I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Phil Hartman, and frankly I don’t care to. He finally got his star on the Walk of Fame this week (Nealon and Lovitz were there, bless their graying, aging hearts), and Grantland just published a wonderful analysis of his comedic legacy. You have to read every word of it, right now.
From the toy box containing Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer, Bill Clinton, and The Simpsons’ Troy McClure, it’s possible to extract and describe the classic Phil Hartman character. It’s close enough to the actual Hartman that we might call this fellow “Hartman,” with quotes.
“Hartman” was an authority figure in love with his own sonorous voice. “Like 60 years in the business of being an announcer,” said his SNL costar Kevin Nealon.
When “Hartman” spoke, it was in a language of lies. Keyrock the Caveman jived his way through a closing statement; Clinton emoted feel-your-pain liberalism; for McClure, it was the golden patter of the announcer reading a bogus script.
“Hartman” affected a common touch: I’m just a caveman … As Steve Lookner, who joined SNL’s writing staff in 1993, put it, “It’s taking it to the limit of how cocky you can be and still fool people into thinking you’re simple.”
Chase that with his actively perfect SNL audition tape:
I cannot find his Unfrozen Caveman Sketch anywhere, presumably because the long arm of Lorne Michaels reaches into the furthest recesses of the Internet, so this clip of him on Letterman in 1994 will have to do:
And, as always, familiarize yourself with the cane episode of Newsradio, a perfect 22 minutes of television.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.