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On This Day in 1977, Elvis Costello Got Banned From SNL

  • 43 years ago today, Elvis Costello got himself banned from Saturday Night Live.

    Costello had only recently released his debut album My Aim Is True, and he wasn't even the scheduled musical guest. If Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren hadn't botched getting his group their passports, Costello wouldn't have been there in the first place. So one might think he wasn't in a position to butt heads with Lorne Michaels, since this was a big chance at nationwide exposure in the United States in a time where there were still only three major networks and no internet.

    He did it anyway. Michaels and Costello's record label had agreed that he would perform his new single "Less Than Zero," but Costello argued that, since the song was about a specific British fascist named Oswald Mosely, it wouldn't be relevant to an American audience. They insisted with the typical "push the single" expectations, and Costello gave in.

    That is, until halfway through the first line of the song. He then waved for the band to stop, said "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here," and then launched into "Radio, Radio," a scathing rebuke of commercialized mass media. It was a live show. They couldn't do anything to stop him.

    Legend has it that Michaels was so angry that he spend the entire performance flipping Costello the bird from off-stage, and after that, he was banned from the show for 12 years.

    Eventually, though, everyone chilled out about it, realized it wasn't that big a deal, and Michaels invited him back as a musical guest in 1989. 

    Michaels even acquired sense of humor about it, which had become part of the show's lore. At the SNL 25th Anniversary Special in 1999, they did a callback to the incident where Costello rushed on stage while Beastie Boys were performing "Sabotage," gave the same apology to the audience, and they all started playing "Radio, Radio": 

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    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: Saturday Night Live, NBC, Elvis Costello