45 Years Ago: ‘SNL’ Puts American Cars to the Test With a Bris
The Season 3 premiere of Saturday Night Live was a showcase for fan-favorite SNL host Steve Martin. But it was also a testament to Dan Aykroyd’s versatility and indelible place in the show’s early days.
While Aykroyd teamed up with Martin (and writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller) to introduce the “Wild and Crazy Guys” Festrunk Brothers on that same episode, he also continued to demonstrate his understanding of the language and cadence of the great American TV commercial pitchman as he parodied one of the most infamous and popular automobile ads of all time, upping the original’s stakes with wince-inducing ingenuity.
The original ad in question was the Ford Motor Company’s 1972 commercial for its Mercury Marquis Brougham, a road-hogging, full-sized boat of a sedan whose all-American girth, the company claimed, came yoked to a smooth and comfortable ride. In the company’s supposedly dangerous stunt of a commercial, a certified Cartier jeweler is whisked onto a bumpy road and tasked with cutting a raw diamond. The narrator gravely explains that the luckless expert’s efforts will determine whether the resulting cut gem is to be worth $125,000 or be sheared off into “worthless dust.” Naturally, Cartier’s man nails it, pronouncing the diamond (and, implicitly, the Merc) “perfect, beautiful.”
Watch the 1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham Commercial
It’s a powerful, manipulative commercial that Mad Men’s Don Draper might have come up with on a good day. Other ostensibly perilous stunts followed, such as actress and model Jennifer O’Neill applying eyeliner in the 1974 Marquis while spokesman Robert Lansing (best known as the star of Star Trek’s aborted “Assignment Earth” backdoor pilot) narrates the pothole-buckling action. With commercial parodies being baked into Saturday Night Live’s comedy DNA from the very beginning, such a self-serious, showboating ad seemed like a natural target — if only the show could come up with a suitably comical escalation.
That’s where Aykroyd comes in. Stepping into Lansing’s smooth-voiced, no-nonsense loafers, Aykroyd introduces the fictional but equally luxurious 1978 Royal Deluxe II, a streamlined barge of a car he promises will deliver “a luxury ride at a middle-range price.” Aykroyd, with all his inimitable gifts as one of the show’s original performers and writers, was attuned to the voice of American consumerism. But unlike the rapid-fire delivery he used while hawking the Bass-O-Matic ‘76, Mel’s Char Palace, Crazy Ernie’s stereo emporium or Dell Stator’s Toad Ranch, his Royal Deluxe spokesman is smooth and confident as he ushers the expert test subject — Rabbi Mayer Taklas, of Temple Beth Shalom in Little Neck, N.Y. — into the spacious back seat.
Watch Dan Aykroyd in 'SNL''s Royal Deluxe II Commercial
From there, the parody is shot-for-shot faithful to the original, with Aykroyd running through the Royal Deluxe’s many features in lockstep with the unperturbed rabbi preparing to perform a bris for 8-day-old Benjamin Kanter. In addition to his facility with the language of Madison Avenue (and the lower-rent reaches of the advertising world), Aykroyd was never happier than when he could rattle off obscure but unfailingly accurate technical jargon. Former SNL writer and talent coordinator Neil Levy noted in the SNL oral history Live From New York that Aykroyd’s mind was a storehouse of abstruse information: “He’s also got a photographic memory and instant recall… Unfortunately I think the only book he’s ever actually memorized is like a 1974 meat packers guide.” Aykroyd provides the perfect comedic counterpoint to the gag's queasy drama, praising the car’s “hydrodyne suspension” and “rack-and-pinion steering” as Garrett Morris’ understandably concerned driver glances nervously toward the back seat.
As in the original commercial, the car comes to a sudden halt (with Aykroyd extolling the Royal Deluxe’s “power front-disc brakes”) when an errant ball rolls into frame. Luckily, the baby’s resulting cry is merely a result of having his foreskin ritually and successfully removed. Little Benjamin is fine, with Rabbi Taklas proclaiming “Poifect” at a job well done. “It’s a beautiful baby,” the sure-handed holy man pronounces as he hands his charge back to waiting mother Gilda Radner. “And a beautiful car.”
Saturday Night Live continued to lampoon car commercials and their cultural codes long after Aykroyd left the show. From Phil Hartman touting the suspiciously budget stylings of the Adobe and quelling consumers’ crime concerns with the deluxe-but-doesn’t-look-it Chameleon XLE, to Beck Bennett’s hapless and profligate dad attempting to glue his shattered family back together by aping one of those “car with the big red bow in the driveway” Lexus commercials, SNL knows that every era will have its own iteration of auto industry hard sell to expertly parody.