Emily Litella

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Emily Litella
Saturday Night Live character
two women smiling and looking off-camera
Radner dressed as Emily Litella with Raquel Welch during a 1976 SNL rehearsal
First appearance segment "Looks At Books"
Mid 70s
Created by Gilda Radner
Portrayed by Gilda Radner
Based on Real-life person:
Elizabeth "Dibby" Clementine Gillies

Emily Litella is a fictional character played by legendary comedian Gilda Radner in a series of appearances on Saturday Night Live.[1] Based on a person in her early life, Emily Litella is a popular character in Radner's comedy repertoire.


Emily Litella is an elderly woman with a hearing problem who appeared 26 times on SNL's Weekend Update op-ed segment in the late 1970s.[2][3] Attired in a frumpy dress, sweater and Lisa Loopner glasses, Litella was introduced with professional dignity by the news anchors, who could sometimes be seen cringing slightly in anticipation of the malapropisms they knew would follow.

Gilda Radner (as Litella) would peer through her reading glasses and, in the character's trademark high-pitched, warbly voice, would read a prepared statement in opposition to an editorial that the TV station had supposedly broadcast. These sketches were, in part, a parody of the Fairness Doctrine, which at the time required broadcasters in the United States to present opposing viewpoints on public issues. Litella would become increasingly agitated as her statement progressed. Midway in her commentary, it became apparent that she had misheard and/or misunderstood the subject of the editorial to which she was responding. A typical example:

What is all this fuss I hear about the Supreme Court decision on a "deaf" penalty? It's terrible! Deaf people have enough problems as it is![4]

The news anchor would interrupt Litella to point out her error, along the lines, "That's death penalty, Ms. Litella, not deaf ... death."[4] Litella would wrinkle her nose, say, "Oh, that's very different...." then meekly turn to the camera and say, "Never mind."[5] When Litella played against news anchor Chevy Chase (whom she often called "Cheddar Cheese"[6]), he would be somewhat sympathetic to her. But when Jane Curtin took over the anchor role, she would scold Litella, "Every week you come on and you get it wrong," to which Litella would reply, "Bitch!"[5]

Other misheard topics to which Litella responded included "saving Soviet jewelry" [Jewry],[7] "endangered feces" [species],[5] "sax and violins on television" [sex and violence],[8] "presidential erections" [elections],[9] "conserving natural racehorses" [natural resources],[8] "firing the handicapped" [hiring],[2] and "making Puerto Rico a steak" [state].[10] About the last of these topics, she complained, "Next thing you know, they'll want a baked potato with sour cream!"[11]


Radner based Litella on her childhood nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, known as "Dibby", who was allegedly hard of hearing.[12][13] The running gag "Never mind" became a lighthearted catchphrase of the era.[14][15]

In her first appearance on SNL, the character of Emily Litella was an author who appeared as an interview subject on a show called "Looks At Books". Though she had the same wavery voice and somewhat frumpy wardrobe as she would in later episodes, Litella did not appear to have a hearing problem in this appearance. All subsequent SNL appearances by Litella were at the newsdesk, and featured the by-now much more familiar "editorial reply" iteration of the character.

Outside of Saturday Night Live, Radner played the character briefly on The Muppet Show. At the top of that episode, Miss Litella is discovered backstage by stage manager Scooter, where she is vociferously complaining about the indignity of her appearing in something so silly as "The Muffin Show", whereupon Scooter gently persuades Miss Litella that she would be appearing on "The Muppet Show", not "The Muffin Show". After hearing this reassurance, she withdraws her objection, and meekly apologizes to Scooter by saying, "Never mind."

The character also appeared in Radner's 1979 one-woman off-Broadway show, Gilda Live, in which Litella took a job as a substitute teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant, replacing a teacher who had been a victim of a stabbing by one of his students, which put him in the hospital.

Miss Litella further cautioned her new students to be very careful where they put their toes, as the regular teacher's "stubbing" was the third such "stubbing", as Miss Litella put it, at the school that week alone; and that the "stubbings" must be pretty serious, in order to have put their teacher in hospital indefinitely.[citation needed]

A similar character, Anthony Crispino (played by Bobby Moynihan), made his first appearance on a Weekend Update in Season 37, and has become a recurring character.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barone, Michael (2005-09-28), "At NASA, an Emily Litella moment", U.S. News & World Report, archived from the original on 2008-07-06 
  2. ^ a b Fruchter, Rena (January 17, 2013). I'm Chevy Chase ... and You're Not. London: Random House. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-7535-2114-4. 
  3. ^ "Emily Litella, played by Gilda Radner". SNL Archive. Retrieved April 8, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Baskin, Edie (1977). Anne P. Beatts, ed. Saturday Night Live. John Head. Avon Books. ISBN 978-0-380-01801-7. 
  5. ^ a b c Shales, Tom; Miller, James Andrew (November 16, 2008). Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live. New York, NY: Little, Brown. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-316-04582-7. 
  6. ^ "Joey the dachshund: 'OK, OK, I get it. I'm short. Must you keep reminding me?'". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Bulletin Board. 8 November 2011. 
  7. ^ Shales, Tom (22 May 1989). "The Afterglow of Gilda Radner; The Nutty but Nice Graduate of Saturday Night". The Washington Post. B01. 
  8. ^ a b Sorensen, Roy A. (January 22, 2002). Pseudo-Problems: How Analytic Philosophy Gets Done. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-203-04868-9. 
  9. ^ Robinson, Peter M. (2010). The Dance of the Comedians: The People, the President, and the Performance of Political Standup Comedy in America. Amherst & Boston: Univ of Massachusetts Press. pp. 200–. ISBN 978-1-55849-785-6. 
  10. ^ Malloy, Merrit (August 30, 1990). The Quotable Quote Book. New York, NY: Carol Publishing Group. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-8065-1220-4. 
  11. ^ Saltzman, David A. (March 2008). "Never Mind". Life Insurance Selling. 83 (3): 112–114. OCLC 2906328. 
  12. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (1998). The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: 1986-1990. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 718. ISBN 0684804913. Retrieved 2016-09-04. 
  13. ^ Radner, Gilda (June 2, 2015). It's Always Something. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 1501126636. Retrieved 2016-09-04. 
  14. ^ Robinson, Marc (2002). Brought to You in Living Color. Wiley. p. 134. Retrieved 2016-09-04. 
  15. ^ Stein, Ellin (June 24, 2013). That's Not Funny, That's Sick: The National Lampoon and the Comedy Insurgents Who Captured the Mainstream. W. W. Norton. p. 298. Retrieved 2016-09-04. 
  16. ^ Busis, Hillary (December 7, 2014). "Saturday Night Live recap: 'James Franco and Nicki Minaj'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2016-09-04. 

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