This story originally appeared in the February 1993 issue of Spin, which was partially written and guest-edited by members of the SNL cast. Read interviews and stories from comedy icons of the era–Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Julia Sweeney, Lorne Michaels and others–in our package of highlighted stories from the issue.
Dan Aykroyd is one of the reasons Saturday Night Live is still on the air. His work as a member of the original cast and writing team brought the current group a name and a reputation to ride on.
One of the coolest parts of my job is meeting SNL alumni such as Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy when they stop by the show to visit. Last year, I spied Dan Aykroyd watching some sketches being rehearsed, so I went up to him and introduced myself. He said he knew me and liked what I did on the show. It really floored me. Being complimented by someone you’ve always admired is a bizarre experience. That conversation was two minutes he soon forgot, but they were two minutes I remembered for a long time. I recently gave him a call.
Dan Aykroyd: Go ahead.
David Spade: [Laughing] Hey, buddy.
Aykroyd: Let’s talk about the new days, not the old days.
Spade: Okay. What makes you laugh on SNL right now? What’s funny to you?
Aykroyd: I like everybody’s work on the show. I like what they do, I know what they do. I especially like it when they’re really at home. Like with your commentary and the receptionist. Man, you know, the way you – you really know how to crack off that dialogue. I’m impressed by that. I think all the impressions are fantastic, surpassing or equaling whatever we used to do. The show is always what it was and will be – there are some that are gems, some are turkeys. On every show there’s a gem that’s worth watching for. Where else would you watch the Pope get his picture ripped in half by the poor little Irish girl who can’t accept the fact she’s got a groovy body? Did you get your hands on her?
Spade: Did I? Well, I thought she was giving me a little heat that week, a little vibe.
Aykroyd: She thought you were a woman – that’s why.
Spade: It’s one of the few shows where anything like that could happen. I believe it’s the same as before. Everyone talks about the old days – blah, blah, blah.
Aykroyd: It’s the same job.
Spade: Some sketches are great and some aren’t, but when people look back to ours, they’ll remember the funny ones.
Aykroyd: And you know, you’re on the premier satirical organ of the age right now.
Spade: The venue.
Aykroyd: The venue, the biggest, the best venue – and it’s very hard work. But the adrenaline high when you hit is great. And when you miss, it’s low. That’s why it was so stressful. That’s why I kicked the wall back there during the writer’s revolt.
Spade: Did you write a lot of stuff when you were doing sketches?
Aykroyd: When I started, I wrote as an uncredited writer from day one: The first show had a big piece of mine in it that I didn’t get credit for writing.
Spade: What was that?
Aykroyd: The home security piece. I wrote a lot of stuff and I never got credit. I was hired as a performer, but I just kicked in and wrote, because I was expected to. Finally, in the second or third year, I had to get compensation for writing. But I wrote free for the first year. Lorne Michaels and I went way back together, and I knew I had to come through for him. I didn’t do Animal House because I knew he needed me then, too. But I also had good work to do.
Spade: You were going to play D-Day?
Aykroyd: That’s right. But I figured that I would stay, and I did stay. I turned Hollywood down at that point because I figured that my work was better spent on the show. And then when The Blues Brothers came along, it wasn’t a matter of really wanting to leave because I kind of enjoyed the show, although it was nice to get away from the stress of that job for a while. And then, of course, there was the Doumanian era [Jean Doumanian and Dick Ebersol produced SNL during Michaels’s 1980-1984 absence], so we were away from it a good time. I always liked Jean. I never had a problem with Jean, and I couldn’t believe some of these stories that were coming around. I don’t know how true they were. There are some stories about me, too, you know – Tasmanian devil or whatever. But Jean found Eddie Murphy. You know, Eddie Murphy is the biggest star of all of us out here, if you want to count where the money is.
Spade: I read somewhere that SNL alumni combined have made about $2 billion at the box office to date.
Aykroyd: Yeah, and there’s more to be exploited out here. But I’m 40 now, and I could take or leave this Hollywood thing. L.A.’s not my favorite place on the planet. There are some things to love about it. I have some fantastic friends in the industry, I’m plugged in. They let me walk into the casino every day, you know. They still let me come up to the tables, those doors aren’t closed yet. But you’ve got to know when to walk away, too.
Spade: Where do you spend most of your time?
Aykroyd: Up in Massachusetts or in Canada or traveling, on the road. Have you read any Washington Irving, you know, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” that stuff that you read when you were a kid? A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker? You should pick that stuff up, because once you start to see New York as it used to be in the 1600s and 1700s, and think about the whole place as a farm and an island filled with sheep – some of the old mansions on Fifth Avenue were people’s houses and there are still some clapboard buildings downtown. If you look at it from a historical view, it’s not bad living there. Up the Hudson, the Bluffs, the Palisades, all that. It’s really beautiful country. Christ, I sometimes wish I was there. Not living in Manhattan so much. Like Steven’s Landing, where Bill Murray is, is fantastic. He’s really got it right. The penthouse in the city and, you know – except you’re paying that 3 percent metro tax and that 11 percent state. Oh, the fucking tax in New York is rapacious, man. They tax you for every minute you’re there. I spent three weeks doing Ghostbusters: I will pay tax to New York States for the rest of the income stream of Ghostbusters – for life – on those three weeks. They take the three weeks and calculate it, and when the checks are down to five dollars, I’ll be sending them a buck-sixty.
