When word got out that the 69-year-old actor had yet again made a spectacle of himself while shooting the beloved but beleaguered NBC comedy, it was only the latest evidence that Chase is what in Hollywood is known as “eccentric,” but in real-life could be called “batsh!t crazy.” Ever since he skyrocketed to fame after one season — yes, let us never forget, it was only one season — on Saturday Night Live, Chase has been largely known as, um, difficult. (“Chevy Chase arrogant” will net you 5.15 million hits on a Google search, “Chevy Chase —hole” a more modest 191,000).
After being one of the biggest film stars of the ’80s with hits like the National Lampoon’s Vacation films, Fletch, Caddyshack, Three Amigos! and Spies Like Us, Chase’s star cooled severely in the ’90s and ’00s to the point that when he was announced as part of the cast of Community, it was seen as a wholesale comeback. But even though the show has among the most rabid fan bases to ever troll the Internet, even most of them have to admit that watching Chase sputter through his scenes as Pierce Hawthorne is off-putting at best, downright embarrassing at worst. It’s like listening to a formerly powerful singer hitting all the wrong notes, or a mighty quarterback throwing nothing but ducks. His graying, thinning hair and ever-thickening middle give his weirdness a latter-day Brando quality, but Chase has nowhere near the artistic capital to justify giving him a pass. Even seemingly innocuous occasions, like the recent Vacation reunion for Entertainment Weekly, grinds to an uncomfortable halt whenever Chase opens his mouth.
So since Community isn’t on, and there’s no word when the fourth, Dan Harmon-less season will ever air, why not look back at a few of Chase’s most memorable public confrontations? (A more exhaustive list can be found over at Gawker).
Bill Murray vs. Chevy Chase
After his one-and-done SNL run, which was the David Caruso-leaves NYPD Blue of its day — with admittedly better results — Chase returned a couple seasons later to host. It marked the first time a former cast member had returned as host but maybe it’s naive to think it was the first backstage fistfight. Apparently Bill Murray got frustrated with Chase and yelled priceless insults at him telling him to go home and bleep his wife (Chase said he left the show because he got married), and also calling him a “medium talent.” That has to be one of the best, and devastatingly accurate, takedowns ever. (For more stories of Chase’s bad SNL behavior, check out the invaluable Saturday Night by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad and Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller.)
The Chevy Chase Show
What more can be said about Chase’s disastrous 1993 foray into late night? Oh, I got one — He looks at Conan O’Brien’s seven-month stint as host of The Tonight Show in ravenous envy. Chase lasted barely over a month after a much-hyped campaign that was supposed to herald in Fox’s arrival as a major player. Instead it became a punch line that people can pull out whenever the topic of “TV’s Worst Ideas” comes up. True to form, Chase shifted blame afterward, not chalking up the show’s failure to his complete ineptitude as a host but to the network forcing some strange concept on him. As far as we can tell, that concept was your standard late-night talk show format.
Chevy Chase vs. Steven Bochco
During a 1997 episode of Politically Incorrect (back in those heady days when Bill Maher was still allowed on network television), Chase was on a panel that included Steven Bochco, the mastermind behind some of TV’s most enduring dramas, including Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, L.A. Law and many others. Chase took that occasion to berate the entire medium, taking Bochco to task for his particularly violent programming. The two got into a bitter argument, and Chase then turned on Maher, saying he didn’t even approve of the very show he was on. Chase left in a huff, taking Bochco up on his offer to get the hell out, before Maher convinced him to stay.
Dan Harmon vs. Chevy Chase
Despite its accolades, Chase has never been complimentary of Community. He repeatedly refers to the sitcom as being the lowest form of entertainment, continuing his M.O. of trying to convince everyone that he’s above it all. He’s also threatened to leave more times than Alec Baldwin has said he was retiring after 30 Rock. He hasn’t spared his bosses his feelings either, leaving derisive voice-mails for showrunner Dan Harmon that Harmon subsequently made public. Regardless of how you feel about Chase, that really wasn’t cool of Harmon to do. Imagine your boss doing something like that. Then again, imagining your boss not firing you for it either. #onlyinhollywood While there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding Community these days following Harmon’s sudden removal — When will it premiere? Will it still be funny? Is this the end? — one thing for certain is that Chase will be a pain in the butt for the new bosses as well.
Odds are, Cornelius Crane Chase was probably always a pretty weird duck. But if we’re looking for excuses, perhaps some incident from before his pre-fame days that can account for decades of off-putting behavior, maybe it’s this clip from 1974’s The Groove Tube. That’s a lot of hits to the head, my friend.
Photo: Courtesy of NBC