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Touch of Davis

Lifelong Grateful Dead fan and longtime SNL writer recounts the inception of the show and his own adventurous life in comedy.

Al Franken’s former writing and performing partner, Tom Davis, even with a longer tenure as a writer on SNL, and relegated to the back-burner amid a younger staff at the show by the early 1990s, will always have some great stories and the memories of some great work on and for the show, much of which he recounts in this memoir, “39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There.”

The organization of the book is scattershot, jumping around in time and subject, loosely organized into chapters revolving around one personality or another -- either Franken, Dan Aykroyd, the Grateful Dead (Davis was a big fan and lobbied Lorne Michaels to get the group on SNL in its original classic late 1970s run), John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Michael O’Donoghue and Timothy Leary (Davis also befriended and hung out with the LSD pioneer). Even within these chapters, Davis tends to jump around in time, pulling to the fore whatever story about the subject he wishes.

Although Davis’ autobiography is very free-form, it does include several great stories of times with the original SNL players, such as barhopping with Murray and Paul Shaffer for inspiration to write the Nick the lounge singer sketches; how he convinced Michaels to put the Dead on; Franken & Davis’ adventures as performers before getting signed to SNL; and sadly trying to intervene in saving Chris Farley.

Some of the chronology of events does get lost or muddled in the jumping around or back and forth with chapters devoted to Franken, Davis own youthful travels, the Dead, and stories about girlfriends and his wife Mimi, as well as all the SNL backstage history. Then again, this probably wouldn’t be Tom Davis’ book if it wasn’t so scattered, the product of the same mind that created such transgressive sketch comedy. The method to the madness might be the way Davis keeps you turning the pages, eager for the next bit of history, or crazy story, that wouldn’t be possible if the book was linear in its recollections.

Davis’ book has enough detail to recommend it to fans of SNL -- more specifically to fans of the show who are critical of its weaker moments, because Davis, judging by some of the sketches he recalls having a hand in, definitely gave it a lot of edge and bite in its material.

For an account of Davis' recent appearance at 92Y Tribeca discussing his book, see this Jester's Blog entry.




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