That Time Noam Chomsky Was Almost on Saturday Night Live

Academia and pop culture inevitably collide, to varied results. More often than not, the academic process cultivates the best and the brightest who, incidentally, seem to be utterly culturally incompetent.

Bev Stohl, assistant to Noam Chomsky, recently recounted in her blog the story of a curious invitation to Professor Chomsky.

In the late 90s, Stohl received a call from an SNL producer for Chomsky to appear on the show. She quickly, and excitedly, phoned the Chomsky home to let him know.

Chomsky’s initial reaction to the offer was “Saturday Night Live? I think I’ve heard of it.” He went on to ask Stohl if he had to be there at a specific time, and it was possible to tape it elsewhere (he seemingly didn’t understand the “Saturday” or “Live” part of the title).

Stohl writes on her blog,

One day in the late 90’s, one of the producers of SNL called our office.  Some of the show’s writers had written a loose script for Noam.  The only thing he needed to do was show up on the set and play it straight, answering the questions that were put to him.  Sort of like, “I’m Noam Chomsky, and I play myself on TV.”  I was excited about this for many reasons, but mostly I liked the idea of Noam appearing in mainstream media, something that was just beginning to happen in small ways in the 1990’s.

Noam wasn’t at the office when they called, so I called his home, and he picked up. I tried to keep myself calm, but I had a personal interest in wanting him to agree. I wanted my friends, family, and the rest of the country to see my boss appear on, and possibly host – had they said he would host? – this brilliantly funny iconic show.

“Hi, Noam, it’s Bev.” Breathe…breathe…slow…down” I said to myself.  “I just got a call from a producer of Saturday Night Live.  The writers have prepared a script specifically for you, and they’re hoping you’ll travel to New York next weekend to play yourself on the program.”

…“Saturday Night Live?” he asked.  “I think I’ve heard of it.  I might have watched it with the kids when they were younger. Uh, just a minute, let me talk to Carol.”

Noam yelled downstairs to his wife. “Caroooool!  It’s Bev….  Bev!  She’s asking if I can be on Sat Night Live.”  Pause.   “It’s in New York.  I said New York!  What?  What?” Pause. “Ok, just a minute.”

“Bev, what would I have to do on the show?  Would I have to prepare anything?”

“No, you would just have to show up and play yourself – play it straight.  Their script will play around you.  I believe they will also have you on the news section.”

“Ok, just a minute, let me talk with Carol.  Caarroooool!…”

After a brief exchange with Carol, Chomsky’s wife, he informed Stohl that “Carol says no,” and posterity was robbed of either the greatest SNL skit ever or, more likely, another terribly unfunny segment from a show that stopped entertaining 30 years ago.

Read the full story on Stohl’s blog.