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Paul Mooney helped make SNL a cultural phenomenon by writing its legendary Richard Pryor-Chevy Chase "Word Association" sketch

  • It was Mooney, who died Wednesday at age 79, who wrote the iconic "Word Association" sketch in which Pryor reacts to Chase saying the N-word with "dead honkey" that aired on Saturday Night Live two months after the show's debut in 1975. "The fledgling series was in need of a ratings boost, and Lorne Michaels — co-creator and producer — was determined to book a guest host he knew could garner viewers: comedian Richard Pryor," says The Washington Post's Bethonie Butler. "Pryor was at the height of his breakout, on the heels of his Grammy-winning 1974 comedy album and an Emmy win for his work (alongside Michaels and others) on Tomlin’s eponymous 1973 TV special. He agreed to host the show on a few conditions, including one nonnegotiable demand: Paul Mooney, his writing partner of several years, was coming with him. Mooney’s presence in the writers room proved integral to the episode’s success, though his contributions have largely been relegated to footnotes over the years. To some extent, his brief but indelible work on what became Saturday Night Live mirrors the legacy that Mooney — who died Wednesday at 79 — built as an influential but often underappreciated comedian." After Pryor's death in 2005, Lorne Michaels told The New York Times that the "Word Association" sketch "defined us. It put us on the map."

    TOPICS: Paul Mooney, NBC, Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase, Richard Pryor