Saturday Night’s Children: Gail Matthius (1980-1981)
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 every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Among Jean Doumanian’s mixed bag of early eighties SNL players lurked Gail Matthius, token hot girl and one third of the self-proclaimed “Three Musketeers” with the similarly bright-eyed star-hopefuls Denny Dillon and Charles Rocket. Matthius’s screen time may have faded soon after leaving SNL, but she went on to voice a slew of cartoon characters most 90s kids know well, most famously as Bobby Generic’s mother Martha and her Minnesotan catchphrases “fer corn sakes” and “don’t ‘cha know” for eight seasons on Howie Mandel’s Bobby’s World.
While little information about Matthius prior to her SNL hiring in 1980 is available, Doumanian discovered the Sioux Falls, North Dakota native while scouting for talent in Los Angeles. Matthius’s best known character both before and after SNL was her take on the emerging Valley Girl stereotype punctuated with eyerolling and cynical west coast jabs like “duh” and “gag me with a spoon,” and it ultimately earned her a spot on Doumanian’s revamped SNL cast alongside newcomers Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley, and Charles Rocket.
In addition to bringing Vickie the Valley Girl to the show, Matthius found moderate recurring character success with the chainsmoking Cut ‘N Curl hairdresser Roweena and the forever-stuck-in-a-game-show wife Francis Lively. She impersonated Nancy Reagan (with Rocket as Ronald), Brooke Shields (in the “Clovin Hind Jeans” commercial parodies), 1980 Bendix scandal victim Mary Cunningham, and Fame star Irene Cara and coanchored Weekend Update with Charles Rocket starting the January 10, 1981 episode.
While her fumbling performance on Update largely fell flat with viewers, Matthius proved her sketch versatility portraying everyone from whiny little girls (as in Vickie or her roles in sketches “Blame the Kids” and “Chapstick Celebrities”) to femme fatales (as the not-at-all-subtle Shields in “Clovin Hind Jeans” or the jaded Roweena), and it helped her survive past Doumanian’s departure from the show following the Bill Murray-hosted March 7 episode. And while Matthius did show promise of range during her stint, SCTV veteran Robin Duke took most of the female role spotlight while Piscopo and Murphy hogged the airtime. Like fellow Musketeer Denny Dillon, Matthius was not asked by new SNL producer Dick Ebersol to return the following season (Musketeer #3 Charles Rocket had already been fired soon after his F-bomb).
After SNL, Matthius found a few onscreen roles in the early eighties like the Howie Mandel vehicle Laugh Trax, CBS series Simon & Simon, the UK series Assaulted Nuts, and 1982 film Airplane II: The Sequel, but the majority of her post-SNL credits have come from voiceover work and live performance. In the animation sphere, Matthius has voiced characters on The Chipmunks, Tiny Toon Adventures, The Tick, Animaniacs, Spider-Man, Pinky and the Brain, CatDog, and more; on stage, she’s appeared in Little Women: The Musical and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, produced a stage version of The Buddy Holly Story in 2006, and taught at various acting and improv studios since 1988, when she cofounded The Spolin Players alongside Simpsons/Second City star Dan Castellaneta, character actress Edie McClurg, and others. The troupe remains active to this day and is scheduled to perform at The Hollywood Fringe Festival in Los Angeles this month, making Matthius an eighties SNL cast blip who, despite having only a couple film and television appearances, has managed to work steadily in the performing world for over 30 years.