Published on July 1, 2016
Emily Litella was a fictional character played by comedian Gilda Radner in a series of appearances on Saturday Night Live. Based on a person in her early life, Emily Litella was a popular character in Radner’s comedy repertoire.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 an editorial that the TV station had supposedly broadcast. These sketches were, in part, a parody 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 penalty, Ms. Litella, not deaf … death.” Litella would wrinkle her nose, say, “Oh, that’s very different….” then meekly turn to the camera and say, “Never mind.” When Litella played against news anchor Chevy Chase (whom she often called “Cheddar Cheese”), he was somewhat sympathetic to her. But when Jane Curtin took over the anchor role, she scolded Litella, “Every week you come on and you get it wrong,” to which Litella replied, “Bitch!”
Other misheard topics to which Litella responded included “saving Soviet jewelry” [Jewry],”endangered feces” [species], “violins on television” [violence], “presidential erections” [elections], “conserving natural racehorses” [natural resources],”firing the handicapped” [hiring], 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!”