Spade: As you know, these first two years, it’s mostly work and home. I don’t get to see what New York’s like.
Aykroyd: Yeah, I know. I lived on the subway.
Spade: I hear great stories. Being single and working sounds like a great deal, but I’m so busy, I don’t know what to do. It’s just work and home, work and home.
Aykroyd: Well, you should get yourself a lady Saturday night after the show and spend all day Sunday in bed with her. That’s what I used to do. I used to sleep in the building Tuesday, because it was just so much easier to work straight through, get it all done three, four in the morning and then crash and get up and wake up just in time for read-through. It was such a great system. And then go home Wednesday and stay home Wednesday right through Thursday, and have Wednesday nights off. I used to seize Wednesday nights.
Spade: Thursday rewrites suck. That’s like a 12-hour day.
Aykroyd: I know, I know. I don’t think I could write there anymore. It was still free-form when I was there and now it’s like this discipline regimen thing. It’s a great job, it’s one of the greatest jobs. Walking into that building, going in on an October night, is one of the greatest feelings.
Spade: When you get an idea that hasn’t been done, it’s so fun. It’s like, can I get one thing that hasn’t been done? Do you want to talk about any Saturday Night Live movies? I know you do a lot of dramatic stuff – is that more fun for you?
Aykroyd: That’s so easy. The serious, the straight acting. It’s so much easier than comedy, it’s like a walk, if you just take cues from the masters, like [Gene] Hackman.
Spade: He’s one of my favorites.
Aykroyd: I worked with him, and I learned a lot from him. And you go and you watch Clint [Eastwood] and you watch him and just underplay everything and follow the director’s advice. It’s not like anybody can’t do what I do, what we do, really. There are no special keys to being an actor other than this: Follow the director’s advice.
Spade: But it’s great that you get stuff like that.
Aykroyd: Yeah, it’s good. That’s the one thing that keeps me out here, doing that kind of work. But we have a pretty massive project here with The Coneheads movie going, with Lorne [Michaels]. So, that will be exciting.
Spade: And there’s this Blues Brothers thing – I just read that somewhere.
Aykroyd: Yeah, yeah. There’s a big craving for it overseas, so that justifies doing something of a feature or a pay-per-view or – and of course the band still tours. They’re on tour all the time as the Blues Brothers Band. Five guys from the movie.
Spade: So you’ll do a little dramatic stuff, you’ll do a little comedy.
Aykroyd: Well, we all hope to develop the music thing again. I’d love to do a jump-swing album with the band, but I haven’t been able to get sponsorship. Maybe when we ignite some of the House of Blues clubs that I’m working on with my friend Isaac [Tigrett], you know, people might be interested. House of Blues is a club thing that we’re getting together in Boston and Chicago and New Orleans.
Spade: A chain of blues clubs?
Aykroyd: Exactly, yeah. To keep the bands playing. We want to build a circuit to develop and encourage blues talent. These are going to be your songwriters and your rock’n’roll stars of tomorrow.
Spade: To give them a road gig.
Aykroyd: To give ‘em a road gig and also a for-profit liquor and food enterprise, billed as a museum to all the great blues stars, with some of the money going to this historical center in Mississippi that encourages taking college degrees in musicology and that type of thing. It’s a good thing that Isaac cofounded Hard Rock Cafe with Peter Morton. And we’ve had some fun building the Hard Rocks in the East. He travels around the country in his train car, Car 50. Isaac’s got a private train car and he hooks it to Amtrak. It takes about two days longer to go anywhere, but it’s the greatest travel because you get hooked on trains. I drove down from my farm to Syracuse, and it took two hours. Go down to Syracuse and hop on the train at one in the morning and then I’m in L.A. three-and-a-half, four days later, after stopping for business in Chicago and Oakland, instead of flying to these places. It’s so great. I can’t stand the flying. I hate it. It’s not natural to be up there, being pushed around by those little blades of aluminum. Are they alive? Do they know your family and your children? No, they’re just little blades of aluminum that whirl around at high speed. I don’t like it.
Spade: There’s always one point on each flight when you’re thinking, “We’re going down.”
Aykroyd: Well, the point is, when they rotate, when they pull back on that yoke and when that thing lifts off there, that’s when most crashes occur. After that, there’s a good chance the plane is going to make it. There’s a term in aviation called departure and it’s not when your flight takes off. Departure means when the aircraft departs from what it’s supposed to do. Most of the time they take off, but a small percentage of the time they don’t. And it’s all factored in there. Can’t stand it, can’t stand it. So, are you working this week?
Spade: I got a couple of little things here and there, a couple little nuggets. Maybe the “Hollywood Minute” thing. But I’m getting scared, ’cause it’s getting meaner.
Aykroyd: It’s good, man. It’s what everybody’s thinking anyway. I get it at 8:30 on my satellite so I don’t have to stay up late anymore. But I know how hard you work, and I believe everyone is immensely talented and I just have great respect. Now that I’m just a fan, I’m happy to just be able to get in the door and get a ticket once in a while.
Spade: All right, Danny, take it easy.