Saturday Night’s Children: Brian Doyle-Murray (1979-1980; 1981-1982)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 37 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.
While we may never know why Warden Gentiles called him a coward on Arrested Development, Brian Doyle-Murray is often dismissed by SNL fans for his underwhelming stint as SNL Newsbreak anchor from 1981-1982, not to mention the overshadowing of his younger brother Bill. Despite his lack of success as a cast member, Doyle-Murray is one of the few writers who worked under all three SNL producers (Lorne Michaels, Jean Doumanian, Dick Ebersol) and saw the show through the rocky ratings and reviews that came in the wake of the original cast. As an actor, he’s also shown up in countless shows and films over the span of his 40-year comedy career and counting, bringing his trademark terse voice and cranky, bumbly presence with him along the way.
Born to a large Irish-Catholic family in the Chicago suburbs, Doyle-Murray spent his teenage summers working as a caddy at his local country club with his brothers (which would later inspire him to write the 1980 film Caddyshack) Ed, Bill, Andy, John, and Joel. After studying at St. Mary’s College of California in the late 1960s, Doyle-Murray returned to Chicago and joined The Second City to study under the legendary Del Close alongside Bill, Joel, and other rising Chicago performers like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner. From 1973-1974, Doyle-Murray was also a regular writer and performer on The National Lampoon Radio Hour, created by Michael O’Donoghue and starring many near-future Not Ready for Prime Time Players including Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Christopher Guest.
The Second City troupe moved to New York in 1974, and while many of them went to write and star on Lorne Michaels’s new NBC show Saturday Night the following year, Doyle-Murray (who uses his grandmother’s maiden name due to another actor named Brian Murray) and his brother were originally hired for its ABC competitor Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, which floundered almost immediately in the ratings and was canceled in January 1976 after just 18 episodes. A year later, Bill Murray was hired as an SNL cast member; Brian became a writer in 1977 (and also an uncredited SCTV writer from 1976-1979) then became a featured player in 1979. Doyle-Murray was only a writer during Jean Doumanian’s run as producer from 1980-1981 then returned as a featured player for the seventh season under Dick Ebersol, though he did make a cameo in the short film “Cut Flowers” when Bill Murray hosted in 1981.
While Doyle-Murray created no recurring characters during his two stints, he did appear in a handful of sketches often in supporting straight-man roles and impersonated figures like Albert Einstein, Howard Baker, Rod Serling, Jerry Falwell, Colonel Tom Parker, Ken Anderson, Leopoldo Galtieri, and Sid Vicious. Most of his screen time came on SNL Newsbreak from 1981-1982, which he anchored with partners (Mary Gross, Christine Ebersole) as well as solo with the closing line “Good night, and good news.” In March 1982, Doyle-Murray was elected to give a statement on John Belushi’s death on air, so he paid his respects by recalling a time he almost got hit by a truck if it weren’t for Belushi pushing him out of the way and getting hit himself in the process. “An ambulance came, he didn’t want to get in it, and uh, so we went to St. Vincent’s Hospital anyway, and they x-rayed him, and he was, perf, perfectly all right. Nothing wrong with him at all,” he says to the camera in the segment. “So uh, so he saved my life, and uh, I always thought he was indestructible.”
Doyle-Murray may not have made as much of a splash as a character actor on SNL, but riding the success of the 1980 film Caddyshack (which he cowrote with fellow Lampooners Harold Ramis and Doug Kenney) he began racking up bit parts in film and television projects involving Second City/Lampoon/SNL circuit brethren like Harold Ramis, Chris Elliott, and Bob Odenkirk, including shows like Get a Life, Seinfeld, and Mr. Show and films like National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, Scrooged, Ghostbusters II, Wayne’s World, Groundhog Day, Cabin Boy, Waiting for Guffman, and more. He’s also done voice work for a long list of animated shows including Duckman, King of the Hill, and Spongebob Squarepants, where he voiced the ectoplasmic Flying Dutchman from 1999-2011. Most recently he voices an old hippie named Jacob on the animated DisneyXD kids’ show Motorcity, and he also has a recurring role as as a hotheaded car dealership owner Don Ehlert on ABC’s sitcom The Middle. While his time at SNL was spent more as a glorified writer than budding actor, Doyle-Murray was in the right place at the right time and a key voice in the writer’s room during the show’s formative years. And especially considering the vast amount of people who know the entire script of Caddyshack by heart, Doyle-Murray abides.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.