Christopher Durang’s Unlikely Link to Saturday Night Live

Playwright Christopher Durang died earlier this week from complications of primary progressive aphasia.

A Tony Award-winner for his 2012 play Vanya and Sonia and Mash and Spike, his work on and off-broadway spanned decades, and included several collaborations with the actress Sigourney Weaver.

He also played a little-known part in Saturday Night Live history.

It was his friendship with Weaver that brought Durang to Saturday Night Live on October 11th, 1986 for the show’s first episode of its 12th season (an episode that also saw the debut of Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman).

Weaver hosted that night, and she introduced Durang to the audience in her opening monologue before two participated in a somewhat stilted gag about Lorne Michaels convincing Weaver to appear on the show out of his love for Bertolt Brecht.

Durang appeared again minutes later in the debut installment of Church Chat, where he earned the distinction of being the first-ever guest in what would become one of that era’s most popular recurring sketches.

Playing himself, Durang was, well, harangued by Dana Carvey’s Church Lady for his “dirty little sex play” Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. (He defended his work, saying “it’s not a sex play, it’s about religious fanaticism–and even if you don’t like it, don’t you think free speech is important?”)

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The sketch did so well at dress rehearsal that it was moved up from the last sketch of the night to the prime post-monologue spot.

Carvey would go on to appear as the Church Lady 18 times while a cast member on the show, and has reprised the character on SNL five times since.

Former Senator Al Franken, who was on SNL’s writing staff at the time but first met Durang in college, wrote in a letter to The New York Times published earlier today, “Chris was a wonderful, kind, hilarious man.”

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