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.
While it’s difficult enough to track down the stories of oft-forgotten SNL cast members, early eighties bit player Matthew Laurance poses an added level of complication: He’s an identical twin to slightly-older brother Mitchell Laurance, who not only worked alongside him as an SNL staffer in the late seventies but also appeared on HBO’s Not Necessarily the News from 1983-1990. The sibling rivalry spilled from personal to professional for the Laurance brothers and has since blurred their shared but separately obscure histories as actors, but while Matthew would only land about half the roles as his brother, he can lay claim to SNL as his first onscreen gig in the biz.
Raised in Long Island, New York, both twins (originally named Matthew and Mitchell Dyckoff) attended Tufts University in Massachusetts – Matthew for political science and Mitchell for English. While Matthew didn’t major in drama, he still took advantage of local opportunities in theater: “I just auditioned for the plays I liked,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987. “My formal training came afterward, when I spent a year (1972-73) at the Neighborhood Playhouse and another year with Uta Hagen at HB Studio.”
In New York after graduation, Laurance worked day jobs while landing small acting gigs where he could, such as a part in the Sidney Lumet film Prince of the City released in 1981. From 1977-1980 he had worked on SNL as an assistant director while his brother also climbed the ranks from SNL production assistant to associate director, but it wasn’t until after Jean Doumanian took over as producer in 1980 that Matthew was tapped to join the sixth season cast. Until then his only television credit was in a margarine commercial costarring Mitchell.
Starting the fifth episode hosted by David Carradine, Laurance was officially credited alongside Yvonne Hudson, Patrick Weathers, and rising newcomer Eddie Murphy as a featured SNL player (after spending the first few episodes as a featured extra). Due to Dick Ebersol’s overhaul as producer following the Bill Murray episode in 1981, Laurance’s stint as an official player only lasted eight episodes, but he still still made a few appearances in utility straight-man parts like the reporter interviewing “Eddie Atari” (Eddie Murphy) inside his starship in “SNL Sports Central,” as a desperate NBC executive looking for the next new virgin female SNL cast member in “Virgin Search,” or as part of the improv-like ensemble acting out Bill Murray’s ever-revising script in “Script in Development.” Alongside Ann Risley, Gilbert Gottfried, and Charles Rocket, Laurance was not kept on the cast when Ebersol took over Murray’s episode in March 1981, and only Piscopo and Murphy would survive into the following season, having dominated most of the screen time during Laurance’s run.
Looking back on his SNL stint, Laurance told the Inquirer that “it was a very weird scene involving new producers, actors and crew – we could have been brilliant, but nobody would watch.” Following some time working as a nightly radio show host in Boston, he moved to Hollywood and scored television appearances on Taxi, Who’s the Boss, Matlock, and a leading role on the Fox sitcom Duet from 1987-1989. He also appeared in the 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire, and his biggest role came with his nine-year run as Brian Austin Green’s dentist dad in Beverly Hills 90210.
Since his last onscreen film credit in 2009, Laurance has devoted his time to hosting sports radio shows, first in Durham, North Carolina and currently as cohost of The Sports Huddle on Lexington, Kentucky’s WLXG radio station. He summed up the biggest obstacle in his path to onscreen success quite simply in a 1992 EW interview: “If you have to pick a business not to go into with an identical twin, this is it.” Then again, the Laurance brothers have appeared together in dual and/or twin roles in shows like Cop Rock, The Commish, Room for Two, and The Outer Limits, so twindom certainly has its advantages.