It really gets my goat when people talk shit about Chevy Chase. Not just as a fan of his work, or as an admirer. I think some people judge Chevy Chase unfairly, with a scrutiny they do not apply to other comedians or entertainers.
Okay, you read an article relating an incident where Chevy Chase was a jerk. So what? Did he come to your house and fuck with you? Did he push your mother into the street? This is Chevy Chase we’re talking about. I give him absolute carte blanc to be as big a jerk as he likes.
Let’s start at the beginning. Chevy was born Cornelius Crane Chase. Outside of Soul Train’s Don Cornelius, he is the coolest bearer of that awesome moniker. His birth name was half the inspiration for the protagonist of my Ceaseless Fables of Beyonding (you can figure the other half out pretty easily). His grandmother, Scottish as a sporran, gave him the nickname Chevy. “Chevy Chase” is a great name. It’s so great, it’s a town. We should all be so lucky as to get a calling card like that.
Chevy Chase used to play drums with the future Steely Dan, at Bard College. To the layman, that’s like sitting in with John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1960. Chevy Chase has perfect pitch; he can identify a tone just by hearing it, a rare and desirable trait for a member of a combo. This was before he started working with National Lampoon. If I were Chevy Chase, I’d be towing my ego in a barge at this point.
Chevy Chase is a fourteenth-generation New Yorker; I didn’t even know that was a possibility. There is no conceivable way I could be more American than Chevy Chase is. I am a swarthy Mediterranean mutt by comparison, and I fancy myself quite the Yankee Doodle Dandy. Bill Murray makes a big deal out of meeting the Dalai Lama in Caddyshack, and that’s merely the twelfth son. Plus, at the peak of his hilarity, while falling from Christmas trees on live television (necessitating future painkiller abuse), the fucking guy looked like this:
That’s the face that steals your girlfriend away. This tan motherfucker would sidle up in his deck shoes and polo shirt, cock an eyebrow, and cuckold you in front of the whole country club. Game respect game; I can imagine many, many relationships were altered or destroyed by Mr. Chase over the 1970s (hypothetically). Were I him, and looked like he did, I doubt I could control myself from draining California of its pussy supply, if not the world’s. They put Chevy Chase on the silver screen romancing Goldie Hawn or Cindy Morgan, and you thought, of course. Who knew how far he could climb.
Chevy Chase could reduce a live audience to hysterical fits of laughter from inside a costume, behind a closed door, with two words:
In the comedy classic Caddyshack, Chevy plays the best straight man since Bud Abbott. He drops punchlines so dryly, they take a moment to hit, like stealth torpedoes. Rodney Dangerfield gets all the press, and he is indeed worthy of it, but Chase gets the jokes that kill with ninja-like precision.
“The Zen philosopher, Basho, once wrote, ‘A flute with no holes, is not a flute. A donut with no hole, is a Danish.'”
“My uncle says you’ve got a screw loose.”
“Your uncle molests collies.”
“I thought you’d be the man to beat this year.”
“I guess you’ll just have to keep beating yourself.”
“Who’s your decorator, Benihana?”
“No, I brought most of that stuff back with me from Vietnam. ”
“You were in the war?”
You think Modern Problems is a shitty movie? What would you think if it nearly killed you? Not your career; you?
In a scene in this shitty, shitty telekinesis comedy from 1980, Chase flew like an airplane, complete with landing lights that electrocuted him, combining with his recent divorce to launch a period of deep depression. Anyone who brings this turkey up makes mention of the stereotypical voodoo-mama role they made Nell Carter play, but not that it crippled one of the brightest stars in the nebula of 1970s comedy. Another benefit of CGI; you don’t need to insure your cast from being injured or killed by it. See why it took over?
The very best part of Modern Problems is when Chevy Chase inhales Nell Carter’s voodoo powder like a gigantic line of coke, turns to the camera and exclaims “IIIIIIIII LIKE IT!” Once again, the guy kills with a look and a handful of words.
Both Fletch movies are light, enjoyable viewings, almost entirely thanks to Chevy Chase in the lead. Do I even need to remind you of the scene with M. Emmet Walsh as the proctologist, when Fletch spontaneously warbles “Moon River”? How many funny quotes come from that scene alone?
There’s a restaurant here in Atlanta that serves a quesadilla called the John Coctostan, which is a direct reference to something Chevy Chase said as Fletch. People, that’s not just comedy; that’s cultural impact. I’d get carpal-tunnel if I typed out all the funny lines in Fletch. Don’t get me wrong, Gregory MacDonald’s books are fine, but the bulk of the Fletch love comes courtesy of Chase and his ad-libbing. I used to wish he’d done a movie for every book, before age and criticism did their thing.
In my estimation, Chevy Chase has more than earned the right to be a jerk to people, if he wants.
After all, he’s Chevy Chase, and you’re not.