The 1981 Punk Rock Halloween Riot on SNL

Originally published at: The 1981 Punk Rock Halloween Riot on SNL | Boing Boing


At least they were sober.


Lorne Michaels:

I Dont Arrested Development GIF


If you knowingly invite a group of punk rockers into your studio and aren’t prepared for utter mayhem… well you’re fooling yourself.

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I didn’t see this episode when it originally aired, but I saw it around 1990 (in the one hour edit.) Does anyone else remember seeing it around that time and can remember what channel?

I ask because other articles have claimed that this episode wasn’t aired again for a much longer period, and I’m positive I saw it on cable (not VHS) at a certain age.

I remember thinking that the band member in a dress, who at one point tells the crowd “I’ll give you a dollar if you’ll be my friend,” was Crispin Glover. (It was not.)


Did they have to import 15 punks from DC because they couldn’t find 15 punks in NYC in 1981?


I’ve heard a few stories about this over the years but never saw the footage. I’m glad FEAR chose to play “NY’s All Right…” I mean, what else, right?

the question that remains unanswered is why was it important for Michaels and Belushi to import punks from DC? NY had plenty of punks already. presumably more punks per capita than anywhere in the US except maybe LA. I mean, I’m glad they did if only because it meant MacKaye could shout "NY SUCKS!"into a mic, but what was Belushi’s reasoning? (because presumably Michaels got talked into it from him just like everything else.) I guess just to have his DC buddies there?

edit: ninja’d


SNL has always aired on NBC, so it would have been there. They also buried the Sinead ripping up the picture of the pope (in reruns they aired the version she did in rehearsals) and Elvis Costello singing Radio Radio.

I believe it was Fear who invited them.


Nope, I’m positive that the show has re-run on cable. Maybe they haven’t done that in years, but they did in the past. Either on Comedy Central or E!, I think, maybe both or other channels as well.


The impression I got from the video was that Lorne knew people in the DC scene and thus could get them to come, that’s all. It sounds like it all happened on short notice, so just walking around NYC shouting “Hear Ye Punks!” isn’t going to work and there wasn’t time to hand out flyers at the next local hard core show.

It sounds like the real mystery is, where did all the local ones come from? That sounds like a case of word getting around quickly and unexpectedly.


I had parties around that time at which a bunch of punks would show up uninvited. Word got around, even without a personal communicator in everyone’s pocket.


I dated a punk girl from NYC in the mid-80s, and yeah, that seems weird unless you’d met NYC punks. If they had been invited, or even informed of the event, the damage would probably have been much worse, possibly beyond the capacity of the studio, or even the cops, to contain. Most were nice people with an interesting aesthetic sense and a taste for a certain music style. Not many of them were PCP-crazed heavy laborers who thought an evening without someone’s nose ending up broken was an evening wasted, but it really only takes one.


TLDR: Belushi was trying to make good to a friend.

Via this site here:

At the time, Belushi was at work on his comedy Neighbors with Dan Aykroyd and contracted the band to record a song for the film (his last before his death in 1982).

The film’s producers, Rolling Stone writes, “were appalled” by the song “and refused to use it,” so to make it up to Ving and company, Belushi pushed to have the band booked on Saturday Night Live on Halloween, 1981.


Did Lorne Michaels actually have anything to do with this? He wasn’t producing SNL in 1981. Perhaps they were thinking about Michael O’Donoghue; this sounds more like his type of chaos.


Very good point, this was during the Dick Ebersol era.


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