"When you become famous, you've got like a year or two where you act like a real asshole," Bill Murray told Tom Shales and James Miller when they interviewed him for Live from New York, their oral history of Saturday Night Live. "You can't help yourself. It happens to everybody. You've got like two years to pull it together — or it's permanent." He was talking, of course, about Chevy Chase, his opponent in a famous backstage fistfight. The two are friendly now, and it seems as though Murray wanted to imply that Chase had "pulled himself together" following his sudden rise to fame.
But by most accounts, Chevy Chase's assholedom was permanent.
The history of Chevy Chase being a jerk is long and varied, and from what I've heard Chevy is hard at work creating new legends of his own dickishness as the old stories become more widely known. I heard a recent story about Chevy unloading on a nervous intern who spilled a small amount of Coca-Cola in front of Chase and SNL creator Lorne Michaels. "Why don't you just piss in it?" he snarled.
But you don't even need to hunt down anecdotes of Chevy screaming at interns: between the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Saturday Night Live, his weirdly public ongoing spats with actors and writers on Community, and the unbelievably dickish and petty interviews he's given over the years, there's plenty of evidence that Chevy Chase is an asshole. Here's a working timeline. If you've got any Chevy Chase stories, send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who He Pissed Off: John Belushi, Al Franken, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, and basically the whole cast and writing staff of Saturday Night Live
How: According to Jeff Weingrad and Doug Hill's Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, Chevy was known as "a viciously effective put-down artist, the sort who could find the one thing somebody was sensitive about — a pimple on the nose, perhaps — and then kid about it, mercilessly." In meetings, he'd smirk at writers' suggestions and say "gee, I don't think that's very good at all." As the show, and in particular Chevy, took off, his coworkers accused him of not giving them enough credit in interviews; he was also doing too much coke and spending much of his time bragging about his fame and ordering people around the set.
Who He Pissed Off: Johnny Carson
How: Carson once said Chevy "couldn't ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner" after Chevy dismissed chatter that he could be the next Carson by telling New York, "I'd never be tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities." (In fairness, he never was.)
Who He Pissed Off: Lorne Michaels
How: Lorne and Chevy were close friends, until Chevy, without warning, decided to leave the show at the end of his contract and do a handful of primetime specials for NBC, severing his relationship with Bernie Brillstein, the manager he shared with Lorne, and signing with William Morris in the process. "Chevy was a scumbag the way he left," one of the writers told Weingrad and Hill. "Deceitful and dishonest about the whole thing." When staff writer Tom Davis asked why he was leaving, Chevy said "Money. Lots of money."
Who He Pissed Off: Jacqueline Carlin
How: Carlin, whom Chevy married right after he left the show, filed for divorce 17 months later, citing "threats of violence." He then cited his engagement and impending marriage to Carlin as a reason for leaving Saturday Night Live — a "blame the bitch" strategy, according to one of the women on the show.
Who He Pissed Off: Jane Curtin
How: When Chevy returned to host the show for the first time after his departure, he insisted on doing the "Weekend Update" segment that had been his trademark. According to some accounts, including Chevy's, this pissed Jane off; in Live from New York, Jane insists that she didn't really care, and that "Chevy was expecting [a reaction] that he wasn't getting from me."
Who He Pissed Off: Bill Murray
How: According to Chevy, John Belushi had spent a lot of time poisoning the cast against him — in particular Bill Murray, who was more or less his replacement on the show. Bill apparently confronted Chevy about something (possibly the "Weekend Update" situation), the two traded barbs (Murray told Chase to go home and fuck his wife; Chase told Murray his face looked like something Neil Armstrong had landed on), and the confrontation turned physical. Chase's account of the fight in Live from New York is hilarious, both for being so self-serving and for his insistence that he — an upper-middle- class fourteenth-generation New Yorker — had "grown up on the edge of East Harlem" and "been in a lot of fistfights." "It wasn't as if I was simply some guy who had never seen the other side of the tracks," Chase, who went to Dalton and the Stockbridge school, said. "I had."
Who He Pissed Off: Terry Sweeney, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Lovitz and the cast of the 1985-1986 season
How: Chase was back to host again in 1985 and seemed to piss off literally everyone. He made fun of Robert Downey Jr.'s father ("Didn't your father used to be a successful director? Whatever happened to him? Boy, he sure died, you know, he sure went to hell.") and was relentlessly hateful to Terry Sweeney, suggesting that SNL's first openly gay cast member star in a sketch where they weighed him every week to see if he had AIDS. "So then he ended up having to apologize and actually coming to my office," Sweeney says. "He was really furious that he had to apologize to me."
(As a coda to Chevy's SNL assholery, we'll note that he ran into Live from New York author James Miller a few years after the book's publication. Angry with his status in the book as a recurring villain, Chevy proceeded to prove everyone right by immediately going off on Miller. And one of the authors received a sobbing phone call from his wife Jayni.)
