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Emily Litella was a fictional character played by comedian Gilda Radner in a series of appearances on Saturday Night Live (SNL).

Contents

Premise

Emily Litella was an elderly woman with a hearing problem who made regular appearances on SNL's Weekend Update op-ed segment in the late 1970s. Attired in a frumpy dress and sweater, Litella was introduced with professional dignity by the news anchors, who could sometimes be seen cringing slightly in anticipation of the verbal faux pas they knew would follow.

Gilda Radner (as Litella) peered through her reading glasses and, in the character's trademark high-pitched, warbly voice, read a prepared statement in opposition to a fictitious editorial that the TV station had supposedly broadcast. This sketch was, in part, a spoof of the Fairness Doctrine, which at the time required broadcasters in the United States to present opposing viewpoints on public issues. Litella became 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!

The news anchor interrupted Litella to point out her error, along the lines, "That's death, Ms. Litella, not deaf ... death." Litella would wrinkle her nose, say something like, "Oh, that's very different ...", then meekly turn to camera and say, "Never mind." When Litella played against news anchor Chevy Chase (whom she called "Cheddar Cheese"), he was somewhat sympathetic to her. When Jane Curtin took over the anchor role, she would scold Litella on the air, to which Litella would reply, "I'm sorry. It won't happen again.... Bitch!"

Other misheard topics to which Litella responded were "saving Soviet jewelry [really Jewry]", "endangered feces [species]", "violins [violence] on television", "busting [busing] schoolchildren", "presidential erections [elections]", "flea [free] elections in China", "pouring money into canker [cancer] research", the "Eagle [Equal] Rights Amendment", "conserving our natural racehorses [natural resources]", "youth in Asia [euthanasia], "sax [sex] on television, and "making Puerto Rico a steak [state]". About the last of these topics, she complained, "Next thing you know, they'll want a baked potato with sour cream!"

The message on Litella's answering machine was, "Hello, this is Emily Litella. I'm not home right now, but I will call you back as soon as possible. Just leave your name, number and what time you called after you hear the sound of the Jeep."

History

Radner based Litella on her childhood nanny, Elizabeth Clementine Gillies, known as "Dibby," who was allegedly hard of hearing. The line "Never mind" became a lighthearted catchphrase of the era.

Outside of Saturday Night Live, Radner played the character briefly in episode 304 of The Muppet Show.

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'd been stabbed by one of his students, or "stubbed", as Litella put it.

See also

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