July 1975. I was 25 years old and had taken the Long Island Rail Road from my parents’ house to New York City. I arrived at what was then called the RCA Building and rode the elevator up to Lorne Michaels’s office, on the 17th floor. It was our first meeting to discuss a new show premiering in the fall called Saturday Night Live.
I was going to be a television comedy writer—a boyhood dream from my teens, when I would watch The Dick Van Dyke Show. It continued into college, when I submitted dozens of pieces that were rejected by Mad magazine. When I graduated, I became a professional by writing one-liners for the last of the Catskill comics. They paid me $7 for jokes like “There’s a new porn movie coming out and the entire cast is Hasidic Jews. It’s very unusual, especially the orgy scene, because the men are on one side of the room and the women are on the other.”
Lorne had seen me perform stand-up at a New York comedy club. He took pity on me—I was a dreadful stand-up comic—but liked my material and offered me a job on S.N.L. On my first day writing for the show, I stepped off the elevator wearing the Brooks Brothers shirt I’d saved up for from my part-time job in a delicatessen, a pair of chinos, and a name tag. Looking around, I saw John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and Laraine Newman—in jeans and tie-dyed shirts—doing improvs they’d performed at Second City and the Groundlings. I watched this brave, kinetic form of comedy that I was going to be a part of and immediately felt the charge.
I was now hip.
The adjective. Cool. In the know. All the rage. A far cry from the descriptors I was used to, such as slovenly; prone toward chunkiness; a mile behind the curve. My newfound hipness magically made those descriptions acceptable parts of my new definition. Unkempt had become unconventional. As if the rest of the world had miraculously caught up to me.
I wrote with Gilda. I wrote for Belushi. And I often appeared on camera as a corpse or a donkey or a patient who had just had electroshock therapy. Everyone on the planet seemed to stop what they were doing at 11:30 on Saturday nights to watch.
There were after-parties, dinners at Elaine’s, and nights at Studio 54. At college lectures, I was applauded when I was introduced as the creator of Gilda’s character Roseanne Roseannadanna. I heard from old friends who wanted tickets. I made new friends who wanted tickets. And then I’d heard that some creepy guy also named Alan Zweibel was telling women he was me in his attempts to get laid.
I found myself in a world I’d never imagined. I met all four Beatles. I shared a joint with Keith Richards. Candice Bergen’s name was in my address book. And when All-Pro quarterback Fran Tarkenton hosted our show, I brought in a football and asked him to throw it to me so someday I could tell my grandchildren that I once caught a pass from Fran Tarkenton!
I started dating a production assistant named Robin. We got engaged. Then we got married. Traditional, maybe, but given the number of people who’d appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone that found their way to Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, New Jersey, that night, still hip.
Even after I left the show, in 1980, there was a residual hipness afforded me because of my association with the team that was lionized for changing American television.
The Walker Brigade
July 2022. I am now somehow 72 years old, and hip has gone back to being a noun. As in, the M.R.I. showed that bone was touching bone, so I no longer have the same left hip I never gave a second thought to when I was hip. Still, as my friend Albert (no relation to the shirt I wore the first day of S.N.L.) Brooks said, “It’s the first time that Alan Zweibel and the word ‘hip’ was used in the same sentence since the 1980s.”
I got to the hospital at six a.m. and was wheeled into the O.R. at eight. Awoke at 10-ish. Was shown by a nurse named Kylie how to back into a car, back onto a bed, and back onto a toilet seat. Convinced that I would never face forward again, I asked Robin to strap me to the hood of our S.U.V. (Request denied.) Home by 3:15. I’ve spent the past few days in a chair with my leg propped up on another chair washing down painkillers, forsaking the stuff made by that horrible Sackler family in favor of the pills made by the benign Extra Strength Tylenol clan.
My nights were spent on my back trying not to move any part of my lower body because that’s where the titanium resides, and it’s as cranky about being there as I was about spending the afternoon in the bathroom because Nurse Kylie neglected to show me how to get off a toilet seat without my entire body tipping over into the bathtub.
Next to my side of the bed stood the walker the hospital had given me, and I recalled a short movie I’d written for S.N.L. so many years ago called “The Walker Brigade.” It was produced in documentary style about a division of our armed forces during W.W. II that took advantage of a little-known clause in the Geneva Conventions (one that I made up) that says you’re not allowed to shoot at any members of the military who are using ambulatory devices.
So we traveled to Fort Dix and filmed actual soldiers marching in columns with walkers, jumping from a plane with walkers, and, after a huge transport’s door opened, sloshing through the shallow water and storming a beach using walkers. It was really funny. And then I remembered what another Brooks, this one named Mel, said: “We mock the things we are to be.”
I still watch S.N.L. every week for the same reason I still root for my old high school’s football team. Though I don’t play for them anymore, I want my alma mater to win. It’s the house I grew up in. The studio is the same. And Lorne is still there. So every Saturday night (or Sunday morning, thanks to DVR) I watch incredibly talented people who were not even born when I left the show, and whose turn it is to be described with the adjective form of “hip.”
My photo hangs on a wall in the writers’ room. I’ve been a guest on many of the talk shows that younger alums now host, and I love whenever current S.N.L. writers or cast members introduce themselves and ask about the old days of the show with the same curiosity I had when I once asked my great-grandfather what life was like before there were flush toilets.
Our five grandchildren watch the show. And it was a great day for me when I was able to keep that promise I’d made so many years ago and told them I’d caught a pass from Fran Tarkenton. “Who’s she?” they asked.
When I tell them I used to write for S.N.L., I’m not sure they believe me. My guess is that they had trouble imagining their grandfather ever being that hip. As for the new hip, it’s starting to hurt again, so I better go ice it. I’m having grave doubts that the other Alan Zweibel still says he’s me in his attempts to get laid.
Alan Zweibel is a writer who has worked on Saturday Night Live, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which he co-created, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is the author of many books, including the memoir Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier