Because we don’t see an awful lot of him these days, it’s easy to forget that Chevy Chase is the original Saturday Night Live star. Tall, handsome, and funny, the Manhattan-born comic was the first season’s (1975-1976) breakout performer. He would go on to star in a number of screwball comedies in the 1980s, including a few alongside fellow original SNL cast member Dan Aykroyd, who has nothing but good things to say about the man. The Ghostbusters star called Chase one of the « largest-hearted » and « most magnanimous » friends he has (via The Washington Post), while Dana Carvey (Wayne’s World) described him as a « sweet » guy. Aykroyd and Carvey are in the minority, however.
Chase apparently left SNL (known simply as Saturday Night at the time) with more enemies than admirers. In the decades since the show catapulted him to stardom, a number of unsettling tales about Chase have come to light. It’s not just the cast and crew of SNL that he’s rubbed up the wrong way, either. Chase was back in the headlines in 2019 after a surprise stand-up set at the Los Angeles Comedy Store, an appearance that did not go down well. « He seems to be a kind of cranky, nasty old f***, » a stunned Marc Maron said (via Chortle).
He should be mellowing out a little in his golden years, but according to various sources, Chevy Chase just keeps getting shadier and shadier. See for yourself.
The fame went to his head
According to those who knew him in his Saturday Night days, Chevy Chase let his newfound fame to go to his head. NBC bosses quickly identified him as the potential star among the original cast, and he knew it. Chase’s status as America’s new favorite comedian was confirmed days before Christmas 1975 when he appeared on the cover of the trend-setting New York magazine. He was asked to do numerous interviews after that and he obliged, telling anyone who would listen that he was determined not to become one of those arrogant celebrities — but it seems that he was already well on his way.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Chase loved to brag about his celebrity in front of his peers. ”I’ll go down to the drugstore, pick up the fan magazines, and I’ll bet my name is in more of them than any of yours, » he reportedly told a room full of people. Speaking to James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, authors of Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, SNL legend Bill Murray had this to say about Chase: « When you become famous, you’ve got like a year or two where you act like a real a**hole. You can’t help yourself. It happens to everybody. You’ve got like two years to pull it together — or it’s permanent. »
Shading Johnny Carson
When New York magazine plastered Chevy Chase’s face and catchphrase (« I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not ») across its cover in December ’75, the influential publication made two claims. Firstly, it declared Chase « TV’s hottest new comedy star. » There’s nothing that controversial about that — if he wasn’t the hottest new comedy star before the issue went to print he was by the time it hit newsstands. The magazine make a second, bolder claim, however. « It is a testament to television’s power that after half a dozen appearances on a late-night show, he is the heir apparent to Johnny Carson, » it said of Chase.
Carson had essentially been the face of NBC since making his debut as host of The Tonight Show in 1962. Being touted as his successor was a big deal, but Chase dismissed the idea, throwing some subtle shade at Carson in the process. ”I’d never be tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities,” he said in his New York magazine cover story. Carson (whose dislike of Saturday Night‘s brand of comedy was well-known to NBC execs) didn’t respond right away, but he let his true feelings about Chase be known publicly when he sat down with author and journalist Tom Shales the following year. « He couldn’t ad lib a fart at a bean-eating contest, » Carson told Shales. The pair later « made up » and « became poker buddies, » Shales said.
He’s ‘viciously effective’ at putting people down
You’ve got some choice when it comes to books that chronicle the history of SNL, but if you’re after an insight into the early days of the show, look no further than Jeff Weingrad and Doug Hill’s Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. Weingrad and Hill spoke to a number of original SNL staffers for their book, including writer Alan Zweibel. Zweibel said that Chevy Chase and Michael O’Donoghue (who was part of the first ever SNL sketch) were Lorne Michaels’ « brain trust » during the inaugural season, and they apparently weren’t very humble about being the boss’s golden boys.
