Nick de Semlyen’s Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever is a must-own for comedy fans.
When one thinks of the greatest comedies of the 1980s, you can’t help but think of sketch comedy series such as Saturday Night Live and SCTV. These two series gave rise to some of the greatest comedy films and in some instances, some of the best comedy duos of all-time. This book takes us back to those years and revisits the life and careers of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, John Candy, and Rick Moranis. A single volume really is not enough to do justice to their careers. Nick de Semlyen does a fine job in revisiting some of the best and worst times of their careers.
If not for John Belushi’s untimely passing, he and Dan Aykroyd could have developed one of the best comedy duos in recent years. They didn’t share the screen much in 1941 and Aykroyd was unable to join Animal House. With films like The Blues Brothers, the duo could have had a bright future. Belushi’s death changed everything. Spies Like Us was written for the two of them. Speaking of, Paul McCartney offered to write the title song! Meanwhile, Aykroyd turned in an interesting performance in Doctor Detroit as a result of Belushi’s passing. Other films penned by Aykroyd with Belushi in mind would also have other actors cast instead.
Bill Murray has led an interesting life. It’s perfect that we start with his and Chevy Chase’s fight at SNL in 1978. The two would later make up. Learning about Chase’s past manages to put his life in different perspective after reading the book. Murray and Chase had a scene in Caddyshack and there’s more insight on this film in Chris Nashawaty’s book. de Semlyen was lucky enough to talk with Murray for the book. It just wouldn’t be a profile of Murray without talking about how hard it is to contact him.
With the news of Coming to America getting a sequel, it makes for a fascinating revisit with Eddie Murphy’s career. There was a time when he didn’t even want to do comedy! Believe it or not but he wanted to be seen as a serious actor. When some of those films failed, he turned to John Landis of all people to direct Beverly Hills Cop 3. And then Murphy didn’t want to be funny. He wanted to be an action star! Here’s another fun tidbit: Beverly Hills Cop was first offered to Sylvester Stallone.
If there’s a filmmaker who figured out to use John Candy in the right way, it was John Hughes. There’s a new biography of John Candy and I’m reading it next. Candy did a number of films for Hughes in a short amount of years. Together with Hughes and Steve Martin, they would make perennial Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Hughes essentially quit filmmaking following Candy’s death. Candy could have changed his fate or at least prolonged it by a few more years. Carl Reiner held an intervention and tried to get him to eat healthier. Alas, it was to no avail because he went back to eating unhealthy within a year.
Maybe its because of his practical retirement in the 1990s, it’s hard to imagine Moranis being in the same group. Moranis did star as the lead or co-lead in a few films so an argument can be made. He decided to leave it all behind–including most of his friends from the industry. Here’s a guy that made movies with Steve Martin and neither of them talk to each other anymore. For what its worth, Moranis did release a musical comedy album, My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs, in 2013.
While the book runs over 300 pages, the bulk of the text itself ends on page 280. It’s a briskly paced read where you really wish there was more. I say this because I can honestly read about them all day. There’s also some sadness that comes with reading the biography because of the what could have been. You can’t help but think about John Belushi and John Candy and how their careers came to a premature end.
If you want an abbreviated look at the comedy stars of the 1980s and how SNL would impact comedy for a generation, Wild and Crazy Guys is the book for you!