Saturday Night Live/The Bees
The Bees are a recurring gag which appeared throughout the first season of Saturday Night Live. Originally intended as a one-off gag, negative reaction from network NBC to an otherwise harmless, forgettable provoked producer Lorne Michaels to keep the bee costumes coming back again and again in defiance. They became a popular recurring gag, and the Bees sketches are perhaps most significant for featuring the first appearance of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd performing as a blues duo, the genesis of the Blues Brothers.
It started as a goofy idea that wouldn't last long. In the first episode of Saturday Night Live, one sketch, entitled "Bee Hospital," featured expectant bee fathers buzzing around a hospital waiting room to find out if they'd had a drone, a worker or a queen. One quick punchline, and the Bees would be over.
But this was early SNL, and network NBC and producer Lorne Michaels were constantly fighting over the show. The network had already expressed bewilderment over everything from host George Carlin's wardrobe to the show's drug jokes, and the episode had not even aired yet. When network executives saw the sketch "Bees Hospital," it was perhaps another power play which caused them to tell Michaels to "Cut the bees." The network's meddling raised Michaels' ire, and he used the incident as an opportunity to send a clear, strong message as to whose show this was and who was in charge.
The second episode was to be an almost all-music episode. The cast had almost no screentime, but in their one brief appearance, Michaels made sure they were in bee costumes. To further thumb his nose at the networks, he repeated the gag for the third episode. And so on. Before long, it became a running joke.
Except for the costume, very little links the various appearances of the Bees. Puns—both verbal and visual—are common in these sketches. However, depending on the circumstance, the Bees may be portrayed as cast members playing themselves but in costume, human characters dressed as bees or actual overgrown bees. The costume appears in monologues, musical performances and blackout sketches. Segments featuring the Muppets even imply the Bees are a sort of second cast with a life apart from the actors.
By the end of the first season, the joke had run its course. They appeared only rarely after the first season, and thus remain a trademark of the show's earliest days.
- 1x01 - George Carlin/Billy Preston, Janis Ian: "Bee Hospital." (Bees: Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, George Coe.) Bee fathers wait outside the maternity ward of the hospital.
- 1x02 - Paul Simon/Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow: "Cut Sketch." (Bees: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner.) Host Paul Simon informs the Bees their sketch has been cut.
- 1x03 - Rob Reiner: "Restaurant Sketch." (Bees: John Belushi, Laraine Newman, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Michael O'Donoghue, Gilda Radner.) Host Rob Reiner tries to do a serious scene but is angry when it is interrupted by the Bees. Bee Belushi puts Reiner in his place and reminds him they're just working with what they've got.
- 1x04 - Candice Bergen/Esther Phillips: "Candice Bergen's Monologue." (Bee: John Belushi.) A bee flies on host Candice Bergen's hand while she does her monologue, and Chevy Chase tries to shoo it away. "Alas, Poor Yurick." (Bee: Candice Bergen.) Bergen herself wears a bee costume as she does the live Polaroid commercial.
- 1x05 - Robert Klein/ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III: "Bee Centennial Minute." (Bee: Garrett Morris.) A bee tells a story of a bee who had a brush with greatness in America in 1776.
- 1x06 - Lily Tomlin/Howard Shore and His All Nurse Band: "Bee Scat." (Bees: Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase.) The bees sing "bee-bop" with host Lily Tomlin.
- 1x08 - Candice Bergen/Martha Reeves, The Stylistics: "Bee Capades." (Bees: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner.) Host Candice Bergen skates with the Bees at the Rockefeller Plaza Skating Rink.
- 1x09 - Elliott Gould/Anne Murray: "Killer Bees." (Bees: John Belushi, Elliott Gould, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd.) Diego is leader of a band of dangerous bees from south of the border who come in search of pollen. The sketch falls apart when director Dave Wilson gets drunk.
- 1x10 - Buck Henry/Bill Withers, Toni Basil: "Killer Bee." (Bees: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Howard Shore and His All Bees Band.) The Blues Bees perform a song.
- 1x11 - Peter Cook, Dudley Moore/Neil Sedaka: "Gilda and Scred." (Bee: Scred.) Scred learns his part in a Bees sketch has been cut.
- 1x13 - Peter Boyle/Al Jarreau: "All-Pro Wrestling." (Bees: John Belushi, Peter Boyle.) The Bees are tag team professional wrestlers who take on "the WASPs."