As the actor advances in age and career, multiple damaging stories have surfaced of his difficult behaviour.
As the actor advances in age and career, multiple damaging stories have surfaced of his difficult behaviour.

Behind comedian’s tarnished reputation

What happened to comedy legend Chevy Chase?

The former "funniest man in America" is no longer loved in the eyes of his co-stars and he's been beaten by the media. But does the 75-year-old deserve the diminishing reputation he's copped?

Last week comedian Marc Maron gave Chase a thorough dressing down in his podcast, describing an appearance he'd made at a comedy club as "bizarre".

"I used to love him when I was a kid but you know, over time you start to realise he seems to be a kind of cranky, nasty old f**k," Maron said.

"It was very bizarre. I was wandering around the back of the room going, 'What is happening right now?' 75-year-old Chevy Chase is up there asking people to ask him questions."

The words might seem unusually critical but heckling Chase has become commonplace. He's been called difficult, a "monster," accused of making racial cracks, and had his former show runner lead a chant against him.

Chase carved out comedy niches in SNL's first season, like imitating figures in popular culture and politicians.
Chase carved out comedy niches in SNL's first season, like imitating figures in popular culture and politicians.

CHASE'S EARLY LIFE

Cornelius Crane "Chevy" Chase is from 14 generations of blue blood New Yorkers, a wealthy lineage that dates back to 1624, but his upbringing is often misreported as privileged.

His parents divorced early and his mother emotionally and physically abused him, once locking him in a basement for days, according to his 2007 biography. Far from a model student, Chase was kicked out of a few schools before eventually graduating as valedictorian.

In college he was in a "bad jazz band" called Leather Canary with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who would go on to found Steely Dan. He was also in a psychedelic band called Chamaeleon Church which enjoyed enough success to record for MGM.

Chase worked various jobs including being a cab driver, audio engineer, bus boy and fruit picker according to sources online, while he worked towards a goal of becoming a comedian.

He started working as a writer for the Smothers Brothers (a short-lived musical comedy duo) and National Lampoon, which would develop into the successful Vacation series.

During this time he starred in The Groove Tube, a 1974 film parodying seventies culture, where he was spotted by Lorne Michaels, who hired him as a writer for the premiere season of Saturday Night Live and then quickly started putting him in front of the camera. Chase was 32 when his big break came.

CHEVY ON SNL

During SNL's first season, Chase introduced every episode, bar two, with the iconic, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!". He'd often pair the announcement with dramatic slapstick falls.

He created a number of characters, and carved out grooves that SNL actors still slip into now, like imitating sitting presidents as bumbling fools, and parodying otherwise everyday characters as psychedelic weirdos.

Chase was monumentally popular in his breakout role in the first season of SNL.
Chase was monumentally popular in his breakout role in the first season of SNL.

Chase's news anchor character is widely attributed as winning over American audiences, with his brash confidence and quirky outbursts. He was known for the catchphrase: "I'm Chevy Chase … and you're not."

His rise to fame that year was meteoric. In 1975 New York Magazine put Chase on the cover, calling him "The Funniest Man in America". The premiere season of SNL really couldn't have gone better for Chase, but he decided to part ways with the skit show and move to Los Angeles to pursue a movie career.

COMPLICATED DEPARTURE FROM SNL WAS 'A SIGN'

Chase had a one-year contract with SNL, and after winning two Emmys for his writing and acting he left the show mid-way through its second season. He said he wanted to take some time away from the show, think about what he wanted to do, and not become "solipsistic". Many cast members were reportedly devastated and annoyed by his departure, seeing it as a betrayal and a sign of rising egomania.

"When you become famous, you've got like a year or two where you act like a real a**hole," said Bill Murray of Chase, who replace him on the show.

"You can't help yourself. It happens to everybody. You've got like two years to pull it together - or it's permanent."

Chase did returned to SNL as a host, but his appearances no the show were often not remembered fondly by his co-hosts.

Chase and Murray reportedly got into a backstage brawl when Chase was hosting one night. Will Ferrell said Chase was the worst host to work with and Terry Sweeney called him a "monster".

In an interview with the Washington Post last year, Chase said he asked Lorne Michaels, the head of SNL, if he could host the show again in 2012, but claimed was refused with the boss saying he was "too old".

