Tom Davis was one of the original writers on Saturday Night Live. He worked with the show for over 20 years, finally leaving in 2003. He passed away on Thursday from throat and neck cancer.
Davis is perhaps best known for being part of the writing tandem "Franken and Davis," or just "The Guys" as they became affectionately known around the Saturday Night Live studio in 1975 when Lorne Michaels plucked them from L.A. and moved them to New York to work on his new show. He had been friends with Franken since high school, and became known as Franken's frequent writing partner. Or, to borrow from another SNL character, his heterosexual life mate. Their work in the early days of SNL defined much of the political tone of the first five years.
Davis was one of the few early SNL writers who didn't pass through the Harvard Lampoon/National Lampoon farm system. Instead of following in Franken's Harvard footsteps when the two were going off to college, he chose his post-secondary education for a different reason:
After graduating, Mr. Franken headed for Harvard, while Mr. Davis chose the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., because, he said, he had heard that it had a foreign study program in India, where he hoped to smoke opium. (They did, and he did.)
Davis invented some of our personal favorite Saturday Night Live characters, including Christopher Walkin's "The Continental":
He had a hand inventing Irwin Mainway, one of Dan Ackroyd's most famous characters, a slimy huckster of dangerous children's toys:
He also helped with Steve Martin's Theodoric of York, a barber/surgeon who believes blood letting solves all problems:
Unfortunately, some of Davis's best work isn't available in embeddable video clip form. There's Bill Murray's famous "Nick the Lounge Singer," or Dan Ackroyd's famous Julia Child sketch. Neither exist on Hulu or Saturday Night Live's NBC.com page, which is extremely unfortunate. There's also a famous sketch of a drunk Richard Nixon talking to Presidential portraits that's not available as a clip, which is a crying shame. It's often featured in retrospective video packages, usually with the sketch's most famous line: "You! Kennedy. You looked so good all the time. They're gonna find out about you, too. The president! Having sex with women within these very walls. That never happened when Dick Nixon was in the White House! Never! Never! Never!" Or a sketch he and Franken appeared in together, "The Brain Dead Comedian," where Franken is a standup suffering from a head wound and can't remember any of his punchlines.
Aside from his brief time away from the show between 1979 and 1985, Davis wrote for SNL for twenty four years. You can watch almost any performer's Best Of special, and a Tom Davis sketch will play within the first five minutes. It's pretty well guaranteed. Davis was a legend, and he will be missed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.