‘SNL’ Vet Jon Lovitz Channels George Santos Before Dishing on His Career, Impersonating David Crosby, and His Friendship With Phil Hartman
“It’s a good thing for me and my career,” comedian jokes to Howard of the Santos controversyJanuary 23, 2023
When Congressman George Santos came under fire for repeatedly lying about his past and credentials, the news had at least one unintended consequence — actor and comedian Jon Lovitz kept getting requests to play him. Known for his lying character, Tommy Flanagan, from his years on “Saturday Night Live,” fans thought it was time for Lovitz to dust off his famous teller of untruths and return to TV as George Santos. Last week he did just that, portraying the politician on “The Tonight Show.”
“It was fun doing it,” he told Howard Monday morning of the experience, after also doing it on the Stern Show before joking, “it’s a good thing for me and my career.”
The comedian then went on to open up to Howard about the origins of that character, his friendship with late actor Phil Hartman, and more.
The Origins of Tommy Flanagan
While most know Tommy Flanagan only from “SNL,” Lovitz created the character as a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe the Groundlings. “You do their school and then they have … the B company, the Sunday company — so that’s the first time I did it,” Lovitz explained, noting that as part of a panel, he had to give the character’s name and occupation. “I go, ‘My name’s Tommy Flanagan, I’m a member of Pathological Liars Anonymous. In fact, I’m the president of that organization.’”
Playing it as an old movie character from the 1930s, Lovitz credits troupe member Robin Schiff, who went on to write “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” for making it even stronger. “She goes, ‘Jon, just stay in character and you can say anything. You set it up perfectly,’” he remembered. “And then I got into the main company of the Groundlings, and I wrote a monologue of a guy at like an A.A. meeting, but instead … like Pathological Liars Anonymous … and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if a guy got up and said he was a pathological liar and then told a story and then started lying about it?’ … and that’s how it started.”
Remembering Phil Hartman
Before being cast members together at “SNL,” Lovitz worked with and admired fellow comedian Phil Hartman while they were both at the Groundlings. “He was nine years older than me, and I idolized him,” Jon told Howard. “He was the king of the Groundlings. He was the only one in the group who had a job, and he had … a new car, and he had a house, and the rest of us were dead broke.”
As Lovitz remembers, Hartman, who was a graphic designer responsible for album covers including Steely Dan’s “Aja,” fell into performing improv by complete accident. “He went there for a birthday party to see a show, and then there was an intermission, and all the actors were backstage, and they hear the audience like dying laughing,” he explained. “They went out there and Phil was onstage entertaining everybody, and they were like, ‘[You’re] great — do you want to be in the group?’ He’d never done it, he could just do it.”
Despite being younger, Lovitz got his “Saturday Night Live” break first. And though he was constantly recommending Hartman for a spot on the show, Phil continuously told Jon he wasn’t interested. “No, no, I like my life, I’m happy,” he recalled Hartman saying. “He goes, ‘That’s enough money, I like my life, I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want any of that.’”
Lovitz also remembered Hartman for being likable across the board. “Everyone loved him from the Groundlings to ‘Saturday Night Live” to ‘News Radio,’” he said of his late friend. “And comedians … they’re very, very competitive, you know, and someone always has a problem with somebody, but not Phil.”
Everyone but David Crosby Thought He Bombed as David Crosby
While he was on “Saturday Night Live,” Lovitz once portrayed David Crosby in a sketch back when the late musician was in the throes of drug addiction. In 1991, a newly sober Crosby asked the comedian to accept the MusicCares Person of the Year award on his behalf — so long as Jon did it as his Crosby character. “I’m playing it out of my skull …and afterward everyone’s like, ‘That was so disrespectful, how could you do that? He just won an award for being sober and you’re up there acting like he’s out of his gourd,’” Lovitz remarked of the unfortunate backlash.
Fortunately, at least one person in the audience was a fan of the performance — David Crosby. “’Jon, I loved it … I was crying laughing and everybody at my table was laughing their heads off,’” Lovitz recalled of David’s glowing review. “Everyone else in the room was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this guy’s doing this.’”
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