Phil Hartman is primarily remembered for playing many hilarious characters on Saturday Night Live. However, those who worked with Hartman during his prime on SNL remember the actor for something a little more important.
‘The Grandfather Of Comedy’
When Hartman arrived at SNL in 1986, the show was going through one of its many crises. The previous year, the show had hired character actors such as Randy Quaid and Robert Downey Jr. instead of sketch players. Plus, most people agree that the writing wasn’t that good during this time. You can go back and watch the clips to decide for yourself.
Hartman’s arrival changed all that. When the late, great Hartman joined the cast, he was a breath of fresh air. Hartman brought along his bag full of character impressions and showed the crew what funny is. Just take a look at his SNL audition tape.
At the age of 38, Hartman was the oldest member of the 1986–1987 SNL cast. As only he could, Hartman jokingly referred to himself as “the grandfather of comedy.” However, the comedian’s age and experience turned out to be just what the show needed. In a sketch at the beginning of the season, Hartman starred with newcomers Dana Carvey and Jan Hooks for the memorable sketch, “Quiz Masters.” The sketch is still hilarious and perfectly delivered. Here’s the clip:
Phil Hartman Truly Was ‘The Glue’
Although Hartman considered himself to be the grandfather on the show, the rest of the cast had another name for him. In this Grantland article, one of Hartman’s SNL costars, Kevin Nealon shared, “His nickname was Glue because he held all the sketches together.”
When Hartman was in a sketch, it pulled all the characters together. As David Mandel, a former SNL writer went on to explain, “There is no Costello without Abbott. They called him Glue for different reasons, but one of them was you can’t have that Matt Foley character if Phil Hartman isn’t there to be the dad reacting off it.”
The comedian was also referred to as the Glue because of his authority. When Hartman was in a sketch, the other cast knew all the roles would mesh together. As one of his former students, Julia Sweeney, reflected, “People like Phil make it safe for people to be crazier. They’re the gravitas. It’s not going to go completely off the rails if Phil’s in the sketch.”
The cast and crew also knew Hartman could completely turn into the character he was playing and turn off his own personality. “He was definitely a guy that was in everything,” Mandel remarked. “And he could play anything. Yet you never got a sense that everybody knew exactly who he was.” Even so, we do know one thing about Hartman: He will be remembered for holding together so many hysterical comedy sketches on SNL.