Family & Companions
As a comedy writer, producer, playwright and even novelist, Alan Zweibel was a prolific comedic voice whose life and career were inexorably linked to the first five seasons of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ). One of the original writers hired by producer Lorne Michaels, Zweibel had his hand in creating and writing for some of the show's most famous characters and bits, most notably John Belushi's Samurai and Gilda Radner's Emily Litella and frizzy-haired Roseanne Roseannadanna. In fact, he developed a strong professional and personal bond with Radner that lasted until her untimely death from cancer in 1989. Meanwhile, he made his feature writing debut with the concert film "Gilda Live" (1980) and later helped create and write "It's Garry Shandling's Show" (Showtime, Fox, 1986-1990) alongside the show's titular star. After writing a big screen remake of "Dragnet" (1987), Zweibel went on to earn particular scorn for adapting his own novel "North" (1994), often seen as one of the worst movies ever made. But he regained respect with the best-selling memoir, Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner - A Sort of Love Story (1994), which detailed his platonic relationship with Radner, while branching further out into Broadway and writing for a number of variety specials, cementing his legacy as one of the comedy world's more pioneering writers.
Born on May 20, 1950 in Brooklyn, NY, Zweibel lived in the Long Island suburbs where his father raised his family while working as a jewelry manufacturer in Manhattan. He attended the University of Buffalo, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity before graduating in 1972. Inspired to be a comedy writer by watching "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Zweibel sold jokes and one-liners for seven dollars a pop to comedians along the Catskill circuit and even to the likes of Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Freddie Prinze and Alan King. In 1973, he began performing stand-up comedy and met producer Lorne Michaels at the Catch a Rising Star comedy club in New York, where he showed him his portfolio of jokes. Zweibel was soon hired as one of the original writers on Michaels' fledgling late night comedy sketch show, "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), where he quickly became the go-to writer for some of the show's most famous characters and bits.
One of Zweibel's more famous sketches was John Belushi's Samurai, which the comedian based in large part on Toshiro Mifune's performances in Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" (1961) and "Sanjuro" (1962). Based on the idea by writer Tom Schiller of placing the character in various mundane professions, Zweibel began scripting the series with the second installment, "Samurai Delicatessen," where Belushi's samurai sliced meats and sandwiches with his sword while carrying on pleasant conversations with his customers. Zweibel went on to pen such gems as "Samurai Tailor," "Samurai Divorce Court" and "Samurai Psychiatrist." Meanwhile, he forged a strong personal and professional collaboration with Gilda Radner, taking over the Tom Davis-created character of Emily Litella, a sweetly befuddled elderly woman who delivered opposing opinions on various issues during the show's popular segment, "Weekend Update." His fruitful collaboration with Radner produced another viewer favorite, the vulgar, frizzy-haired correspondent Roseanne Roseannadanna, who delivered brash and often tactless commentaries on the same "Weekend Update" segment. Zweibel also wrote for Garrett Morris' popular Chico Escuela character, a retired Dominican baseball player who spoke broken English.
After making his feature debut as a writer for the concert film "Gilda Live" (1980) and suffering from writer's block during season four, Zweibel left "SNL" after the notorious fifth season, which was the last to feature any of the original cast or Lorne Michaels at the helm. He went on to publish his first novel, North (1983), before joining much of the old "SNL" behind-the-scenes staff to work on Michaels' ill-fated variety series "The New Show" (NBC, 1984). Vowing in 1985 to never work with Michaels again, he produced the off-Broadway play "Between Cars" (1986), before joining forces with quirky comic Gary Shandling to create, produce, and write "It's Garry Shandling's Show" (Showtime, 1986-1990), which featured Shandling as a neurotic, self-obsessed comedian who happens to be aware that he is on a television sitcom by often breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. The show featured a wide variety of guest stars, but nobody more notable than Gilda Radner, who appeared in 1988 while in the midst of battling the ovarian cancer that would eventually kill her the following year.
During this period, Zweibel also co-wrote the successful feature version of the classic TV cop series "Dragnet" (1987) starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. He continued to work as a creator, producer and writer in TV comedy with "Good Sports" (CBS, 1991), a winning romantic comedy series about mismatched co-anchors (Ryan O'Neal, Farrah Fawcett), and created the short-lived sitcom "The Boys" (CBS, 1993), about a failing men's club. Ten years after publishing his first novel, Zweibel was hired by director Rob Reiner to adapt the big screen version of "North" (1994), a surreal comedy that featured a young Elijah Wood as an underappreciated child who divorces his parents (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and goes off in search of new ones. Despite boasting some stellar talent in front of and behind the camera, "North" (1994) was a commercial bomb and was met with scathing critical derision, particularly from Roger Ebert who wrote that he ".hated, hated, hated, hated this movie." In many eyes, "North" ranked high on the list of being of the worst movies ever made.
Years after the tragic death of his friend Gilda Radner, Zweibel published the best-selling memoir of their platonic relationship, Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner - A Sort of Love Story (1994), which was transformed into an off-Broadway play in 1997. Meanwhile, he wrote and produced another critically derided film, "The Story of Us" (1999), a romantic comedy starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer as a married couple of 15 years. After serving as a consulting producer on the second season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ), Zweibel was both a writer and consultant on a number of small screen specials, including "The 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards" (ABC, 2005), "Billy Crystal: The Mark Twain Prize" (PBS, 2007), "George Carlin: The Mark Twain Prize" (PBS, 2009), and "Inside Comedy" (Showtime, 2012), where David Steinberg interviewed other famous comedians about their careers.
By Shawn Dwyer
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Began performing standup comedy in NYC
Hired by Lorne Michaels as an apprentice writer on the first season of "Saturday Night Live"; soon became a writer
Met and befriended actor (and future producer-director) Rob Reiner when he hosted the third installment of "SNL"
Served as a writer on "The Beach Boys Special"
Feature debut as one of nine screenwriters on "Gilda Live", a comedy performance "concert" film
Sent a galley of "North" to Rob Reiner, hoping for a blurb for the book jacket; Reiner expressed an interest in directing an adaptation "someday" (date approximate)
Had his novel "North" published (date approximate)
Served as a writer on Lorne Michaels' short-lived variety series "The New Show" on NBC
Wrote the NBC sitcom pilot "Big Shots in America" starring Joe Montegna produced by Michaels
Vowed to never work with Michaels again
Had play "Between Cars" produced off-Broadway as part of the Marathon series at the Ensemble Studio Theater
Produced "It's Garry Shandling's Show--25th Anniversary Special", a presentation of "Showtime Comedy Spotlight"
Adapted "Comic Dialogue" for an off-Broadway production
Co-wrote (with director Tom Mankiewicz and star Dan Aykroyd) screenplay for "Dragnet" starring Aykroyd and Tom Hanks
Created, produced, and wrote the pilot for "The Boys", filmed before a live studio audience for Showtime
Created, produced, wrote theme song lyrics, and served as a writer for "The Boys", a limited series on Showtime
TV debut as executive producer, "Good Sports", a sitcom starring Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett (also created and wrote premiere episode)
Served as one of the executive producers, creators, and writers for "Please Watch the Jon Lovitz Special", an unsold live comedy pilot for Fox
Wrote (with Cy Coleman) a musical, "A Simple Melody" for PBS's "Great Performances' 20th Anniversary Special"
Feature debut as a producer (with Rob Reiner), "North" (also co-wrote screenplay based on his novel)
Stage version of his memoir "Bunny, Bunny" opened in Philadelphia