How Monty Python, A Pothole, And Lorne Michaels Landed Chevy Chase On Saturday Night Live

"Good evening. I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not." The weekly introduction from one of the human lightning rods of "Saturday Night Live" made it plain: no one does it like Chase. In the chronicle "Wild and Crazy Guys," telling the story of the comedy mavericks of '80s Hollywood, Nick de Semlyen designates Cornelius Crane "Chevy" Chase as the first "SNL" cast member to really hit the big time. The braggadocious funnyman's first and only season on the late-night variety series was a wild success — earning Emmys, a Golden Globe for writing, and New York Magazine's designation as "The funniest man in America" in 1975 — before moving onto the big screen with movies like "Tunnel Vision," "Foul Play" opposite Goldie Hawn, and eventually comedy juggernaut "Caddyshack."

The following decade would further boost Chase's ascension. The "National Lampoon's Vacation" movies yielded more of the physical comedy and straight-faced delivery that he was celebrated for, whether on a family road trip, a European holiday, or a Christmas get-together. After an experimentally serious turn in William Friedkin's "Deal of the Century" (a role for which Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were also considered), Chase went back to comedic basic with private eye laughfest "Fletch" and to great effect — the latest installment in that franchise proves that Chase's presence was key to its power. John Landis' "The Three Amigos" (filmed in the wake of the "Twilight Zone" tragedy) would pair the NY-born actor with fellow "SNL" member Martin Short and frequent host Steve Martin; their comic rapport gives the movie life beyond its time in the same way that the collectively riffed goofiness of "This Is Spinal Tap" lives beyond the British heavy metal era. But for Chase it all began, one could say, with Monty Python.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Paramount

"Wild and Crazy Guys" tells the story of Chevy Chase, standing in line for a movie in the spring of 1974 and acting a fool, in a good way. The Los Angeles Film Festival was in full swing, having screened Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers" on opening night at what is now the El Capitan Theater. At the time it was known as the Paramount Theater, which was where "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was running with Chase waiting to enter and take his seat. Making wisecracks and doing spot-on impressions, he held the attention of fellow festival attendees, including one Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of "Saturday Night Live." Michaels was in the midst of building the show's original cast when a rainy night and a pothole provided his next addition. NBC executive Dick Ebersol recalls in the book:

"He goes into a pothole, does a complete ass-over-teakettle into this immense pothole, and comes out of this thing just soaked. Lorne looks at me and says, 'Now, how could you say no to somebody who was crazy enough to do that?'"

Seeing the pratfalls in action was enough for Michaels. Not only would Chase join the freshman "SNL" group that would come to be known as the Not Ready for Primetime Players, but his physical comedy would get a weekly spotlight, opening each episode of the show's first season with a Chevy Chase tumble, usually as a parody of a clumsy President Gerald Ford. The falls were both lumbering and balletic ("The Jerk" director Carl Reiner would call the physicality "ungainly and graceful" in the book), always good for a laugh — because he's Chevy Chase, and you're not.