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Jon Lovitz on SNL, Friends, and a Casting Call with Al Franken

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Many Saturday Night Live cast members have said that they always dreamed of being on the show someday. Not Jon Lovitz.

"It never crossed my mind, honestly," he says. This includes his time spent in the famous Groundlings in the early 1980s. "I never went to the Groundlings thinking, 'This will help get me on Saturday Night Live.'"

He knew original cast member Lorraine Newman had been selected because of her work in the improv group, but Lovitz still wasn't making the connection. After a successful appearance with the Groundlings on The Tonight Show, where he did his now famous liar character Tommy Flanagan, he got an agent who immediately set about trying get SNL's attention.

"At the same time, Lorne Michaels was coming back to Saturday Night Live as producer, and he was looking for a new cast," he says. "They were looking at people in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York."

Lovitz was recommended by The Tonight Show folks, and went to New York to audition. Charles Grodin, with whom Lovitz had co-starred in the film The Last Resort, and Lorraine Newman, who had befriended him, also suggested Lovitz to Michaels. "I really give those two credit for helping me get the show," he notes.

After a rocky first performance for Michaels and the rest of the show's cast and writers, Lovitz returned to the NBC offices the following day and did an impromptu bit with Randy Quaid, who was already in the cast. "I looked at him twice," recalls Lovitz, "and it made Al Franken laugh so hard. It was just a reaction. I wasn't trying to be funny. Al later told me, 'You were everything we didn't want in one person, but you were funny.'"

It was while on Saturday Night Live that he gave some advice to the kid sister of his best friend, who would later go on to be in the cast of Friends. "David Kudrow is like my brother," he says. "I met Lisa when I was 11 and she was maybe five."

While Lovitz was in college, Lisa became interested in acting. "I started telling her about it, and she was just my friend David's little sister. I'd never really talked to her at any great length."

Lisa Kudrow went on to study biology at Vassar, but after graduating was still drawn to acting. "She came to New York when I was on Saturday Night Live," he says. "She said, 'I want to be an actress, what do I do?' I said, 'Go to the Groundlings Theater. I learned more there than anywhere. She really did it on her own, though. She worked hard for 10 years."

Of course, she wound up being cast as Phoebe Buffay on Friends. During that show's first season, Lovitz appeared as a guest star, playing a restaurant owner who gets stoned before arriving at Monica's apartment to interview her for a job. "It was because of [Lisa] and Courtney Cox," he says of being cast in that role. Lovitz had been in the 1988 film Mr. Destiny with Cox. "We became really good friends."

When Friends started, Kudrow and Cox called Lovitz. "They told me they were in this new sitcom and said, 'Would you come on and do a guest spot?'" The show wasn't yet a hit, but Lovitz watched an episode and liked it. "I thought about it, and thought it would be fun to do. I called David and asked him, 'Have you seen your sister's new show?' and he said no. I figured it would be fun for Lisa's parents to see us on TV together, so I did it."

When the episode was shot, everyone was very excited that Lovitz was on. "I guess I was the first famous guest star they had," he says. When the episode, "The One With The Stoned Guy," aired mid-season, the show was a hit. "They treated it like I did them a favor, but by the time it came out, they were doing me a favor," he laughs.

IF YOU GO:

Jon Lovitz Rick Bronson's House of Comedy 408 East Broadway, Mall of America, Bloomington 18+; 21+ later shows $32.95 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. For tickets, call 952-858-8558 or visit houseofcomedy.net