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Emily Litella

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Emily Litella
Saturday Night Live character
two women smiling and looking off-camera
Radner (right) dressed as Emily Litella with Raquel Welch during a 1976 SNL rehearsal
First appearancesegment "Looks At Books"
November 15, 1975
Created byGilda Radner
Portrayed byGilda Radner
In-universe information
Based onReal-life person:
Elizabeth "Dibby" Clementine Gillies

Emily Litella is a fictional character created and performed by comedian Gilda Radner in a series of appearances on Saturday Night Live.[1] Based on a person in her early life, Emily Litella was 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 between November 15, 1975 (Season 1) and December 17, 1977 (Season 3).[2][3] Attired in a frumpy dress, sweater and Lisa Loopner eyeglasses, 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. 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 peer through her reading glasses and, in the character's high-pitched, warbly voice, would read a prepared statement in opposition to an editorial that the TV station had supposedly broadcast. Litella would become increasingly agitated as her statement progressed. Midway in her commentary, it became apparent to the anchor and the audience that Litella had misheard 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 something like, "Oh, that's very different," then meekly turn to the camera and say, smiling, "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]


Overview of Emily Litella appearances
Air date Litella malapropism Actual phrase
December 13, 1975 Busting schoolchildren Bussing schoolchildren[7][8]
December 20, 1975 Firing the handicapped Hiring the handicapped[2][9]
January 24, 1976 Saving Soviet jewelry Saving Soviet Jewry[10][11][12]
January 31, 1976 Eagle Rights Amendment Equal Rights Amendment[7]
February 14, 1976 Canker research Cancer research
February 28, 1976 Deaf penalty Death penalty
March 13, 1976 Conserving natural racehorses Conserving natural resources[13]
April 17, 1976 Presidential erections Presidential elections[14]
May 8, 1976 Violins on television Violence on television[13]
May 29, 1976 Flop story Top story
September 18, 1976 Crustacean hijackers Croatian hijackers[15]
December 11, 1976 Unisex donations UNICEF donations
January 15, 1977 Making Puerto Rico a steak Making Puerto Rico a state[16][17]
January 22, 1977 Burning tissues Burning issues
Transcendental medication Transcendental meditation
Maguda triangle Bermuda Triangle
Air fags in cars Airbags in cars
(unspecified vulgarity) Duck
Flea elections in China / Flea erections Free Elections in China
February 20, 1977 Liverboats Riverboats[7]
March 12, 1977 Endangered feces Endangered species[5]
April 9, 1977 "(You Make Me Feel Like) a National Woman" "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman"
April 23, 1977 Air solution Air pollution
"I Will Swallow Him" "I Will Follow Him"
May 14, 1977 Jeep beep
May 21, 1977 Stella Abzug Bella Abzug
Cat in the ring Hat in the ring
December 17, 1977 Mr. Adenoid Mr. Aykroyd
Jan / Miss Clayton Jane Curtin
sst SST
February 10, 1979 Porky and Bess Porgy and Bess
Rodeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet


Radner based Litella on her childhood nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, known as "Dibby", who was allegedly hard of hearing.[18][19] The running gag "Never mind" became a lighthearted catchphrase of the era.[20][21]

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 but one of the subsequent SNL appearances by Litella were at the newsdesk, and featured the by-now much more familiar "editorial reply" iteration of the character. In the eleventh episode of season four, on February 10, 1979, with guest hostess Cicely Tyson, the final comedy sketch was called "Emily Litellavision", and featured Litella hosting a staging of a song from Porky and Bess, her Porky Pig–based mis-hearing of Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, with Garrett Morris singing a song to Tyson with added stuttering, and the orchestra shown wearing pig masks.

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 35, and became a recurring character.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barone, Michael (September 28, 2005). "At NASA, an Emily Litella Moment". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  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. ^ a b c "Amusing Monday: Recalling SNL's Emily Litella | Watching Our Water Ways". 11 January 2010.
  8. ^ "Watch Saturday Night Live Highlight: Weekend Update: Emily Litella on Busting School Children - NBC.com".
  9. ^ "SNL Transcripts: Candice Bergen: 12/20/75 - SNL Transcripts Tonight". 8 October 2018.
  10. ^ Shales, Tom (22 May 1989). "The Afterglow of Gilda Radner; The Nutty but Nice Graduate of Saturday Night". The Washington Post. B01.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. ^ "Soviet Jewelry".
  12. ^ "SNL Transcripts: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore: 01/24/76: Weekend Update with Chevy Chase - SNL Transcripts Tonight". 8 October 2018.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Watch Saturday Night Live Highlight: Weekend Update 9-18-76, Part 2 of 2 - NBC.com".
  16. ^ Malloy, Merrit (August 30, 1990). The Quotable Quote Book. New York, NY: Carol Publishing Group. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-8065-1220-4.
  17. ^ Saltzman, David A. (March 2008). "Never Mind". Life Insurance Selling. 83 (3): 112–114. OCLC 2906328.
  18. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (1998). The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: 1986-1990. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 718. ISBN 0684804913. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  19. ^ Radner, Gilda (June 2, 2015). It's Always Something. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1501126635. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  20. ^ Robinson, Marc (2002). Brought to You in Living Color. Wiley. p. 134. ISBN 9780471090168. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  21. ^ 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. ISBN 9780393074093. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  22. ^ Busis, Hillary (December 7, 2014). "Saturday Night Live recap: 'James Franco and Nicki Minaj'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2016-09-04.

External links[edit]