Celebrated character actor Charles Grodin died Tuesday at the age of 86. The “Heartbreak Kid” star’s multihyphenate career spanned six decades and virtually every medium. However, Grodin did some of his most influential work as himself.
Long before Will Ferrell was interviewed by Jimmy Fallon as Little Debbie or Paul Rudd was trotting out that clip from “Mac and Me” on “Conan,” Grodin was pioneering unpredictable, deadpan humor on the talk show circuit.
Check out some of his most memorable small screen moments.
Getting Banned from SNL…Allegedly
Grodin hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 1977. It was the iconic sketch show’s third season and its first since breakout star Chevy Chase had left to purse a film career. Instead of going right along with the show’s satirical tone, Grodin went left. In contrast to his crochety comic persona, Grodin spent the entire episode as a bumbling innocent, pretending that he did not know the show was live. He shamelessly read the cue cards and intentionally stretched bits to fill time.
Notably, he crashed Gilda Radner and John Belushi’s cold open with arms full of Christmas gifts for the cast to apologize for missing rehearsal.
The bit included an infamous joke involving SNL’s sole Black performer, Garrett Morris, “I couldn’t very well get gifts for some of the cast and not for everyone. If I had forgotten to get a gift for Garrett [Morris]… I mean, can you imagine my embarrassment if I’d forgotten to get a gift for Garrett? I mean, Garrett, especially.”
Legend has it that Grodin’s troublemaking got him blacklisted from the show indefinitely.
Arguing with Johnny Carson
Grodin appeared on “The Tonight Show” 36 times, where he’d playfully butt heads with Johnny Carson.
One night, Grodin’s jokes were failing to get laughs so he staged an impromptu cleansing ritual by burning his script onstage.
Much of the pair’s “arguments,” like the one in this 1990 clip, centered around Grodin accusing the famed host of not really caring about his interviewees and only focusing on trite topics.
“Are you interested in anything at all? Do you really care? What do you care about in life?…Is there anything in the world that you actually care about?” Grodin asked.
“Yes, my health,” Carson countered, “And I’ve got this terrible pain right now.”
Following Grodin’s “Carson” appearances, NBC would receive countless letters from viewers unaware of the joke and the duo’s ultimately comedically combative dynamic.
Threatening Letterman with his Lawyer
The actor’s ribbing with David Letterman skewed more tense.
In 1982, Grodin’s first “Late Show” appearance began with his hyper-jerk version of himself accosting the crew before insulting the host himself.
“Why don’t you work more on producing your show and less time on your perm?”
As time went on, Grodin’s appearances expanded into more planned bits. In his most famous stunt, Grodin enlisted a fellow comic to play his attorney and threaten to sue Letterman for insulting him. Watch the clip here.
Despite the onscreen animosity, Letterman always enjoyed Grodin’s visits. He reportedly relayed the same vote of confidence to his crew before each of the actor’s appearances, “I really feel tonight it won’t suck.”
Calling Sean Hannity a Fascist on Fox News
Fast-forward to 2007 and Grodin was still stirring up trouble at age 72. He appeared on “Hannity and Colmes” to promote his book “If Only I Knew Then” but the conversation quickly turned chaotic.
After tearing into Hannity and then-co-host Alan Colmes’s appearances at the suggestion of any substantive topics, he admitted to derailing the interview because, “I don’t think you guys should even be talking about it.”
“It” being the upcoming election.
The contentious interview came to a head when Grodin said, “Here’s the right-wing fascist, Sean Hannity. Did you not co-host with Goebbels before you met Alan?” referring to Hitler’s propaganda minister.
When Hannity took offense to this remark, Grodin replied, “I didn’t say you were a Nazi, I said your co-host was a Nazi. There is a difference!”