The Backstory Behind Saturday Night Live Paying Tribute To Richard Belzer

Munch in final Law & Order: SVU appearance
(Image credit: Peacock)

It’s been a week since Richard Belzer passed away with some classic final words, and in that time, it’s become obvious just what an incredible effect he had on so many people. Tributes from the stand-up comedy world have come from all corners, as many have praised how good he was on the mic and how sharp many of his jokes were. Others in the acting world, particularly those connected to Law & Order: SVU and Homicide, have also been loud in their praise for Belzer and talked of what a joy he was to work with. Last night, Belzer also got some flowers from Saturday Night Live, though some fans watching at home were confused about what the connection was since he was never part of the cast.

Well, Richard Belzer actually played an incredibly important role in SNL’s formative years. During the show’s first few years, the comedian was brought in to warm up the crowd before each live performance. He would do some stand-up immediately prior to the first sketch and get the audience in the mood to hopefully laugh as much as possible. In quite a few episodes in the early years, he would also appear as an extra or in bit roles in various sketches. In addition, he also filled in for Chevy Chase for an episode while the actor was in the hospital recovering from surgery.

Richard Belzer at a microphone in a tribute card from Saturday Night Live.

(Image credit: Saturday Night Live/ NBC)

Everyone talks about how talented the early cast members on Saturday Night Live were and rightfully so. That clearly played a part in the show’s success. Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris are all remembered so fondly and many went on to have a massive impact on the larger comedy scene for decades to come. But in addition to those cast members, the show also surrounded them with incredibly talented people.

Al Franken, Jim Downey and Michael O’Donoghue were among the extremely talented crop of early writers. Lorne Michaels, who created the show, went on to produce some of Hollywood’s most popular comedies. Throw in the hosts, Richard Belzer as the warm-up comedian and it’s just an embarrassment of talent. Even set designer Eugene Lee turned out to be a visionary in his field. He was nominated for almost 20 Emmys for SNL and many other projects. He recently passed away and was given his own very well-deserved title card last night too.

Eugene Lee working at a desk and looking at plans on SNL in a title card.

(Image credit: Saturday Night Live/ NBC)

Richard Belzer is a great example of how weird careers in show business can be. Sometimes people follow a very direct and obvious path to stardom, but more often than not, careers take twists and turns. All you can do is be as good as you can be at the job directly in front of you. And that’s exactly what Belzer did. He was a great stand-up comedian, which led to him getting the SNL warm-up job. He also did regular radio appearances and talk show appearances and toured the country as the opening act for musicians including Warren Zevon. He picked up acting roles, which led to bigger acting roles, which led to him being on television for decades, most often playing Detective John Munch across a variety of shows.

It’s terrific to see what a positive impact Belzer made on so many people, and it’s great to see Saturday Night Live paying tribute to an unsung hero who played a key role in the early years.  

Editor In Chief

Mack Rawden is the Editor-In-Chief of CinemaBlend. He first started working at the publication as a writer back in 2007 and has held various jobs at the site in the time since including Managing Editor, Pop Culture Editor and Staff Writer. He now splits his time between working on CinemaBlend’s user experience, helping to plan the site’s editorial direction and writing passionate articles about niche entertainment topics he’s into. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English (go Hoosiers!) and has been interviewed and quoted in a variety of publications including Digiday. Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.