The world lost a true comedy original on Thursday when Tom Davis, one of the original writers of "Saturday Night Live" who helped shape the show's iconoclastic tone, died of cancer at the young age of 59.
"He was there from the beginning. No one saw things the way that Tom did," Lorne Michaels said in the wake of his passing. "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."
Davis met future U.S. senator Al Franken when they were teenagers in Minnesota, and formed the duo Franken & Davis. Their accomplished comedy career was marked by being among the first writers hired by Michaels for a new show called "NBC's Saturday Night" and they would eventually become two of the longest-running writers of the later-renamed "Saturday Night Live."
A proud hippie throughout his entire life, he helped define the voice of the show by writing for and occasionally appearing onscreen alongside the Not Ready For Primetime Players. Davis was part of an original clan of creative New Yorkers who became an indispensable part of the show's legacy, one that all later eras, inevitably, would be compared to. His most notable creations were probably the Coneheads and Nick the Lounge Singer (as played by Bill Murray).
Davis should perhaps receive some credit for the rock-and-roll flavor the show exhibited during its early days. A big fan of the Grateful Dead, he and Franken even appeared in this sketch from the Dead's concert film, "Dead Ahead."
He and Franken performed outside of "SNL" together as well. Here's a clip of them appearing on "Late Night with David Letterman" in 1987 doing material about the Iran-Contra hearings.
Here's another fun clip that doesn't have much Tom Davis, but is a fun excuse to watch a future senator prance around like Mick Jagger for their "Franken and Davis School of Rock Star Impersonators." Davis' Keith Richards ain't bad, either.
He eventually had a "hideous" parting of ways with Franken. In "Live from New York," an oral history of "SNL," Davis said that money and drug issues led to the pair ending their personal and professional partnership. But his long career at "SNL" was given tribute in a 1999 episode in which host Brendan Fraser "found" Davis hanging out in Studio 8H.
David and Franken later reconciled, at least to some degree. Davis appeared on Franken's Air America's program "The Al Franken Show," playing comedic characters to act as a foil to Franken.
Later in life, Davis wrote a book called "Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL From Someone Who Was There." To promote its release, he did an extended interview about his career, and why he chose to remain a hippie for the last 39 years, with Berkeley Arts and Letters. You can watch the entirety of the interview below.
Tom Davis: The Early Days of SNL from Berkeley Arts and Letters and Berkeley Arts and Letters on FORA.tv
Shortly before he died, Davis posted a blog to The Incident Report about his cancer treatment, where he seemed to reconcile the reality that death was near. In part, Davis wrote:
I wake up in the morning, delighted to be waking up, read, write, feed the birds, watch sports on TV, accepting the fact that in the foreseeable future I will be a dead person. I want to remind you that dead people are people too. There are good dead people and bad dead people. Some of my best friends are dead people. Dead people have fought in every war. We’re all going to try it sometime. Fortunately for me, I have always enjoyed mystery and solitude.
As an old-school Malthusian liberal, I’ve always believed that the source of all mankind’s problems is overpopulation. I’m finally going to do something about it.
You can read Davis' entire post here. Rest in peace, Tom.