How the Land Shark Helped Make SNL Must-See TV

Did you know that it was a simple, humble Land Shark that made SNL a big fish in the late-night pond before Ed Grimley or the Church Lady were even twinkles?

Well, that’s how it happened … at least partly.

See, Saturday Night Live debuted on October 11, 1975, featuring a cast of unknowns coming at audiences with a barrage of in-your-face comedy that bordered on the taboo.

Heck, George Carlin was the first guest host, and you know he knew all about TV’s forbidden zone.

So, how does a new, rough-cut show gain a footing with audiences hungry for something edgy but with 1950s sensibilities still ingrained in their heads?

Why, it makes a tie-in to the most popular cultural phenomena of the day.

And, in 1975, there wasn’t much more popular — and terrifying — than sharks, thanks to the summer blockbuster, Jaws.

land shark snl

So, barely a month into its run, on November 8, 1975, SNL unveiled one of its most brilliant brain children ever … the Land Shark.

By then, the news was rife with folks who had changed their vacationing habits and stopped bathing for fear that a shark would swallow them up in Lake Tahoe or while they showered at Grandma’s house.

The SNL brain trust figured they could play on these fears and make fun of them to good effect.

Little did they know how strong of an impression Chevy Chase in shark costume would leave on the American consciousness, but more than 40 years on, his Land Shark traveling salesman/candygram deliveryman/repairman is hard to shake.

Here are just a couple of the Land Shark skits from those early days of SNL that remind us how cultural icons are born.

Jaws II … Pre-Sequel from the Land Shark of SNL

This was the original appearance of the Land Shark and set the tone for all that would come in the years that lay ahead.

Here you had an unsuspecting lady (Gilda Radner) just chilling at home and waiting for … well, probably not for a Land Shark.

But that’s what she got, though it was clear old Sharky didn’t quite grasp what he was supposed to say, as evidenced by a few of his lines …

“Mrs. Arlsburgerhhh?”

“Flowers.”

” Plumber, ma’am.”

“Wait.  I-I’m only a dolphin, ma’am.”

It was the dolphin bit that cinched it for LS and gained him entry to the apartment, and to our laughing hearts.

This type of bumbling-but-shrewd persona would show up in later years, too, like with Keyrock, the Unthawed Caveman Lawyer (who sort of made us thing the whole concept of television lawyers).

Don Pardo narrating the whole thing helped seal the deal to make this an instant classic.

Jaws III

Our lovable shark returned late in Season 1 of Saturday Night Live and took out not only his customary sequence of women, but also police chief Brody (Dan Aykroyd) and Pardo himself.

Yikes!

Over the next two seasons, Sharky would show up four more times, and he’s also logged an occasional guest appearance over the years, last surfacing during Weekend Update on SNL’s 40th Anniversary Special.

All along the way, you could count on signature moments you’ll never forget …

Yum Yum – Land Shark Snack, Part 1

land shark 1

Give Me That Hand – SNL Land Shark Snack, Part 2

land shark 2

Swim Into My Mouth 1

land shark 3

Swim Into My Mouth 2

land shark

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the rest of our SNL posts.

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