But before any of that, there was Saturday Night Live. Chase was a member of the inaugural cast in the first year of the show, 1975. He appeared in sketches alongside the likes of Aykroyd, John Belushi and Gilda Radner. The fact that we saw him on-screen is something of an achievement in itself — Chase was actually hired to be a writer for the show, not an actor, but he stuck around for only one year.
“I’d been a writer for some 12 years, and I felt that one year was enough. I never actually had a job for more than one year, anyway,” he says. But that one year was not spent flailing and trying to find a voice, as so many freshman shows do now. “I felt that very first year the purpose of the show, as far as I could be a part of it, was to take down television — to show the idiocy of television — and that’s why the commercial parodies were important.” And those commercial parodies, like the one for Jamitol, a parody of Geritol, and a commercial for a new brand of jam so good it doesn’t matter if the flavor is “nose hair,” paved the way for years of similar parodies that live to this day.
But one SNL franchise many people don’t realize they should be giving Chase credit for is “Weekend Update.” “I was also very politically involved in satire, so I started the ‘Weekend Update’ thing,” Chase casually mentions. “It was a great year for that because we had [President Jimmy] Carter running against [George] Wallace and, yeah, it’s become a staple. It’s always been at midnight; I think the first one I did was maybe three minutes, and they sometimes could be up to seven or 10. Now they’ve got like five people doing it, a huge set and whatnot. But, yeah, it gave me the opportunity to get [President Gerald] Ford out and Carter basically in.”
For Chase fans who might not have been around to see the Ford impersonations, consider it something along the lines of what SNL’s Fred Armisen did with former New York Gov. David Paterson. Chase describes it this way: “The poor guy, I just made it look like he was so guilty being in this position, having never been elected, that he just kept hurting himself. Like it was a subconscious kind of problem.”
Ultimately, Chase and Ford became friends (“I found him to be a terrific guy,” he says), and Chase left SNL for a girl.
“In retrospect, I missed it quite a bit afterward. But at the time I was very much in love with a girl I married,” he says. “It didn’t last very long. I was infatuated, put it that way. Everybody else seemed to know that wasn’t the girl for me but me.”
More than missing the show, looking back, Chase wishes he hadn’t left when he did. “I regret it. I really do. I loved that year.”