In 1984, when Saturday Night Live’s producers asked the members of the mock group Spinal Tap to join the show, Michael McKean was the only one who said no. ”I had just bought a house in L.A., and I didn’t feel like moving,” McKean recalls. It may have been a wise decision-neither Christopher Guest nor Harry Shearer lasted more than a season. Nearly a decade later, after working with McKean on last year’s Coneheads movie, SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels gave him a second shot. Months of wooing ensued before McKean said yes. ”I’m 46 years old, and I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before,” he says. ”And hang gliding was out, so SNL was in.”
Having played everything from a dorky ’50s greaser (Lenny on Laverne and Shirley) to a greasy ’90s millionaire (Gibby on Dream On), McKean seems the natural replacement for the sagging SNL’s soon-to-depart Master of Versatility, Phil Hartman. But McKean doesn’t like the comparison: ”I’d like to think that I could be that kind of swingman, but I’m certainly not going to fill anybody’s shoes.”
Unlike Hartman, McKean won’t be doing a lot of impressions on SNL. ”I only do about four or five, and some (people) have died since I started doing them,” he admits. ”I can’t do Vincent Price anymore. I do Spalding Gray. I don’t know if it’s a great impression of him or not. It’s certainly the only one I know of.”
McKean plans to keep up his busy career outside of SNL. He’ll still appear on Dream On; he just shot his first nude scene for the saucy HBO sitcom, an experience he describes as ”very liberating.” He has two new pseudo-bands-the Folksmen, and Little Tip Lohengren and the Tip-Top Boys-on tap with Guest and Shearer. And he has roles in two movies set at radio stations; he’ll play ”a major music-business whore” in Airheads (starring SNL’s Adam Sandler) and a bandleader in Radioland Murders.
Getting back to his TV roots, McKean reteamed with David L. Lander to revive Lenny and Squiggy for an NBC ’70s-nostalgia special last November. ”It was strange because I was so much older,” McKean says. ”But then I figured, unless he was killed in Vietnam or something, Lenny probably got older too.” And, like McKean, better.