Gilda Radner Debuted ‘SNL’ Favorite Roseanne Roseannadanna 45 Years Ago To Huge Success

Dec 07, 2022 by apost team

Gilda Radner is no doubt a legend of comedy. Starting by being the first of the original seven cast members of the sketch show “Saturday Night Live” to be hired, Radner went on to create and breathe life into characters on the show that would be remembered for decades to follow. Her talent for tickling funny bones and instinct for what would make people laugh saw her quickly become a fan favorite on the show. Whether as the nerdy Lisa Loopner, elderly Emily Litella or brash Roseanne Roseannadanna, Radner was able to give audiences their fill of joy and laughter – often till they were teary-eyed – every week.

Radner often collaborated with Alan Zweibel, one of the show’s writers, to bring to life the characters she played from 1975 to 1980. Her recurring characters and parodies were not just a commercial hit with audiences. Critics, too, lauded Radner’s comedy skills, and in 1978, she was recognized with an Emmy Award for her work on “SNL.” Her work continues to resonate to this day, with Radner placing ninth in a February 2015 Rolling Stone ranking of 141 “SNL” cast members.

“She looked frail, but she was a live wire whether she was playing bratty kids, pushy talk-show hosts or old ladies like Emily Litella, who spoke out on ‘endangered feces,’ ‘natural racehorses’ and the ‘deaf penalty,’” the magazine wrote of Radner. 

After leaving “SNL” alongside all the original cast members in 1980, Radner pursued projects in film and the theater. She found success on the stage with her one-woman show “Gilda Radner – Live from New York” as well as “Lunch Hour” with Sam Waterston. However, her film career did not fare as well, but it was on the set of a film that she would meet the love of her life.

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Gilda Radner (1977), (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Fresh off the “SNL” stage, Radner starred in the 1981 Sidney Poitier-helmed “Hanky Panky.” While the film was a flop, it brought together two of the industry’s funniest people and set the stage for romance between Radner and her co-star, Gene Wilder. Both would later say they were enamored with each other as soon as they met, even though Radner was at the time married to Hall & Oates guitarist G.E. Smith. However, the bond between her and Wilder was too overwhelming. According to CNN, Radner later recounted in her memoir “It’s Always Something,” that it was love at first sight.

“My heart fluttered – I was hooked. It felt like my life went from black and white to Technicolor,” she wrote.

After her marriage to Smith ended, she wed Wilder in 1984. But their happily ever after was cut tragically short some two years later when Radner took seriously ill. She began to feel chronically fatigued and bloated, as well as feeling shooting pains running up and down her leg. After being misdiagnosed multiple times, it was finally confirmed 10 months later that she had ovarian cancer. However, by then, it was too late for Radner, who passed in May 1989. Wilder wrote in People of the experience, “Gilda didn’t have to die,” and in accordance with his wife’s wishes, he continued to spread awareness about making early detection of ovarian cancer a reality.

While Radner’s life was cut far too short, her creation of iconic characters will remain a classic of the comedy scene for many years to come. Among the most memorable was Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder (1984), (Micheline PELLETIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna premiered on “SNL” in October 1977, but not at first in the form the character is mostly known today. Unnamed in a sketch of a commercial urging employers to “Hire The Incompetent,” Radner’s character sealed future appearances after the audience was left in stitches with her explanation for why she was fired from her fast-food job. Roseanne soon returned, this time, however, in the “Weekend Update” segment alongside Jane Curtin’s serious newscaster.

A usual Roseanne appearance would go as follows: Curtin would start with a fairly nondescript news report before allowing Roseanne to elaborate. In her usual garish wig and brash mannerism, Roseanne would give an update that usually comprised of reading a letter from a viewer – always from a Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey – before digressing into stories about celebrities or herself, going into graphic detail about body parts or functions. She would then say her catchphrase, “Hey (celebrity name)! What are you tryin’ to do? Make me sick?” Curtin’s obvious revulsion would prompt Roseanne’s second catchphrase, “Well, it just goes to show you, it's always something.”

Roseanne would make a total of 17 appearances on the show, or 18 if you count actress Emma Stone’s tribute to the character in full costume for “SNL’s” 40th-anniversary show. While Roseanne was a hit at first, it appeared she had a shelf life. In the tell-all “Saturday Night,” which recounted what went on behind the scenes in the show’s early days, Roseanne became “one of the most despised characters ever,” with writers imploring the character to be “put to sleep, shot or otherwise disposed of,” a sentiment even Radner came to agree with. Radner’s Roseanne made her last appearance in May 1980 but the image and delightful memories will live on.

Were you a fan of Roseanne Roseannadanna’s skits on “SNL?” Or do you prefer other characters Radner played on the show? Let us know, and be sure to pass this along to friends and family who love the world of comedy, too.

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