Check out the credits for Hot Tub Time Machine and you’ll find an entry for a comedy god, a man who has been tickling our funny bones since the 70s and whose very presence in a film still raises a smile.
We are, of course, talking about Chevy Chase – appearing in Hot Tub Time Machine as ‘Repair Man’ – and while this is obviously only a cameo, we already can’t wait to see him do his shtick. If you’ve seen the trailers for the movie you’ll have spotted a blink-and-you’ll-miss it appearance by Chase as said repair man and it fits in perfectly with the ethos of the film that Chase should be roped in for service here. After all, does any comedian scream 80s quite like Chevy Chase?
Chase’s career really took off in the mid-Seventies during his time on American institution Saturday Night Live. Both writing and appearing on the show, Chase’s time during those first two seasons of the show made him a household name across the pond with his trademark physical comedy leading to him to become SNL‘s first breakout act. When New York magazine declared Chase as being ‘The funniest man in America’, it was clear that here was a star in the making.
Chase would return to SNL occasionally over the years but it was to the big screen that he would look towards to make his name and throughout the 80s Chase became synonymous with comedy success. Ironically, his first big hit would see him alongside the man who replaced him on Saturday Night Live, one Bill Murray.
Caddyshack is a strange film. Playing on the physical comedy that is so revered over in the States, Harold Ramis’ film, based around a golf club, saw Chase star as Ty Webb, a cocksure playboy golfer who, in truth, Chase could play in his sleep.
Part of Chase’s charm lies in the fact that he was a very good looking chap back then and someone who could pull off more subtle comedic turns among the pratfalls. Caddyshack will obviously always be most fondly remembered for Murray’s crazed performance and that gopher, but Chase holds his own in a strong outing with his deadpan delivery doing wonders for his lines.
Here are a few pearls of wisdom from Ty Webb:
Another couple of moderate hits passed by over the following years including Modern Problems in which Chase played air traffic controller Max Fielder, affected by nuclear waste. It’s a rather silly little film and doesn’t really take full advantage of his talents. But then, one movie was on the radar which would change things forever.
National Lampoon’s Vacation saw Chase team up once more with Harold Ramis for what is arguably both men’s finest hour.
The first in a long, sketchy series, the original Vacation back in 1983 marked a watershed moment in Chase’s career. This was the ideal platform for him to showcase all his comedic knowledge and blend a downbeaten everyman with the sort of physical humour that was making a welcome comeback thanks to the success of other films like Airplane!
This tale of the Griswalds, with Chase playing family head Clark, tapped in to everything that’s unique about this style of American comedy. Big laughs come thick and fast and mixing grossout humour with lighter moments of family insight proved to be a winning combination.
Favourite moments? Hard to say, given that there are so many to choose from. An exasperated Clark ranting to his family that they are all f*cked in the head is a definite highlight (‘Don’t Touch!’) as is the moment where poor, deceased Aunt Edna is strapped to the roof of the car. But for me, having a dog tied to a bumper is comedy gold. Chase plays it dead straight until he has to show empathy with the policeman.
And then, there’s Edna’s reaction. Movie gold:
The Vacation sequels get an unfair deal in my eyes. Sure, Vegas Vacation is poor, but 1985’s European Vacation and 1989’s Christmas Vacation both deliver enough laughs to warrant favourable comparison alongside the original.
Christmas Vacation, in particular, holds a place in my heart, partly because it was the first Vacation I saw and partly because, when it delivers laughs, it delivers big.
Take the Christmas dinner scene. Clark is at the end of his tether with his extended family. The Christmas lights were a disaster and nothing he has done has gone as planned. Then, the turkey collapses and the family is forced to save face by grinding their way through the meal.
Once again, Chase could have played this differently, but by acting it straight, the comedy comes from other people while he just sits back and lets things happen. It’s the mark of a true comedy hero who knows how to deliver laughs from the slightest of movements and phrasing:
Vacation movies aside, Chase starred in plenty of other big hits during the 80s, perhaps few as great as Fletch. Based on the novel of the same name, Chase plays investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher with all the confidence of an actor who realises his star is rising. A film full of fantastic monologues, Fletch gave Chase the opportunity to prove he had a wide comedic repertoire and it’s an opportunity he grabs with both hands.
Of all Chase’s films, you could argue that Fletch has the strongest plot, delivering drama alongside the laughter. That said, it’s scenes like this that stand out. Moon River!
Fletch Lives was less successful, failing to really recapture the magic of the original, but there would be a couple of other 80s movies that would prove career stand-outs.
Spies Like Us, a spy parody set around the cold war, teamed up Chase with Dan Aykroyd, and director John Landis to bring broad comedy once more to the big screen. It’s a daft movie, almost revelling in its own stupidity at times and helped to cement Chase’s leading man qualities.
On the other hand, Three Amigos saw Chase sharing the screen with Steve Martin and Martin Short in Landis’ gloriously silly production. Any movie with characters called Dusty Bottoms, Lucky Day and Ned Nederlander is wearing its comic sensibilities firmly on its sleeve and it works to great effect.
Martin is as superb as ever but it’s the neat interplay between the three that lifts this above the ordinary, and this particular scene is classic Chase:
Chevy Chase’s career would take a slide throughout the 90s, although Memoirs Of An Invisible Man deserves more credit than is usually thrown its way.
It was undoubtedly the 80s that Chase will be remembered for, though, and rightly so. Few comedic actors are thought of so fondly and while he’s been relegated to cameo roles nowadays, whether it’s in films or TV shows like Chuck, he still cracks us up.
So, here’s to Chevy Chase, a one-man comedic force of nature.
Hot Tub Time Machine is released in the UK on 7th May.