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Why Is It So Hard to Root for Chevy Chase?

April 3, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, all-seeing gossip site TMZ somehow acquired and subsequently posted a voicemail message from comedian and Community ensemble player Chevy Chase to the sitcom’s showrunner Dan Harmon in which he blasted Harmon as a “goddamn bad writer,” telling him his writing is “getting worse and worse,” and that he couldn’t wait for the overweight Harmon to die. And those were the nicer sentiments.

Allegedly, the voicemail came as a byproduct of a feud between Chase and Harmon which had recently boiled to a head during a Community wrap party, whereupon Harmon is said to have led the crowd in a chant of “F*ck Chevy” after the actor had asked for a rewrite of the scene and possibly walked off-set. Chase’s wife and daughter were in attendance and it’s presumed that the embarrassment in front of his peers and family were what led the actor to leave the scathing message.

The rant all seemed very Chevy-like, admittedly. But then two hours later TMZ posted a follow-up to the story in which several Community staff and crew members came to Chase’s defense, telling the site that what Harmon did to him was “f*cked up” and that the Community family was rather upset with Harmon for blowing an on-set disagreement out of proportion with the writer grabbing the mic and “unloading” upon Chase.

While it’s entirely possible that Harmon was in the wrong at the wrap party in question (and let’s face it, getting on a microphone and leading a chant like that is a little childish), it’s hard to side with Chase because Chevy Chase seems to go to such lengths to be so unlikeable. After all, this is a guy who slammed his own TV show recently in the pages of The Huffington Post by saying that its happy endings were like “being relegated to Hell” and who was sarcastically stung by well-documented good-guy co-star Joel McHale as being great, but “if he read the scripts it would be greater.” Given a passing glance, it would be easy to side instinctively with Harmon — all we really know about him is that he’s the mind behind Community, which we all love — and write off Chase as being gruff and standoffish again. But with the members of the cast and crew coming to the ex-SNL’ers defense, maybe it’s not just Chase’s fault.

All of this begs the question: “Why is it so hard to root for Chevy Chase?” Comedy fans are, it could be argued, among the most forgiving and supportive of all genres of entertainment — who’s not rooting for the Arrested Development return, a new Ghostbusters sequel or consistently blissed-out when Bob Odenkirk shows up in anything? — but Chase has never seemed to have been the recipient of any of that comedy nerd forgiveness and love. That’s odd, because Chase helped put Saturday Night Live on the map (he was also the first to jump ship) and has gained a spot in the pantheon of humor in films like Caddyshack, Fletch and the Vacation films. He’s certainly got the chops and credentials. Chevy Chase is a very, very  funny guy. And surely there have been other comics as legendarily mean and awful who’re still beloved in the public arena.

Maybe it’s because Chase has never particularly gone out of his way to get — and keep — the public on his side. Tom Shales’ interview-based tell-all Live From New York almost unamously painted Chase as unlikeable, detailing stories of Chase fistfighting with his SNL replacement Bill Murray, suggesting that openly gay Terry Sweeney play a character who has AIDS and returning as host in the nineties only to make endless, rude comments to female cast members. And anyone who saw his Comedy Central Roast can attest that the jokes therein were even a little meaner than the normal “extremely mean” level for which the Friars’ Club is known. It would certainly seem that Chevy Chase isn’t a beloved actor among his peers.

That’s really a shame, because statistically — and by that, I mean taking his past accomplishments into account — Chase should still be enjoying a hefty amount of fan love today. The rumors of his unpleasantness just seem to be too far-reaching and permeative. Community was and is a great vehicle for Chase — an NBC show with the support of a Thursday night slot, a quick and clever ensemble cast to play with. Just by playing his cards right, he could have slowly slipped back into the public’s comedic consciousness and found his footing again. It’s a great opportunity for redemption. Instead, we once again see — whether it’s his fault or not — stories of “difficult Chevy” and the same self-embarrassing insults to co-workers of which we’ve always heard rumblings. If you believe the rumor mill, Harmon is constantly on the fence of  bringing Chevy back each season, and Chase himself doesn’t seem to care if he comes back or not. Whether you think Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne is worthy of remaining on the show or not, it doesn’t do any good for this ugly feud to go on — Community’s a goodhearted show that’s really working hard, with a lot of very likeable comic actors. And its stability at NBC is tenuous at best right now, given a recent “forced” hiatus by the network.  At the end of the day, it would be a shame if Chevy Chase’s reputation and a highly publicized beef with the possibly vindictive Harmon is the yanked lynchpin which brings things crashing down. The show doesn’t deserve that. So, maybe, Chevy doesn’t deserve a gift horse like Community either.

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