Martin Mull and SNL Were Star-Crossed Lovers

Martin Mull, who passed away on Thursday, June 27, was a comedy icon dating back to the late 1970s. So many people assumed that at some point he must have hosted Saturday Night Live, or at least made an appearance on the show.

He did not. But he came very close.

As Mull recalled in a 2014 interview with Norm Macdonald, he was actually hired by Lorne Michaels to be a part of SNL’s landmark first season—only to walk away after his first day on the job.

“When Lorne [Michaels] put Saturday Night Live together initially with Aykroyd and Belushi and Gilda and everyone like that, my name was in the hopper,” Mull explained. 

Mull performed comedic songs as part of his standup act, and Michaels apparently saw potential in his musical ability. As Mull recalled to Macdonald, “[Lorne’s] thought was ‘Aha! Martin, you can be bandleader, you could be in the band…. And most of the time you’ll play with the band, and then maybe now and then we’ll put you in a sketch or something.’” 

Mull, who was a self-taught musician, accepted the job. But he quickly felt he was in over his head. 

“I went to the first rehearsal and there were these monster players in the band. I remember sitting next to Howard Johnson, the tuba and horn player. And they pull out these sheets of music. And I don’t read music. So I look at this thing and all I know is that there were rat races on this thing with ink on their little paws, and I had no idea what anything was… and I basically had to bow out. I said, ‘I can’t possibly do this. I can’t even fake it.’”

Asked if he’d never been asked to host because of that, Mull responded, “I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. Probably. Or [I was] just not enough of a name to justify it.”

Ultimately it was Paul Shaffer who would end up assuming the role that Michaels had originally envisioned for Mull. Shaffer was a member of SNL’s house band from 1975 to 1980, making occasional sketch appearances on the show. (He was credited as a featured player during the show’s 1979-1980 season.)

A year after walking away from Saturday Night Live, Mull was cast in a supporting role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which led to a starring role opposite Fred Willard in the 1977 talk show parody Fernwood 2 Night, and countless other roles on film and television over the next 40-plus years.

Although he was quick to minimize his musical abilities, Mull saw success in that realm, too, releasing a series of albums on the Capricorn, ABC, and Elektra labels.

Mull is survived by his wife Wendy Haas, also a musician, and their daughter Maggie.

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