Who He Pissed Off: The entire television-viewing public.
How: Chevy returned to television in 1993 with a high-profile attempt by Fox to fill the void left by a retiring Johnny Carson. In a New York cover profile from before the show's premiere (highly recommended, if only for the parenthetical where Chase tries to blame the huge flop Nothing But Trouble on poor Dan Aykroyd) the show already feels doomed to fail — the only preview we get is a game Chevy wants to play with audience members involving putting rubber bands around their heads and "racing" by scrunching their faces — and within five weeks of its debut, it was canceled. He later told Time he wanted to do something "much darker and more improv," and blamed network constraints — and not his own clear nervousness and incompetence — for the show's failure
Who He Pissed Off: Will Ferrell and the cast of the 1996-1997 season
How: "When he was here," Tim Meadows says in Live from New York, "it was like just watching a car accident over and over again just watching him deal with people." According to Will Ferrell, Chase was "a little snobbish" and prone to screaming at people; at that show's first meeting he told a female writer "maybe you could give me a handjob later," reportedly mortifying Lorne. "I don't know if he was on something or what," Ferrell said. "If he took too many back pills that day or something."
Who He Pissed Off: Comedian Rob Huebel
How: Huebel, who describes himself as "the biggest Chevy Chase fan in the world," approached Chevy backstage at UCB Theater to introduce himself, only to have Chevy slap him across the face "offensively hard." It was done as a joke ("in good humor," Chase told New York magazine), but it clearly left an impression on Huebel and an onlooking Jason Mantzoukas.
Who He Pissed Off: Actually, no one.
How: The 2002 Friars Club Roast of Chevy Chase, one of those interminable things broadcast on Comedy Central, may be the only thing Chevy's been involved with professionally where he didn't end up pissing anyone off. And yet we have to mention it here, if only because it's maybe the best, and saddest evidence of how few friends Chevy has left. Almost no one from the original Saturday Night Live showed up (Paul Shaffer, a member of the band, MCed), and the comedians who did show weren't exactly close friends of Chase, and were unbelievably cruel. (Not to mention unfunny.) I caught this on TV at the time without really having a sense of how widely-hated Chevy was; by the end, there was literally no question that nobody liked him.
Who He Pissed Off: Dan Harmon
How: Show creator Harmon, himself reputedly a sensitive and vindictive prick, has been embroiled in a weirdly public feud with Chase almost since the start of the show, and it's not hard to see the uncomfortable parallels between Chevy himself and his character Pierce Hawthorne — an old, out-of-touch, self-aggrandizing bigot who alienates all of the people he works with. Their sniping turned into a full-on confrontation over the last week when Harmon, smarting from an on-set spat over a late script, gave a very public "fuck you" to Chase at a party in front of his wife and daughter and leaked a hilariously profane voicemail that Chevy had left for him. To be fair, Harmon's apologized, in a meandering Tumblr post: "I'm a selfish baby and a rude asshole and not a person to trust with your feelings." Meanwhile, a sort of poignant interview with the Huffington Post, Chase hints that he might leave the show soon, insisting that he wants a "much freer kind of performance thing" — which is more or less what he said about The Chevy Chase Show 20 years ago.
Who He Pissed Off: Dino Stamatopoulos and much of the Community cast.
How: Chevy "has a reputation for being a dick," Dino Stamatopoulos, who plays the character Star Burns, told Marc Maron on his podcast last year. "That reputation is earned." (Stamatopoulos nevertheless insists that he personally likes Chevy, and that all the actor needs "is a little respect," which he apparently doesn't get from the younger cast.)
Who He Pissed Off: Yvette Brown, Alison Brie, Megan Ganz and probably most of the show's female staff
How: No one has come out and said specifically that Chase is a problem, but there are hints: asked by the Daily Beast's Jace Lacob about an uncomfortable rape joke Chevy made at a panel appearance by the cast, castmembers Yvette Brown and Alison Brie and writer Megan Ganz were diplomatic but not particularly warm. "His bits are from a different time," Ganz says. "A lot of crass comedy is accepted," Brie offers. "Some people don't know how to word it the right way." Brown agrees that some people don't "know their room... Maybe he was from a time when women weren't empowered enough to speak up. I'm glad that we're in a time now where if you are offended or upset by something someone says, you feel empowered to say, 'That's not right.'" (Chase doesn't seem to be helping things by telling the Huffington Post that the only two relatable characters are "the two white girls — the two pretty, young girls, Alison [Brie] and Gillian [Jacobs]" who are "probably more like people that we can all understand.")
[updated 4/5 with Rob Huebel]
So maybe this isn't new news, but I hadn't heard of some of these and it's nice to read all theses stories in one place.