Review: 'SNL's Best Of John Belushi'

Post by: RIck Ellis

I have to admit that I have a strong prejudice towards John Belushi. Besides being talented, he was hell of a nice guy. At least, he was always nice to me.

When I first moved to Chicago, I used to hang out down by Second City, and this was just the time when Belushi and company were in town filming The Blues Brothers movie. And he and the crew set up an informal and semi-private private club across the street. So most nights, you could find him in there, partying away until the early morning. And my first sight of him was when I walked in the door the first time, as he was pulling his head out of a giant container of ice, attempting to keep himself going.

The trouble with my memories, and most of my other thoughts about him is that they don't matter much anymore. He's been gone for more than a decade, and the public's memories fade. WTBS has aired The Blues Brothers and Animal House to death, but it's hard for people to appreciate his talent past that. And their remembrances of his Saturday Night Live work are colored by Chris Farley, who professed his love for the man by cranking out a number of sketches and movies that screamed, "Hey! I'm a fat guy!"

Which is why it's good to see SNL airing this special, because it's a reminder to everyone how subtle Belushi's acting could be.

The 90-minute special kicked off with his first appearance on the show, a sketch with the late Michael O'Donohue in which he played a foreign-speaking immigrant going through language lessons that seemed to involve a lot of talk weasels and wolverines.

And it also included the segments that you would expect: The Blues Brothers, Belushi's impression of Joe Cocker, his marvelous turn as Captain Kirk in the final mission of the Enterprise.

But as you watch the clips, you recognize the difference between John and someone like Chris Farley. Farley was massive, throwing himself on the set, using his bulk as a comedic weapon to bludgeon everyone into submission.

Belushi had a light comedic touch when he needed it, and his facial expressions were wry and incredibly effective. Watching his eyes dance during the Samarai Deli clip, and the way he paced the scenes of his Mozart impressions, you get a sense of how effective an actor he could be. And his ability to talk effectively and precisely made his segments on the news set with Jane Curtin a beautiful dance to watch.

The show ended with a scene that's easily the most ironic thing ever filmed on SNL. A "Schiller's Reel" piece in which an elderly Belushi went to visit the graves of all of the other cast members. He was the last survivor, he said, because he was a "dancer."

You were much more than that, John. And we miss you.