Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the '80s Changed Hollywood Forever

Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the '80s Changed Hollywood Forever

by Nick de Semlyen


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The behind-the-scenes story of the iconic funnymen who ruled '80s Hollywood—Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Eddie Murphy—and the beloved films that made them stars, including Animal House, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters


“An enjoyable romp that vividly captures the manic ups and downs of the remarkable group of funny folk who gave us a golden age of small and big screen comedy, from SNL to Groundhog Day.”Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Wild and Crazy Guys opens in 1978 with Chevy Chase and Bill Murray taking bad-tempered swings at each other backstage at Saturday Night Live, and closes 21 years later with the two doing a skit in the same venue, poking fun at each other, their illustrious careers, triumphs and prat falls. In between, Nick de Semlyen takes us on a trip through the tumultuous '80s, delving behind the scenes of movies such as National Lampoon's Vacation, Beverly Hills Cop, The Blues Brothers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and dozens more. Chronicling the off-screen, larger-than-life antics of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, John Candy, and Rick Moranis, it's got drugs, sex, punch-ups, webbed toes, and Bill Murray being pushed into a swimming pool by Hunter S. Thompson while tied to a lawn chair. What's not to like?

Based on candid interviews from many of the stars themselves, as well as those in their immediate orbit, including directors John Landis, Carl Reiner, and Amy Heckerling, Wild and Crazy Guys is a fantastic insider account of the friendships, feuds, triumphs, and disasters experienced by these beloved comedians. Hilarious and revealing, it is both a hidden history of the most fertile period ever for screen comedy and a celebration of some of the most popular films of all time.

Praise for Wild and Crazy Guys

“Eminently readable . . . Children of the 1980s, take note: this is a fond, engrossing look back at the making of movies that became cultural touchstones.”Booklist (starred review)

“Nick de Semlyen smartly charts the pinballing career paths of the stars of this new comic wave. . . . His punchy, nonstop narrative . . . tells a [story] where art and commerce smash hard against each other, sometimes causing destruction, but sometimes making sparks fly.”The Sunday Times (UK)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984826664
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/26/2020
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 145,882
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Nick de Semlyen is a film journalist who has written for publications including Rolling Stone, Stuff, and Time Out. He is the features editor for Empire, the world's biggest movie magazine.

Read an Excerpt


Nobody saw the punch coming. Least of all Chevy Chase.

It was February 18, 1978, another ice-cold evening in New York, which had just endured its most ferocious blizzard in thirty years. The three-day nor’easter, dubbed “Storm Larry,” had closed schools the previous week, and Central Park remained blanketed by snow. Many chose to stay home that night. Outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan, however, a long line of people waited patiently, stamping their feet and rubbing their hands. After all, freezing weather was well worth braving in order to catch an episode of Saturday Night Live, on a Saturday night, live.

Eight floors up in the Art Deco skyscraper, throughout the corridors behind Studio 8H, there was a chill in the air that had nothing to do with snow. The incredibly popular comedy troupe known as the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players were busy prepping for their next big night, the eleventh show of season three. Dan Aykroyd was getting into the zone for his first sketch, a typically demented number about a salesman pitching a device for crushing moths. John Belushi was stomping through the halls like a buffalo, as always seemingly free of nerves. New boy Bill Murray, who’d had a shaky start, even receiving hate mail from viewers, was practicing his New England accent. Later that night he’d be playing Bobby Kennedy in a silly “chow-dah”– packed bit about JFK and RFK trying to bug the home of Martin Luther King.

And then there was Chevy.

Suave, handsome, and pumped up with braggadocio, Cornelius “Chevy” Chase had been the first SNL star to really hit it big. In 1975, the cover of New York Magazine had proclaimed him “The Funniest Man in America.” The general consensus was that he agreed. He had come to dominate the first year of the show, introducing every episode but one, smirking his self-created catchphrase—“Good evening. I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not”—pratfalling up a storm, and playing the Landshark, a Jaws-riffing oceanic predator who targets sexy women.

Then, he had disappeared. Officially, his reason for quitting midway through season 2 was a new relationship. His girlfriend Jacqueline Carlin, Chase explained, didn’t want to move to New York. But his fellow comedians felt he’d deserted them, heading for L.A. and a slew of movie offers. Especially after staff writer Tom Davis reported back to them what Chase had provided as his reason for leaving: “Money. Lots of money.”

So Chase’s return to SNL, this time as guest host, was leaving a bad taste in the collective’s mouth. As the cast spent Monday to Friday honing the Chevy-heavy series of skits—as well as spouting nonsense as “The Reverend Archbishop Maharishi O’Mulliganstein DDS of the Church of Confusion,” he’d be reprising his signature character, President Gerald Ford—there was much whispering behind his back, especially by Belushi.

The week almost passed without incident. But on Saturday night, shortly after eleven p.m., it all came to a head. Chase was en route to the stage for the cold open, clad in his classic Ford costume: suit, tie, brown leather shoes. Not long earlier, Murray had needled him as the two men had makeup applied; now, when Chase stuck his head into the dressing room where Murray and Belushi were sitting on a sofa, the exchange was even spikier.

“There was no love lost between those guys,” says comedian Dave Thomas, who was there visiting Aykroyd. “Especially at that time, when it was fueled by extreme competitiveness, alcohol, drugs, and fame. Who’s the most famous? Who’s the funniest? Who’s the best? I still think what happened that night could have been avoided, but Chevy is a provocateur. Chevy says things that make people angry.”

To the shock of everyone in the vicinity, the conversation between the three men suddenly escalated into hand-to-hand combat. Murray lunged forward at Chase, a mad glint in his eye, his fist connecting with his opponent’s famous face.

“It was a huge altercation,” says director John Landis, another eyewitness to the melee. “They were big guys and really going at it. They were slapping at each other, screaming at each other, calling each other terrible names. The best insult, which made a huge impression on me, was by Bill. In the heat of anger, he pointed at Chevy and yelled, ‘MEDIUM TALENT!’”

Murray remembers it differently. “It was really a Hollywood fight; a don’t-touch-my-face kinda thing,” he shrugs. “Chevy is a big man, I’m not a small guy, and we were separated by my brother Brian, who comes up to my chest. So it was kind of a non-event. It was just the significance of it. It was an Oedipal thing, a rupture. Because we all felt mad he had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone.”

The intensity of the blows alters from account to account. But the quality of the verbal burns, as the two future titans of comedy went at each other like hissing street cats, remains consistent.

“I’m gonna land Neil Armstrong on your face if you don’t shut up,” snarled Chase, targeting his enemy’s acne-scarred skin.

“Why don’t you go fuck your wife?” Murray hit back, implying that Chase’s spouse wasn’t getting much action at home.

And then it was all over, the pair pulled apart and Chase dispatched to begin the show.

It’s a great story, the stuff of legend. But it’s more than that. This moment marked the beginnings of a decade-long duel between two of the most bankable stars of the 1980s. Murray and Chase were about to be unleashed on the world in a major way, with towering triumphs and colossal defeats ahead of them both. And they weren’t alone. Many of the alumni of SNL, as well as its Canadian equivalent SCTV (Second City Television), would soon burst onto the Hollywood scene, competing with one another, collaborating with one another and creating hilarious, box-office-smashing movies in the process.

Most of them would prosper. Some would fade away. A few would destroy themselves. But as a combined force they would bring about a new golden age of comedy. And there was nothing “medium talent” about it.

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