Saturday Night’s Children: Brad Hall (1982-1984)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 years. In our 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.
In the realm of forgotten SNL cast members, Brad Hall is often overshadowed by his wife Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who attained sitcom megastardom on Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and most recently Veep. Hall, however, shifted his post-SNL career from in front of the camera to behind the scenes as everything from story editor to writer, script doctor, producer, director, and creator. While he may be one of Weekend Update’s least memorable anchors, it couldn’t have been easy helming the desk under the tighter creative control of Dick Ebersol in the post-Michaels, post-Doumanian, always-near-cancellation era.
Hall was born in Santa Barbara, California and studied theater at Northwestern University, where he first met Louis-Dreyfus. After graduation, he moved to Chicago and appeared in several productions at Goodman Theatre, and he cofounded the Practical Theatre Company in 1979 with a group of fellow Northwestern grads. There he wrote and produced plays and performed with the company’s improv revue just next door to the famed Second City theater. All four members of the Practical Theatre Company’s 1982 improv team were hired at SNL the same year by producer Dick Ebersol — Hall, Louis-Dreyfus, and Gary Kroeger were brought on as cast members and Paul Barrosse as writer.
SNL’s eighth season cast had only eight players, and despite Hall getting the anchor spot on Weekend Update (then called Saturday Night News), his preference for more deadpan and affectless delivery didn’t mesh with the vision of Ebersol and NBC, and Hall became Exhibit A in criticism of the show’s growing preppiness. Near the end of Hall’s SNL stint in 1984, Ebersol even offered the anchor spot to Hall’s compatriot Tim Kazurinsky, who turned it down on the grounds that “that’s really fucked.” On his frustration with Saturday Night News, Hall says in Live from New York:
You look back, it’s kind of bizarre, the election of 1984, there’s almost no political humor during an entire political election. Nothing. And for me, doing the news, it was really frustrating. My brilliant idea was that I should’ve been a real news guy. I should’ve gone out and covered real news stories from the SNL perspective. That’s what I wanted to do. But they were much more keen on doing “President Reagan had his hand stuck to his head today” and show a picture.
Hall’s preferred straight-man approach also affected his lack of recurring character success via one-note roles like talk show host Larry Rolans (“Larry’s Corner”), stereotypical high school jock Mike Phillips (“El Dorko”), and the slightly more clever Human Stapler character of “The Interesting Four” superhero parody. He also impersonated Noel Stookey from Peter, Paul and Mary, Jodie Foster fanatic/attempted presidential assassin John Hinckley, original Beatles drummer Pete Best, William F. Buckley, and Vice President Walter Mondale.
While Hall’s style leaned toward more writerly buildups ending in silly and almost slapstick punchlines, it couldn’t compete with the louder, quicker, and more immediate, pop culture-driven comedy of Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. And while his steady girlfriend Julia Louis-Dreyfus would be asked back for Ebersol’s final season from 1984-1985, Hall was fired at the end of season 10 alongside Robin Duke and Tim Kazurinsky to make way for ringers like Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Christopher Guest. After leaving SNL, Hall returned to theater in the 1985 production of David Mamet’s Prairie du Chien at Lincoln Center, then found small film roles starting with 1986’s Troll and 1990’s Limit Up as well as TV appearances on ABC’s 9 to 5 and NBC’s Day by Day in the late 1980s.
Behind the scenes, Hall worked as a story editor on the NBC comedy American Dreamer (1990-1991) and writer on Brooklyn Bridge (1991-1993), Frasier (1993), and the 1995 film Bye Bye Love. He created and produced his own NBC sitcom The Single Guy in 1995 and, after its cancellation, signed a $15 million sitcom development deal with CBS’s Big Ticket Television the following year, making him one of the highest paid TV writers at the time (interestingly, none of the shows he developed for CBS were ever made). Hall’s second time as show creator and executive producer came from 2002-2003 with the Dreyfus-starring NBC sitcom Watching Ellie. By the premiere of Watching Ellie, Julia and Brad had been married for 15 years with two children.
Since Watching Ellie‘s cancellation, Hall has been largely absent from the entertainment sphere save for appearing with his wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2000 and 2001, working as executive producer for the 2005 film Must Love Dogs starring John Cusack, and most recently writing and directing a short also starring his wife called Picture Paris, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. On his critics, Hall told The Los Angeles Times in 2002: “You know what? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have an unbelievably beautiful, well-known wife. And the people who criticize me don’t.”
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.