According to the authors, Chase was « a viciously effective put-down artist, the sort who could find the one thing somebody was sensitive about — a pimple on the nose, perhaps — and then kid about it, mercilessly. » Some of his targets were the younger, less-experienced writers on the staff. « If Chevy heard something he didn’t like in a meeting, he’d have no qualms about saying ‘Gee, I don’t think that’s very good at all,’ and he generally smirked when he said it. »
He pulled a ‘scumbag’ move when he left SNL
Chevy Chase wanted a change of direction because he « wasn’t confident that the rest of the Saturday Night team could maintain standards as high as his own, » Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live claimed. The book’s authors interviewed a friend of SNL creator Lorne Michaels, who said that Chase tried to « get behind Lorne’s desk » at the time, overstepping the mark in pursuit of more creative control. « Lorne was horrified that Chevy was thinking that way, » a second source revealed. « He had made Chevy a star, nurtured him, created the showplace for Chevy’s talent, made him look good. »
In the end, Chase went behind Michaels’ back and made a deal with NBC for some prime-time specials, keeping the whole Saturday Night team in the dark. « Lorne felt like King Lear: His first daughter had betrayed him, » one writer said. Most of the cast and crew felt the same way. « Chevy was a scumbag the way he left, » another writer told the book’s authors. « Deceitful and dishonest about the whole thing. »
When cast member Tom Davis asked Chase why he was leaving, he reportedly responded: « Money. Lots of money. » The decision plagued him, however. « I still grieve for all those years that I could have had there, » Chase later admitted (via Live From New York). « If Lorne had put his arms around me and given me a hug and asked me to stay, then I probably would have. »
His second wife divorced him citing ‘threats of violence’
When Chevy Chase opened up about his decision to leave SNL (via Live From New York), he appeared to shift a significant portion of the blame onto his second wife, Jacqueline Carlin. « Look, I would have stayed, » Chase said. « There was this girl I wanted to marry, and all that. Lorne knew she was wrong for me, but I thought I was in love. » Chase married the model and actress in December 1976, but Carlin (who appeared uncredited in a handful of SNL sketches) sued for divorce in 1978, just 17 months after they’d tied the knot. « Citing threats of violence from her husband, she asked the court to keep him away from their house, » a decades-old Chicago Tribune report revealed. « [Chase], she said, had ”lost perspective.”
The fact that Chase was claiming his former partner pressured him into leaving apparently didn’t go down well with some of the females on the SNL staff, one of whom described it as a blatant « blame the bitch » strategy. The authors of Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live also found Chase’s logic a little sketchy, calling him out for shouldering zero responsibility for his actions. « Whatever Jacqueline Carlin’s role, it’s likely the temptation of other offers carried equal weight at least, » Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad concluded.
He got into a fist fight with Bill Murray
With Chevy Chase gone, there was an opportunity for someone else to step into the void he’d left on Saturday Night, which was renamed Saturday Night Live after ABC canceled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell in 1976, freeing the name up. The name wasn’t the only thing Lorne Michaels adopted — Bill Murray was on Cosell’s cast, and Michaels welcomed him to NBC with open arms. Murray was seen as the natural successor to Chase, which is why it fell to him to confront the former cast member when he returned to host the show in February 1978. « It was sort of like it was my job to do that, » Murray said, per Live From New York.
According to MovieWeb, Murray told Chase to go home to his wife. In response, Chase reportedly told Murray that his acne-scarred face looked like something Neil Armstrong had landed on, and that’s when fists started flying. Murray (who also called Chase a « medium talent » in the heat of the moment) later claimed during an interview with Empire that it was nothing but « a Hollywood fight, a ‘Don’t touch my face!’ kind of thing. » The pair buried the hatchet on the set of 1980’s Caddyshack, which gave them both a new found respect for the other’s skills. « The tension was short-lived, » Chase said in the book Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story (via Sports Illustrated). « I have nothing but admiration and affection for Bill. »
SNL’s first gay star called him ‘a monster’
As of this writing, Chevy Chase has returned to SNL as a host eight times since quitting the cast. Some of those appearances have gone more smoothly than others. He was arguably provoked prior to his confrontation with Bill Murray, but there’s no defending the way Chase reportedly behaved when he hosted the November 16, 1985 episode. According to SNL‘s first openly gay cast member, Terry Sweeney, everyone was super excited to meet Chase, but he failed to live up to expectations. « When he got there, he was a monster, » Sweeney recalled. « I mean, he insulted everybody. »
Sweeney told Live From New York authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales that Chase suggested he star in a sketch where they weighed him every week to see if he had AIDS. Chase was reprimanded and made to apologize, which he was « really furious » about, Sweeney said. « He was just beside himself. And it was just awful. He acted horribly to me. He acted horribly to everyone. » Chase made such a bad impression on the cast that day that they actively avoided him after the show. According to Sweeney, nobody wanted to get stuck riding the elevator with him. « I don’t know what he was on or what was happening to him mentally, but he was just crazy. »
He’s been accused of treating people ‘like dirt’
With all due respect to Terry Sweeney, he’s far from the most famous person that Chevy Chase chose to insult when he returned to host SNL in November 1985. Future Marvel star Robert Downey Jr. was part of the repertory that day, and he also felt the sting of Chase’s tongue. According to Sweeney, Chase mocked the newbie’s dad, art-house filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. « Didn’t your father used to be a successful director? » Chase reportedly asked Downey Jr. (via Live From New York). « Whatever happened to him? Boy, he sure died, you know, he sure went to hell. » In Sweeney’s words, Downey Jr. « turned ashen. »
It seems as though Chase’s apparent habit of talking down to people only worsened as the decade rolled on. In 1989, he met with director Chris Columbus about Christmas Vacation, and the actor failed to make a good first impression. « To be completely honest, Chevy treated me like dirt, » Columbus told Chicago magazine. « But I stuck it out and even went as far as to shoot second unit. … Then I had another meeting with Chevy, and it was worse. I called John [Hughes, producer] and said, ‘There’s no way I can do this movie. I know I need to work, but I can’t do it with this guy.' » It all worked out for Columbus, who went on to direct Home Alone instead.
