One of the original writers of Saturday Night Live, Tom Davis, has died of cancer at age 59. He was best known for his work with Al Franken, who went on to become a U.S. Senator, representing the state of Minnesota. Not long before his death, he wrote a piece on the site Incident Report saying that he and Franken were working on something for the latter to read after he "de-animate[d]." Sadly, that happened yesterday, and the world is less one amazing comedy writer.
In his obituary, The New York Times describes a 2004 incident involving a Jeopardy question asking who Davis was — no one had an answer. I want to be a part of making sure that never happens again. We lost a good one, so pay attention, eggheads.
When Davis and Franken, who were friends since high school, were hired as writers for a fledgling late-night variety show in 1975, they were both credited as one writer. Franken and Davis. They even split their $350 weekly salary. But without their talents, we would have never had Dan Aykroyd's Julia Child sketch, nor would we have the smarmiest salesman who ever smarmed, Irwin Mainway and the hilariously dangerous toys he defended, like the Bag O' Glass. Steve Martin's bloodletting barber Theodoric of York was also partly a Davis creation. Franken and Davis also wrote the drunken Nixon sketch, in which a young, mustachioed Aykroyd stumbles around the Oval Office and spews hate speech at portraits of his predecessors.
And that was just SNL, for which Davis from 1975 to 1980 and 1986 to 1994, plus a brief return in 2003. He also co-wrote Coneheads and co-wrote and starred — with Franken — One More Saturday Night. In 2009, he wrote his memoir, Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL From Someone Who Was There, in which he discussed how LSD and other drugs affected his aborted military career as well as that time he saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tom Davis lived his life as he wrote his comedy — moment to moment, like improv. Or jazz.
In his final years, he was collaborating on a book about Grateful Dead sound engineer-slash-LSD supplier Owsley Stanley and had also worked on a screenplay for Ghostbusters 3. Tom Davis might have been the last trustworthy person to write such a screenplay, and this is our loss. I just found this out after reading this obituary (and I'm a little ashamed of myself), and this makes me not want to see Ghostbusters 3 even get made if Tom Davis was supposed to be involved in writing it and now cannot.
He wrote poignantly and humorously about his fate in that Incident Report post, so I'll close this post about Tom Davis with his own words:
I wake up in the morning, delighted to be waking up, read, write, feed the birds, watch sports on TV, accepting the fact that in the foreseeable future I will be a dead person. I want to remind you that dead people are people too. There are good dead people and bad dead people. Some of my best friends are dead people. Dead people have fought in every war. We're all going to try it sometime. Fortunately for me, I have always enjoyed mystery and solitude. …
I was prepared to go through life without having suffered, and I was doing a good job of it. Now I know what it's like to starve. And to accept "that over which I have no control," I had to turn inward. People from all over my life are reconnecting with me, and I've tried to take responsibility for my deeds, good and bad. As my friend Timothy Leary said in his book, Death by Design, "Even if you've been a complete slob your whole life, if you can end the last act with panache, that's what they'll remember."
I think I've finally grown up. …
As an old-school Malthusian liberal, I've always believed that the source of all mankind's problems is overpopulation. I'm finally going to do something about it.
Well, that is one carbon footprint we are really going to miss. Rest in peace, Tom Davis.
Tom Davis, comedian and 'SNL' sketch writer, dies at 59 [The New York Times]