Anyone who has ever enjoyed Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live has Chevy Chase to thank for it. The funnyman came up with the segment in 1975, and from that moment a comedy star was born. Chase brought laughs throughout the ’80s with starring roles in Caddyshack, Three Amigos, and the National Lampoon’s Vacation series. While he continued to work in the ’90s and 2000s, his big comeback was from 2009 to 2014 on the NBC sitcom Community.
But where has he been since then? Chevy Chase is no longer a film and TV fixture, and it’s not necessarily by choice. Find out the circumstances surrounding his low profile.
Who Is Chevy Chase?
Chevy Chase was born Cornelius Crane Chase on October 8, 1943. He had quite a privileged upbringing: his dad was a Princeton-educated editor and writer who later remarried into the Folgers coffee family, and his mother was the adopted daughter of philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane. He was educated at prestigious private and boarding schools before graduating from Bard College with a bachelor’s degree in English.
Despite his background, Chase spent his early adulthood working a variety of blue-collar jobs (cab driver, construction worker, supermarket manager, etc.) He also dabbled in music and played in a jazz band with future members of Steely Dan. But Chase found he had a knack for comedy. He made it a full-time career in 1973 when he became a writer and cast member of The National Lampoon Radio Hour. It was here that he met John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and Brian Doyle-Murray—all of whom became co-stars on Saturday Night Live.
Chevy Chase Was An Original Star On Saturday Night Live
On October 11, 1975, Chase became an unexpected star on the premiere of Saturday Night Live. He was originally hired to be a writer, and it was in that role that he came up with the concept of Weekend Update. Chase didn’t expect producer Lorne Michaels to assign him as the anchor. But he was an instant hit, and his opening line, “I’m Chevy Chase… and you’re not” became a signature for the comedian.
Michaels said Chase’s “likability” was the reason behind his decision to put him on screen. Chase also suspected that his looks had a lot to do with his success.
“I happen to come across relatively soft,” he said in a 1975 interview with New York Magazine. “My hair is short enough, I wear a tie and jacket, so I can do more offensive stuff. But my mind is mean—I’ve got a lot of things I’d like to get out. And it would be harder for some of the others to do it.”
Perhaps that mean mind was a revealing clue about his future departure from the show. Behind the scenes, Chase was a controversial cast member. He reportedly had a strained relationship with cast members—one particular rivalry was with Jim Belushi. As a result, Chase left the show in the middle of the second season.
However, he still managed to be a lightning rod whenever he returned. When he hosted an episode in the third season, he brawled with Bill Murray just before showtime. Viewers could see fresh marks on his face during the opening sketch. Chase hosted the show a total of nine times, but his February 15, 1997 episode would be his last. After a week of allegedly mistreating the cast and staff, he slapped Cheri Oteri in the back of the head during dress rehearsals. Co-star Will Ferrell was enraged and appealed to Lorne Michaels to take action.
To this day, Chase is the only cast member—and only member of the Five-Timers Club—to be banned from hosting the show. But his reputation didn’t stop him from seeing success in his early post-SNL years.
Chevy Chase Starred In Many Classic Movies
Chase blew up in the 1980s thanks to his starring roles in a laundry list of comedies. Caddyshack (1980), Harold Ramis’ directorial debut, was a hit. It grossed $40 million and was hailed by ESPN as “perhaps the funniest sports movie ever made”—this, in spite of the fact that Chevy’s co-star was his former fistfighting adversary Bill Murray. And Chase’s character Clark “Sparky” Griswold in National Lampoon’s Family Vacation (1983) birthed an entire film series that spanned decades.
In 1986, he co-starred with Steve Martin and Martin Short in Three Amigos (1986). The silly comedy became a future cult classic. When the three stars co-hosted a 1986 episode of SNL, it marked the first and only time a trio shared hosting duties.
At his height, Chase commanded $7 million per film. He hosted the Oscars twice and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. Fans couldn’t seem to get enough of his unusual mix of physical comedy, arrogance, and dry wit.
For better or worse, Chase stuck to his particular style of humor, and it didn’t serve him well in later years.
Chevy Chase Had A Running History Of Workplace Allegations
Chase has reportedly always been difficult to work with. In the book Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, former cast member Tim Meadows says, “[Chevy] rubbed some people the wrong way, but when he was here, it was like just watching a car accident over and over against watching him deal with people. Because he didn’t care about what he said. He has no qualm about telling you you’re an idiot, but not just saying it but showing you, you know, treating people really bad and being a real smart-ass.”
When Chase joined the cast of Community, things were tense from the start. He apparently never got along with the show’s creator, Dan Harmon. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Harmon revealed his thoughts about Chase walking away from the set while filming an episode for the third season.
“The answer I heard from the people on set was that he didn’t think it was funny,” wrote Harmon. “After he realized how upset I was about it, he said things in voicemails like ‘there was no script’ (untrue) and ‘I have a weird relationship with the name Cornelius’ (dumb, he had no dialogue in the tag). The real answer, I believe, is that he wanted to go home because he was tired.”
“Chevy was the first to realize how immensely gifted Donald was, and the way he expressed his jealousy was to try to throw Donald off,” said Harmon. “I remember apologizing to Donald after a particularly rough night of Chevy’s non-P.C. verbiage, and Donald said, ‘I don’t even worry about it.'”
It’s a charge that the comedian doesn’t deny. “I could have said it,” Chase said in a 2018 Washington Post profile. But his half-hearted admission was not enough to redeem him at the time. For the next few years, Chase had trouble getting new roles. He blamed a confluence of things: his failed 1993 talk show, his move from Hollywood to suburban New York, and his general age.
He doesn’t seem to believe that his personal reputation was an issue, even though he once left Harmon a raging voicemail that said Community was “just a mediocre f—— sitcom. I want people to laugh, and this isn’t funny.”
Chevy Chase Is Back In Movies Now
In 2016, Chase entered rehab for alcoholism. Treatment failed, but he says that he eventually quit drinking cold turkey on his own accord. Now he’s ready to stage a comeback. In 2020, he co-starred in The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee with Paul Hogan, John Cleese, and Olivia Newton-John. He’s also voiced a role in the animated sci-film Pandas vs. Aliens.
Chase has two upcoming comedies in the works: The Ogilvy Fortune and Federal Offense, the latter of which will stream on Sony’s Crackle. Time will tell if his return will be warmly received by viewers, but it sounds as if Chase will be fine regardless.
“I’ve already done what I’ve done,” Chase told the Washington Post. “I can’t change anything. And I’m old. I don’t have to worry about what I did anymore. I know who I am. People know who I am who know me. And I’m proud to be who I am.”