guest hosts. The ratings are up (currently the show has a 103, which computes to an audience of about 13 million), and so are the advertising rates.
From the first "SN" built is reputation on the kind of fast and smart improve theater that got hot across the country in the '60s. Its antecedents, say pop historians, are about equal parts National Lampoon and Chicago's Second City (a rep company that produced Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Bill Murray). And yet some critics feel the show is more uneven that it used to be, that "SN" is a fat prisoner of its own success.
Morris, who's been with the show since its part (he and Chevy Chase were originally writers), thinks that's bunk. "I think the shows we've done this season have been more subtle and mature," he says. "We don't feel any longer we have to be always going after the hard laugh.We do some soft laughs too. There's more acting now, more use of individual talents."
Has Chevy Chase's departure influenced that? "Chevy Who? Didn't he go to Hollywood for a million dollars? I never heard of him." (Interestingly, Chase returns in a guest slot in this week's show.)
Somewhere is here racial humor comes up. Anyone who's even casually watched "SN" knows Garrett Morris has been the focus of some of the show's randiest racial bits. Such as the mock on the 1976 Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter presidential debates, in which a trio of panelists is introduced:
"Liz Montgomery (Jane Curtin) of The Washington Post, who was selected . . . because of her expertise in economic matters. Tom Burke (John Belushi), Rolling Stone magazine, for his incisive reporting of the Washington bureaucracy. And Earl Roland (Morris), of the Chicago Tribune . . . because he is a Negro."
Other skits have had Morris as the fall guy in a Bakke-like court decision (he plays a blind black stiffed by an all-white admissions committee), and as a vacant-headed pro football player trying to drum up recruits. ("Complete this sentence: When the going gets tough, the tough get . . . A) Going B) Cranky C) Groin injuries.")
Clearly , "The Jeffersons" is never what "SN's" producers had in mind.
"Oh, I get it," Morris says, when you bring up the subject. "You're talking about NEGROES." He squeals the word, bugs his eyes, spells it out. "Well, I feel two things. First, I wonder why reporters never ask Gilda Irish humor. Racial humor is the point of the show, man. Why pick on me? We're truing to do what comedy has done all along - satirize society's soft underbelly. I don't think we'll ever be there with black humor in this country till blacks can laugh at Stepin Fetchit the way whites can laugh at W. C. Fields. I mean, you can draw no other conclusion from the comedy of W. C. Fields than that of a statement on middle-class child-haters and alcoholics. But you don't see people going around saying, 'Hey, we can't have that on the air.'"
Pause. Nervous stretch. "But then I got this other feeling too. And that is, the people who put this show together aren't using me enough - and better start. You might say we've had some 'heated discussions' about my future role in the show." He looks about to say more, doesn't.
A while later he admits he was hurt when Richard Pryor, whom he thinks is a comedic genius, came on the show and didn't include him in a skit. "I don't know what his reasons were," he says dismissing it.
"We're only gotten two letters of complaint about the black stuff I know of. One lady said 'Garrett Morris is a sick Uncle Tom.' Somebody else wanted to know why we didn't have any blacks on the Anyone Can Host show." (It aired in December and earned all-time high ratings.) "I didn't have an answer for that."
He is asked if he's ever been stopped on the street or at a party to be lectured about the show's racial jokes.
"They better not. I'll cut 'em."
The 41-year-old performer (who looks 10 years younger) also hints he may not be with the show "forever" There are too many things he wants to do. Besides, the natural life of an improv comedy may only be four or five seasons, he thinks.
Next fall he plans to start a magazine. "It's gonna be called Mahogany and be sex-oriented, with some comedy and intellectual stuff. And instead of having 11 months of white ladies and one month of black ladies inside, like Hustler, we're gonna have 11 months of black ladies and Orientals, and one month of white ladies." He says he's working on the financing now, and plans to hire professionals.
"There's a need for blacks to have a forum for sex-oriented black issues I'd like to see a story that deals honestly with sadomasochism and why it's so prevalent in the black community. Seems to me there must be a not-too-coincidental) tie-in with the whole slavery thing."
And then maybe he'll get interested in music again. "I'd like to do some more arranging of jazz and spirituals. I'd also like to write a history of all the obscure black musicians who played in this country in the '40s and '50s. In a way they're like the players in the old black baseball leagues."
The talk is over; they've called him for a skit. "Maybe someday they'll be digging me up. 'Oh, yeah. Garrett Morris, I remember that nigger. He was on 'Friday Night Live."