"I didn't get it. You're too old? We'd had many people older than me hosting," Chase said.

"It's like denying that I was the guy who made this show really go that first year. It's like taking all that away from me."

In the same article, Michaels justified the decision.

"Chevy does shock stuff, which is maybe more forgivable in a 25-year-old or 30-year-old than in a 50-year-old or 60-year-old," he said.

Michaels also said he thinks much of the reporting on Chase as a cantankerous old man has been blown out of proportion.

Though Chase has in the past tried to get back on the show that saw his career skyrocket, it seems he's changed tack, choosing instead to insult the program.

"I'm amazed that Lorne has gone so low," he told the Post, reflecting on a recent episode of SNL.

"That means a whole generation of sh*t heads laugh at the worst f***ing humour in the world."

COMMUNITY CONTROVERSY

An image from the pilot episode of Community. Chase’s initial performance received warm reviews. Photo: Paul Drinkwater
An image from the pilot episode of Community. Chase’s initial performance received warm reviews. Photo: Paul Drinkwater

Chase was part of the original case of comedy series Community, which started in 2009.

His initial performance received warm reviews, but there were rumours series creator Dan Harmon had it in for the actor from the beginning, in what one gossip site labelled "a good ol' fashioned Hollyweirdo fight".

The pair have each admitted to feuding over various creative differences including scripting issues, with Chevy complaining the show was not funny enough.

Harmon responded by attempting to mount an "anti-Chevy chant" at a series wrap party, where he encouraged the other crew and cast members to start chanting "F*** you Chevy!"

The series boss and show runner was reportedly retaliating to the actor walking off set in the final days of production. Chase's wife and daughter were present while Harmon led the chant, and according to TMZ it wasn't well received by those in attendance, who found it uncomfortable. Harmon claimed on a podcast that "a lot of people joined in."

In a voicemail message, Chevy responded by later calling Harmon and telling him he was "a g*d damn a*******."

Chase insinuated the show runner would need medicine because he is a "fat f***".

"Second of all, your god damn bad writing, s***, stinko script was an abomination and your writing is getting worse and worse," he said.

"I don't get talked to by anyone like that especially in front of my wife and daughter.

"Do you think that's the right way to behave?"

Harmon took the recording and played it out aloud at a comedy club after which it was leaked online.

Mr Harmon wrote a lengthy blog post following the incident, which he referred to as a "giant fart", and offered that "I'm a selfish baby and a rude a***hole and not a person to trust with your feelings."

Addressing the incident in an interview with the Washington Post, Chase said: "I didn't care that it was a hit show. My efforts to become part of that cast were eschewed consistently. Partly because I didn't know what the f*** I had. And partly because I wasn't happy."

 

Chevy Chase with Dan Harmon in 2009. Picture: Matt Sayles
Chevy Chase with Dan Harmon in 2009. Picture: Matt Sayles

To cope, Chase started drinking and his usage escalated, according to his daughter, from glasses of wine to bottles, to vodka. He was diagnosed with alcohol cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles from alcohol abuse.

His daughter said she "gave up" on him, and his wife threatened to leave him if he didn't clean up his act. In early 2017 Chase told The Washington Post he decided to just quit.

But while his drinking may have ended his behaviour wasn't all cleaned up. Chase's co-star Donald Glover said he felt slighted by Chase when the actor set to him, "People think you're funnier because you're black."

"I just saw Chevy as fighting time," Glover said of his co-star. "A true artist has to be okay with his reign being over. I can't help him if he's thrashing in the water. But I know there's a human in there somewhere."

Chase disagrees with the interpretation of what he said being racist, arguing he was making jokes.

DO PEOPLE DISLIKE CHEVY CHASE?

Chase reinvents his water spilling gag from SNL for an interviewer.
Chase reinvents his water spilling gag from SNL for an interviewer.

Chase has faced fierce backlash in recent years, and he's become used to bad press.

He's also decided it can be easily explained, telling the Post it all comes down to "jealousy".

"You can't really say that … writers writing anything negative is jealousy. But yeah. It is.

"I'm funnier than them? Yeah I guess maybe. I'm considered good looking? There you have it. I'm Chevy. Go f*** yourself," the actor laughed.

"I've gotten to a place where it doesn't really matter what I write or say. Because it's only an instant of an instant of my life."


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