Tuesday would have been Gilda Radner’s 70th birthday if not for her untimely death at the age of 42. Her legendary Saturday Night Live characters Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa are synonymous with the show’s early days, but they’re so ubiquitous, they’ve overshadowed some of her other great work. So to mark the occasion, we’ve ruled them out, and selected some of her lesser-known sketches. Happy birthday!
Radner was always great at playing children, but she takes it to the next level here against Bill Murray’s straight man. It takes nearly two minutes before this sketch’s brilliant structure reveals itself, but once it does, it’s one of the best left turns the show ever took.
Right to Extreme Stupidity League
Keeping a straight face while sharing a stage with Radner seems like a challenge at the best of times, but once Candice Bergen botches her line, it’s all over.* Radner doesn’t miss a beat, adding her to the list of “extremely stupid people” while Bergen tries and completely fails to stop laughing. Radner’s delivery of “We all can’t be brainy like Fern here” shows a joy in performing that’s completely contagious.
The Doody Girls
As a showcase for physical comedy, it’s hard to imagine anything better than The Doody Girls, in which Radner and Laraine Newman do a wonderful job of playing not-very-well-controlled puppets. The couch gag is amazing, and the morbid premise is suitably appalling. It’s Howdy Doody Time!
Emily Litella on Busting School Children
Emily Litella, Radner’s hard-of-hearing editorialist, is one of Radner’s best-loved characters, but usually the conversation begins and ends with her piece about “violins on television.” And it’s great! But her fist-shaking delivery in the better-known sketch has nothing on the sweetly earnest way she says, “Even though they get bread, I don’t believe they can get toast.” What’s more, for once the perpetually confused Litella was right: Her outrage when “mean policemen arrest little children and put them in jail” has, sadly, been vindicated by history.
You can find a lot more of Radner’s Saturday Night Live work here, or, if you’re in the mood for a good cry, watch a low-res version of Steve Martin’s tribute to her on the day she died—he was hosting the show that night—right here.
*Correction, June 29, 2016: This post originally misspelled Candice Bergen’s last name.