Saturday Night’s Children: Laraine Newman (1975-1980)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our new column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
This column can’t start without a nod to one of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, and I decided to kick things off with one of the most underrated and quietly successful SNL stars, Laraine Newman. Every member of the original cast brought such a unique and needed element to the show, and in Newman’s case it’s a girlish charm, cool hippie mystique, and the perfect middle ground between wild child and sophisticated professional.
A founder and original member of The Groundlings in Los Angeles, Newman was first hired by Lorne Michaels for a Lily Tomlin special at age 22, and he brought her on for SNL a year later. She’s best known for her roles as Connie Conehead and Sheri the Valley Girl, but many of Laraine’s roles have been lost from popular appreciation due to her avoidance of repeating characters on the show, a well-intentioned but ill-fated decision which put her screen time at odds with the more powerhouse players like John Belushi and Gilda Radner. Still, Newman brought us many funny, edgy, and experimental characters, and without her the Not Ready For Prime Time Players would lack a vital ingredient for SNL heyday hilarity.
One of Newman’s most famous SNL roles is Connie, the hip and rebellious alien daughter in the Coneheads sketches who was often scolded by her parents Beldar and Prymaat (Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd) for adorning her cone with tattoos and decorations and listening to the same “irregular sound patterns” as her friends at school. Newman bridged the gap between alien and human, hip and square in this sketch, and she did it with a signature low-key coolness that defined many of her characters. She also had a knack for playing strong supporting roles like the Olympia cashier in the Cheeseburger sketches and the sexy ditzy giggling Art Classics cohost Christy Christina (seen below), and she also appeared as a Weekend Update correspondent.
Some of my favorite sketches featuring Laraine straddle the line between funny and taboo, and in most cases it’s because she uses her voice talents, particularly her uncanny ability to sound like a little girl, to play with the limits of humor. These are the kind of sketches we just don’t see on television these days, for better or for worse, and they don’t seem to be anywhere on the internet aside from Netflix Streaming, either. In the recurring “Uncle Roy” sketch, for example, host Buck Henry plays a horny babysitter who comes on to Gilda and Laraine, who play little girls who are oblivious to why he asks them to give him their dirty underwear and “polish the banister” – whoa. Then there was her great performance in the “Child Psychology” sketch, where she plays a child who also happens to be a child psychologist. Finally, in one of my favorite Laraine moments, she plays Anna Freud opposite Dan Aykroyd as Sigmund Freud in a “Great Moments in Herstory” segment in which Anna recounts her Electra complex-infested dream to her father, who tries his best not to get turned on: “Sometimes a banana is just a banana. Anna? Please don’t mention this to Mama.”
Since her time on SNL, Newman has appeared on shows like Entourage, 7th Heaven, Curb Your Enthusiasm, According to Jim, and 3rd Rock from the Sun, and she also appeared in films ranging from The Coneheads to Problem Child 2 to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where she is credited as “Frog-Eyed Woman.” Most of her work has been in the world of voiceovers for animated shows and movies like Finding Nemo, Metalocalypse, WALL-E, Horton Hears a Who!, The Fairly OddParents, Monsters Inc., Harvey Birdman, Hey Arnold!, and many more. These days she writes for food blog One for the Table and has also contributed to The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, and The Believer. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two teenage daughters, who she takes to Coachella every year.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.