When viewers first tuned in to “Saturday Night Live” on October 11, 1975 (technically “NBC’s Saturday Night” at the time), they saw a cold open sketch with Michael O’Donoghue and John Belushi. In it, Belushi played an immigrant taking English lessons, repeating non-sensical phrases such as “I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines.” It’s an “SNL” classic, as you can see for yourself above.
It was a raucous, auspicious start for the innovative new show, opening by featuring the comedian that Rolling Stone would later call “the first rock and roll star of comedy” and eventually anoint as the “SNL’s” greatest cast member of all time. Audiences had no idea that Belushi had been seconds away from not appearing in the show at all.
In the book “Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests,” Belushi’s longtime manager, Bernie Brillstein, explains the harried backstage situation. He said:
“Five minutes before the first show, I came through the back door where the food and coffee was and there was Belushi, sitting on a bench with Craig Kellem, who was the associate producer, and Craig was saying, ‘John, you’ve just got to sign your contract. NBC won’t allow you on the air until you do.'”
Brillstein admits he lied to Belushi to get him to sign, telling him he wrote the contract, but the actor still wouldn’t sign it until Brillstein agreed to be his manager.
Considering who Brillstein was at the time, it might have been a stroke of genius on the part of Belushi.