Another Groundling has made it to center stage.
Phil Hartman, an 11-year veteran of the Groundlings, the L.A.-based improvisational comedy troupe, will join the cast of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this season, producer Lorne Michaels announced Monday. The other new cast members are Dana Carvey, a stand-up comic and dramatic actor; comedienne Victoria Jackson, and actress Jan Hooks.
They will join returning "SNL" repertory players Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller, and stand-up comics A. Whitney Brown and Kevin Nealon, who will be featured players.
The Groundlings' name is a good-humored, self-deprecatory reference to the huddled masses who watched Elizabethan theater from the pit, where admission was cheap and seats non-existent. But the troupe has been very very good to "SNL" and vice versa.
Last year's standout player, Lovitz ("Yeah, that's the ticket"), is a former Groundling, as was Laraine Newman, one of "SNL's" original Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players starting in 1975. Hartman, however, is not a new name to Hollywood, as his predecessors were when they got their big breaks. He's become a much-in-demand screenwriter since co-writing "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" with longtime friend and former Groundling Herman, a.k.a. Paul Reubens. Hartman sold his first solo screenplay, "Mr. Fix-it," to MGM, and currently is co-writing a vehicle for Lovitz's "The Liar" character with Lovitz, Michaels and writer-performer Brown.
"We're feverishly trying to get the first draft finished while we're working on the show," Hartman said.
"The show"--"SNL"--could give his career a kick into a different orbit, one in which his face is as much in demand as his name on a script. "There's a lot of heat on me as a writer and we figured with the exposure I'll get on 'SNL' my acting will catch up with my writing in terms of salability,' Hartman said.
"I wanted to do 'SNL' because I wanted to get the exposure that would give me box-office credibility so I can write movies for myself," he continued. "For example, I wrote 'Mr. Fix-it' for myself, yet I realized I couldn't star in it." He'll be seen soon in three films, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which stars Whoopi Goldberg, "The Three Amigos," starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short, and as Bruce Willis' brother in "Blind Date." But none of those are starring roles.
Hartman hopes that situation will change beginning with the premiere of "SNL's" 12th season Oct. 11. A project starring Hartman and his Groundling character of Chick Hazard, private eye, originally planned for Off-Broadway, may now become Hartman's first starring movie role instead.
Hazard is Hartman's signature character, one he used to good advantage during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when the Groundlings' "Olympic Trials, a Chick Hazard Mystery" was the first of all Olympic-related local-theater events to sell out.
But Hartman isn't sure if he'll do the Hazard character on "SNL." At 38, "Saturday Night Live's" self-proclaimed "grandfather of comedy" (all other "SNL" players are in their 20s) will be "playing authority figures--doctors, lawyers."
"What I'm bringing to the cast is my versatility. I would say I'd be fitting the mold of what Dan Aykroyd and Randy Quaid did for the show.
"We have no idea how this show will be accepted, but confidence is high," he said. He points to the fact that Michaels, founding father of "SNL," this season is taking a hands-on role, billing himself as producer instead of executive producer. (Tom Davis and Al Franken were producers last season.)
When Hartman visited backstage last year, "there was rather a feeling of mayhem," he recalled. "This year we feel like there's a better shot at it. But of course, we're on the other side of being universally praised. . . . "