Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 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.
In the history of Saturday Night Live, no cast member played the smug bastard or flamboyant ham as skillfully and consistently as Jon Lovitz. Best known for his deadpan theatrical delivery and mastery of playing naggy and/or villainous characters like Tommy Flanagan the Pathological Liar, Annoying Man, and the Devil, Lovitz was hired by Michaels for SNL’s pivotal eleventh season, and along with Nora Dunn he would be the only cast member to survive into season twelve. He also had the honor of being the only cast member Lorne Michaels saved in the 11th season’s finale sketch, where the rest of the cast is left trapped in a studio fire.
Prior to being hired on SNL, Lovitz attended Harvard-Westlake School then studied theater at UC Urvine and the Film Actors Workshop. In 1984 he landed a role on TV series The Paper Chase and joined The Groundlings, and a year later he was cast for SNL alongside newcomers Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, Robert Downey Jr., and others. Lovitz rose to instant popularity and received two Emmy nominations for his roles like Tommy Flanagan of Pathological Liars Anonymous, a character he created during his time at The Groundlings and one of the first popular recurring characters of the season. Flanagan’s signature line “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” was even spoofed in a later TV Funhouse segment called “The Life of a Catch Phrase,” where Lovitz’s phrase rises to fame only to be eventually defeated by Dana Carvey’s Church Lady phrase “Well isn’t that special?”
The Master Thespian and his line “Acting!” were another Lovitz catchphrase-character hit, where Lovitz plays an acting student opposite recurring host John Lithgow, who plays Baudelaire, his teacher and one-upmanship rival: “No! It is I who fooled you! For I am dead… and merely acting alive!” Aside from Flanagan and Master Thespian, Lovitz had a list of hit characters like Annoying Man, Hanukkah Harry, and Mephistopheles aka the Devil, and he impersonated Harvey Fierstein, Michael Dukakis, Queen Elizabeth, and many more. He was also known for 30s-style period characters like Eddie Spimozo, and embodied the snappy patter announcer/reporter/investigator type perfectly — see also his voiceover work as Radio in The Brave Little Toaster, which he recorded in five hours before flying to New York to start on SNL.
Lovitz maintained a television and film career both during and after his time on SNL. Among his credits include roles in shows like Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Friends, NewsRadio, and of course The Critic, which ran from 1994-1995. His films include High School High, ¡Three Amigos!, A League of Their Own, The Wedding Singer, Casino Jack, and 1998’s Happiness, in which he provided the powerful opening scene. In 2007 he opened up the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in San Diego, and his most recent project is his own Jon Lovitz Podcast Theater. In one of his newest projects “The ABC’s of SNL,” an “audio memoir” hosted by Kevin Smith, Lovitz answers questions and talks about his experience before, during, and after SNL. Out of all cast members who drew comedic success from voice more than physicality, Lovitz remains a unique character unto himself — a recurring character pioneer and ham out of time who made the early days of film and radio alive, immediate, and hilarious for a generation who were beginning to see SNL as a dinosaur that wouldn’t stay dead.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.