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Tom Davis, a comedy writer who teamed with future U.S. senator Al Franken to create scores of memorable sketches for Saturday Night Live, died July 19 of metastatic tonsil cancer at his home in Hudson, N.Y. He was 59.
Davis and Franken, who began writing jokes as teenagers in a Minneapolis private school, were spotted doing stand-up in Los Angeles by SNL creator Lorne Michaels. He hired them as a team for the late-night NBC show before its debut season in 1975, and they began by splitting one apprentice writer’s salary of $350 a week.
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“Tom was one of the writers who created SNL,” Michaels said in a statement. “He was there from the beginning. No one saw things the way that Tom did. He was funny, he was original and he was always there to help no matter the hour. And I always trusted his laugh. I can still kinda hear it.”
Among the famous SNL sketches that Davis is credited with were “The Coneheads,” about a family of aliens with huge craniums who come to Earth to observe everyday life; one with Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child trying to remain calm as she bleeds profusely while preparing a holiday chicken; another with Bill Murray playing a lounge singer who ad-libs lyrics to wordless songs like the Star Wars theme; and “The Continental,” a sketch with frequent SNL guest Christopher Walken as a hopeless ladies man.
Franken remembered Davis as someone who loved to laugh.
“Today is a sad day for all of us who loved Tom. I spoke with his mom this afternoon and she recalled fondly all the laughter that would come from the basement when Tom and I first got started in comedy,” Franken said in a statement. “I visited Tom two weeks ago, and though he was deathly ill, we did a lot of laughing. He was a great friend, a good man, and so funny.”
Longtime SNL writer Jim Downey praised Davis’ unique sense of humor.
“His ideas, unlike most ideas you hear, seemed to come out of nowhere, impossible either to predict, or to reverse-engineer,” Downey said in a statement. “He was a loyal friend, a generous and supportive collaborator and utterly unthreatened by the success or talent of those around him. His old pals have known for some time that this day was coming, but still it’s hard to accept that he’s now no longer out there, somewhere, thinking those crazy thoughts that no one else would think.”
In the early days of SNL, Davis and Franken also appeared as a comic duo. They shared Emmys for their writing on the show in 1976, 1977 and 1989 and another one for The Paul Simon Special in 1977.
Davis worked on SNL from 1975-1980, 1986-1994 and 2003. He starred with Franken in the comedy One More Saturday Night (1986) and collaborated with Aykroyd and Bonnie & Terry Turner to pen a Coneheads movie in 1993.
Davis and Franken had a falling-out in 1990 but reconciled by the time Franken was elected to the Senate from Minnesota in 2008 and after Davis had spent time in rehab for drug use.
Survivors include Mimi, his wife of 21 years, and his mother Jean.
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