40 Years Ago: Drew Barrymore Stays Up Past Her Bedtime on ‘SNL’
Fresh off of the worldwide phenomenon that was E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, that film’s 7-year-old costar Drew Barrymore became, and remains, the youngest person ever to host the live and decidedly late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live. For Barrymore, who has gone on to host SNL several more times since her initial appearance, Saturday Night Live has become a welcoming place — even if her first foray into the late-night comedy series was fashioned as something of a full-on cast revolt.
With the Dick Ebersol years fully underway, the cold open sees cast members Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger, Robin Duke, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross and Joe Piscopo all gathered resentfully in the host’s empty dressing room, transformed for the occasions into a dolly and stuffed animal-strewn little girl’s playroom. “It’s disgusting! Ebersol’s gotta be crazy to book her,” complains Hall, with Piscopo piling on their boss by noting how, on the episode before, the producer had dumped on comedian Andy Kaufman live on-air.
With everyone (except the sympathetic Kazurinsky) hurling abuse concerning the absent 7-year-old’s presence on the show, the sketch introduces the still-questionable prospect of a literal child anchoring a show that doesn’t even begin until 11:30 p.m. (Barrymore’s supposed dressing room is kitted out with a comfy child’s bed.) “If I see another stuffed animal, I’m gonna throw up,” notes Louis-Dreyfus (a fresh-faced 22 at the time), while Mary Gross scoffs that Studio 8H is “crawling with social workers and union guys checking child labor laws,” and Duke reports that the NBC censors have decided to cut all sex and violence from the episode, in deference to the host’s age. “You mean they cut the frontier gynecologist sketch?” blurts an outraged Kroeger, peeling off the rubber gloves and cowboy hat he’d worn into the room. Murphy complains that he’d tried to get Ebersol to book Michael Jackson rather than “this white-bread kid,” while Gross explodes, “This show’s gonna be a nightmare!”
It’s then that a sheepish and startlingly tiny Barrymore makes her entrance and plunks down on the bed next to Louis-Dreyfus, waiting patiently for the crowd applause to die down before apologizing. “I’m sorry guys,” the young Barrymore explains through her still-snaggly baby teeth. “I just got the word. No bad stuff or violence on this show.” The cast, switching into protective trouper mode, all assure Barrymore that it’s no problem at all, with Barrymore brushing them off by saying, “Ebersol’s gotta be nuts to book a 7-year-old to host this show!” (She also mocks the Andy Kaufman thing.) After expressing her distaste for all the toys festooning her dressing room, Barrymore finally rebuffs the solicitous Kazurinsky’s offer of a glass of milk, landing the sketch with an enthusiastic, “Milk? I’m a Barrymore! Get me a drink, and make it a double.”
A lot is going on here. Barrymore, after charming audiences as E.T.’s precocious Gertie, was, indeed, a 7-year-old hosting Saturday Night Live. Gross’ joke about social workers being on guard to protect the interests of the child star has a different echo after Barrymore, in her first autobiography, the aptly titled Little Girl Lost (written with Todd Gold when the actress was just 14), detailed how she began abusing drugs and alcohol just a few short years after hosting SNL. As for her line about the Barrymores and hard drinking, a peek back through the illustrious names of her acting dynasty family is to watch an entire clan’s legacy of alcoholism and mental illness, both of which would plague Barrymore herself until she emerged as a bankable adult star and film executive. But not before multiple stints in rehab and a suicide attempt before the age of 18.
Watch Drew Barrymore's 'SNL' Monologue From 1982
But watching the 1982 SNL episode today is to see the refreshingly natural and still innocent Barrymore in the hands of a cast far more delighted to have her in the house than the cold open suggested. Throughout the episode (which, to be fair, is lighter on Barrymore than on the show-long call-in stunt that eventually saw Kaufman banned from the show), Barrymore is constantly being held, cuddled, and protectively roughhoused with by much of the cast. Kazurinsky appears to have been the designated fun uncle of the bunch, coming out to lob softball audience questions for Barrymore to answer in the monologue, the pair bantering playfully through Barrymore’s halting and authentically childlike answers. (Barrymore notes that she initially found the E.T. creature “gooshy,” but that he’s now a friend, and that she’d marry godfather Steven Spielberg if she had to choose someone.)
Earlier, Murphy had mocked Kazurinsky’s softheartedness toward the night’s host, noting how he liked working with “kids and animals,” and Kazurinksy capped off the monologue by surprising the delighted Barrymore with one of the baby chimp costars from his popular “I Married a Monkey” sketches. (As with everything about the Barrymore Saturday Night Live experiment, there’s a less rosy tint to the gesture, considering how Kazurinsky has related his fraught and often dangerous time sharing a stage with supposedly trained primates.)
In her limited selection of subsequent sketches, Barrymore’s bratty orphan is happily adopted by Piscopo and Duke’s recurring Doug and Wendy Whiner; she also finds herself sharing the stage with Kazurinsky once more (dressing the obliging cast member in E.T.’s old-lady disguise and makeup) and telling Duke that she’d rather be watching Eddie Murphy.
In the goodnights (in which Kaufman’s viewer-mandated banishment is dutifully read out), Barrymore is once more crowded by the cast, exclaiming, “I had an absolutely wonderful time, and I love you all! Goodbye!” while Kroeger and Kazurinsky pick her up and rock her to the sounds of the closing theme.