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Veteran SNL writer Tom Davis speaks at MU, Columbia College

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — By the time Tom Davis began speaking at MU's physics building Tuesday afternoon, attendees had filled every available seat in the lecture hall, forcing some to sit in the aisles or stand along the back of the room.

Davis, a writer for the first 12 seasons of Saturday Night Live, discussed some of the political material he'd written for the show in the late 1970s.

He colored his presentation with video clips, anecdotes about how he and fellow writers brought particular sketches to life and occasional readings from his memoir, "39 Years of Short-term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL From Someone Who Was There."

MU political science professor William Horner invited Davis to Columbia after interviewing him for a book that will focus on the impact the late-night satire's first season had on the 1976 presidential election.

Horner said he has been a fan of the show since its 1975 debut, and as a child he would sneak out of his room to watch the show. He said the program, which has been consistently political, is important to his study of the relationship between politics and the media.

Wearing worn jeans, Adidas shoes and a sport coat, Davis introduced clips he wrote with high school friend and long-time comedy partner Al Franken. Davis looked on with his hands in his pockets as the audience laughed at Chevy Chase's impression of Gerald Ford and Dan Akroyd's take on Jimmy Carter in a parody debate.

Davis also discussed the effect that drug use had on some of the show's early political humor, showing two clips that were related to drugs or written while under the influence of drugs. One parodied then-president Jimmy Carter's reputation for being knowledgeable and featured Dan Akroyd answering random questions from citizens during an interview; in one question, the mock president talked down a caller from an LSD trip.

Davis said he never misses an episode of Saturday Night Live. "It's an old dinosaur, but what a magnificent dinosaur," he said.

Davis will give a second presentation at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Columbia College's Launer Auditorium at 901 Rogers St. The presentation at Columbia College will not focus as heavily on the political aspect of Davis' work with the show and will feature different clips from those at the MU presentation.


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