As one-half of the comedy writing and acting team Franken & Davis, Tom Davis won three Emmys for penning some of the best and most memorable sketches on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ).With partner Al Franken, Davis created one of the show's most bizarre early creations, the Coneheads, and took on all manner of political and pop culture figures - from Richard Nixon to Julia Child. Davis' off-camera struggles with addiction led to the dissolution of Franken & Davis in the early 1990s, but the duo settled their differences in the 21st century, where their work was regarded as some of the funniest moments even penned for television.
Born Aug. 13, 1952, Tom Davis met his future collaborator, Al Franken, at The Blake School, a private college preparatory school in their hometown of Minneapolis, MN in the late 1960s. There, they bonded after receiving praise for a humorous announcement for the school's drama group during chapel services. By the time they neared graduation, they had already become veterans of the local comedy scene through Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop, a political satire troupe. In 1975, Franken and Davis left Minnesota to pursue higher education, but while the former attended Harvard, Davis dropped out of school and traveled the United States and India in pursuit of countercultural mind expansion.
Eventually, the pair reunited in New York City, where in 1975, they were hired by producer Lorne Michaels to fill out a single apprentice job on a new late night variety series called "Saturday Night Live." With Franken, Davis eventually worked his way up to one of the series' most talented writers, contributing, among other sketches, the kindly alien Coneheads "from France;" Dan Aykroyd's hilarious and gruesome turn as Julia Child and his paranoid Richard Nixon to Belushi's Henry Kissinger in the brutal "Final Days" sketch; Steve Martin as Theodoric, Barber of York, a medieval doctor whose cures were worse than the maladies; and Nick the Lounge Singer, an atrocious, low-rent crooner played full-tilt by Bill Murray. Davis would also join Franken on screen in frequent short commercial spoofs and interstitial bits, including "The Brain Tumor Comedian," with Franken as a bandaged and delirious jokester. For his efforts on "SNL," Davis won three Emmy Awards between 1975 and 1989, and a fourth for penning "The Paul Simon Special" (NBC, 1977), which he co-wrote with Chevy Chase and Lily Tomlin, among others.
Davis & Franken's popularity bestowed a sort of stardom separate from the show, and the pair would frequently leave "SNL" to strike out on their own throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Brief appearances in "Trading Places" (1983) led up to their own feature, a low-budget comedy called "One More Saturday Night" (1984) with the duo as inept garage rockers. It failed to find an audience, leading Davis to soon return to the Studio 8H and the writers' bullpen at "SNL." He remained with the show until 1993. In 1999, he appeared briefly as a bit player on the show, then helped to pen the 25th anniversary special before taking his final lap as an "SNL" writer from 2002 to 2003. In between assignments, Davis contributed to TV specials by Steve Martin and radio legends Bob and Ray, and served as host and writer for "Trailer Park" (Sci-Fi Channel, 1995-2000), which poked fun at previews for '50s-era monster movies. He also enjoyed a lengthy friendship with Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia, who penned several of the songs for "One More Saturday Night," and with whom Davis attempted to write a movie script based on Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan.
Davis also developed a serious drug and alcohol problem during this period, one that contributed to the breakup of Franken & Davis during an award acceptance at their alma mater in 1990. The split was a serious one - the pair's friendship was so strong that Franken had named one of his daughters Thomasin Davis Franken - and remained a bitter thorn in both men's sides until reuniting in the early 2000s. Davis, who had retired to live alone in upstate New York, later became a regular on Franken's Air America radio show, where he portrayed numerous characters. Davis later penned a memoir, Thirty-Nine Years of Short Term Memory Loss, which was published in 2009. He had written the book several years earlier, but in deference to his former partner's budding political career, he waited until after Franken's successful 2008 run for the United States Senate to release the tome. In 2010, Davis was diagnosed with tongue and neck cancer. He initially refused treatment that would have rendered him disfigured and unable to speak, though he eventually had a tumor removed with non-invasive surgery. Unfortunately, Davis lost his battle to cancer on July 19, 2012. He was 59.
Cast (Feature Film)
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Writer (TV Mini-Series)
Made TV debut as a writer and performer on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC) along with Franken
Feature acting debut, "Tunnel Vision"
Credited as one of the writers for the comedy special "Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda"
Co-starred with Franken in "One More Saturday Night"
Broke up as a comedy team with Franken, reportedly due to his drug problems
With Dan Aykroyd, co-wrote the feature adaptation of the "SNL" skit "Coneheads"
Made a cameo in "Blues Brothers 2000"
Feature directorial debut, "Hitting the Wall"
After reconciling with Franken, frequently guest starred on "The Al Franken Show" (Sundance Channel)
Wrote memoir <i>Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL From Someone Who Was There</i>
Franken sworn in to the U.S. Senate