TRIBUTE: Tom Davis Made Us Laugh From Behind The Scenes
By SEAMES O'GRADYsogrady@tylerpaper.com
Tom Davis died Thursday from throat and neck cancer. He was 59. You might have heard this news or maybe not. It's been a strange week. When I heard about Davis' death, I almost cried — cried for a man I never met and now never will.
As a life-long fan and student of comedy, my sense of humor originates from three things: Bugs Bunny, Mr. Moose & Bunny Rabbit and the first five years of NBC's “Saturday Night Live.”
Davis was one of the original writers for “Saturday Night Live,” from 1975 to 1980. He was part of the comedy team, Franken & Davis — that's Al Franken, the current U.S. senator from Minnesota. Davis worked in the shadows of show business and of his more-famous partner. Most people didn't know who Davis was, but he made so many of us laugh.
Together, Franken & Davis wrote classic “SNL” characters and sketches, like “The Coneheads,” Irwin Mainway, played by Dan Aykroyd, who was a borderline psychotic businessman who sold lethal Halloween costumes, “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber” played by guest host Steve Martin, “Nick the Lounge Singer” portrayed by Bill Murray, “The Last Days Of Nixon,” a sketch that supposes what disgraced President Richard M. Nixon (Aykroyd) did as the scandal of Watergate crashed down around his presidency and “The Julia Child” sketch were Child (Aykroyd) accidental cuts herself during her cooking show and she slowly bleeds to death, while still offering cooking tips.
The Davis-penned “SNL” sketch, which has always stuck with me, was an installment of “The Franken & Davis Show,” called “The Brain Tumor Comedian.” It was a show-within-a-show sketch that portrayed Franken and Davis as cheesy TV variety show hosts — imagine “Sonny & Cher” with bad hair.
In the sketch, Davis comes on stage and announces to the audience Franken has a massive brain tumor and only a few days left to live. An emotionally distraught Davis then implored everyone to please laugh at everything Franken said. A woozy Franken walks out, with an enormous bandage wrapped around his head, and gets huge laughs for every half-told joke he recites. When Franken loses concentration, Davis tosses a glass of water in his face to revive him. It was all a very dark and demented joke. I thought it was hilarious and I wasn't yet 10 the first time I saw this on TV.
By everything I've seen and read, Davis wasn't a morose man, but an eternal optimist. Davis was a light and breezy, aging hippie from Minnesota. As a comedian, he pushed the boundaries of good taste in the best possible ways and didn't have a mean bone in his body.
Davis helped construct my sense of humor, which, to this day, my parents and brothers don't understand and my friends and co-workers see as a partial mental defect.
I treasure my sense of humor; I see it as my greatest attribute and in part it's because of Tom Davis' influence.
Mr. Davis, thank you for helping me make me. And sorry this isn't funny.
While you will live on in the legacy and legend you have built at “Saturday Night Live,” your heart and humor will be missed, sir.