Will Ferrell says Chase sexually harassed a female writer
As of this writing, the last time Chase hosted SNL was February 15, 1997. He’d worked with the majority of the cast during his previous appearance as host, which went off without a hitch. The same cannot be said of his ’97 appearance, however. Chase’s antics that day led to Will Ferrell dubbing him the « worst host » he’d encountered during his time as part of the repertory. « I don’t know if he was on something or what, if he took too many back pills that day or something, but he was just kind of going around the room and systematically riffing, » Ferrell revealed (via Vanity Fair).
Ferrell (who left SNL in 2002 after seven years on the show) said that Chase spent some time « playfully making fun » of the guys, but the former cast member crossed a line when he turned on one of the female writers, suggesting she perform a sexual act on him « later. » The Anchorman star recalled, « And I’ve never seen Lorne [Michaels] more embarrassed and red. » There were rumors that Michaels blacklisted Chase after this incident, but the SNL boss refuted these claims. « That’s idiotic, » he said when asked about Chase’s supposed lifetime ban (according to nola.com). « None of it was particularly shocking to me or upsetting to me. It’s just generational. »
The truth about his beef with Dan Harmon
Chevy Chase’s career got a shot in the arm when he won the role of Pierce Hawthorne in Community, but the honeymoon period was short lived. Chase clashed hard with creator Dan Harmon, who probably wasn’t thrilled when the former SNL man threw shade at the show when speaking to HuffPost in 2012. Chase promoted the UK DVD release of the second season during his interview, but he also discussed the things he hated about working on the show. « The hours are hideous, and it’s still a sitcom on television, which is probably the lowest form of television, » he said. « That’s my feeling about it. »
According to Deadline, a feud began when Chase walked off set before he’d finished his scenes one day. At that season’s wrap party, Harmon reportedly asked everyone to say « F*** you Chevy » during his toast, taking a shot at Chase in front of his wife and daughter. The enraged actor walked out and left the showrunner a profanity-laden voicemail that Harmon would later share publicly, something he regretted.
Some witnesses from the wrap party said that Harmon’s behavior was uncalled for, but the Community creator later explained why he was so angry during a Reddit AMA. « This was the final shot of the season. The sets came down after he walked away. So this was the one time in three years that his personality caused unfixable damage to something I really held valuable. »
He may have used ‘the N-word’ on the set of Community
Dan Harmon wasn’t the only person that Chase locked horns with on the set of Community. When he sat down with The New Yorker in 2018, Donald Glover, who played Troy Barnes on the series, said that working with Chase had been a challenge. « I just saw Chevy as fighting time, » Glover said. « A true artist has to be okay with his reign being over. I can’t help him if he’s thrashing in the water. But I know there’s a human in there somewhere — he’s almost too human. »
According to Dan Harmon, Chase was jealous of Glover’s obvious talent and tried to throw the younger actor off out of spite. « 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.' » Chase’s choice of language reportedly caused « a commotion » in 2012, when Deadline alleged that the actor had used « the N-word » on set. The Hollywood trade was told by sources close to the production that Chase « snapped » after reading dialogue for his character, Pierce Hawthorne, who was becoming too bigoted for his liking. Chase used the racial slur as an example of something the writers might ask him to use against Glover’s character, the way things were going.
Pete Davidson thinks Chase is a ‘genuinely bad’ person
According to Chevy Chase, Saturday Night Live just isn’t as good as it was in his day, an opinion he’s voiced on several occasions. When he spoke to Time magazine in 2010, he revealed that he almost told Lorne Michaels to fire Adam Sandler (cast member from 1990 to 1995) the first time he saw his Opera Man character on « Weekend Update, » and he’s had plenty to say about the recent generation of SNL stars.
Speaking to The Washington Post in 2018, Chase said that he was « amazed that Lorne [Michaels] had gone so low » with the content. « I had to watch a little of it, and I just couldn’t f***ing believe it, » the SNL veteran said. « That means a whole generation of s***heads laughs at the worst f***ing humor in the world. You know what I mean? How could you dare give that generation worse s*** than they already have in their lives? It just drives me nuts. »
SNL‘s Pete Davidson didn’t take kindly to Chase’s assessment of the show. When he sat down with Howard Stern, Davidson called Chase out for being « disrespectful to Lorne » and said he’d done « nothing » since 1983. « He’s a f***ing douchebag, » Davidson said (via Variety). « F*** Chevy Chase. I hate that dude. He’s just a genuinely bad, racist person. »