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Q&A WITH CHEVY CHASE : 'I'm Generally Spontaneous on TV'

September 06, 1993|DANIEL CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

\o7 "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not."

Chase first used that signature line in 1975 to introduce himself as the "Weekend Update" news anchor on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," a series he quickly left to pursue a roller-coaster career in feature films.

Today, that line might be used to sum up Chase's take on his competition as the host of his own late-night talk show, premiering Tuesday at 11 p.m. on Fox.

Unlike Jay Leno and David Letterman, Chase has a broad background in music, acting, physical comedy and writing comedy sketches, which he plans to utilize fully on "The Chevy Chase Show." He even has a piano keyboard built into the desk he will sit behind to do his interviews.

But in the late-night race, Chase is the dark horse, a popular but untested commodity. To complicate matters, Chase has been largely vague on the details of his talk show--until now.

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Question: What have you learned about talk shows from your perspective as a guest on them?

Answer: The most fun I've had with hosts is when they're sharp-witted and have known how to lead me along. I've also found that it's no fun being the butt of the host's jokes. The only show I can think of where I was put in that position was this guy Barry Humphreys, who kept calling me, begging to have me on while he played this woman, Dame Edna. It's her job to make the fool of the Hollywood star. I just went along with it.

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Q: Why are you doing a talk show?

A: Well, it was really a question of having an opportunity to get back on television. To try and do just a comedy show filled with sketches would kill us. I mean, we would have to be rehearsing every morning, all day. You just can't do it. So it was my feeling that we could instill and infuse a talk show with my kind of comedy, and pre-taped and live comedy pieces, and still have interesting guests on.

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Q: You have completed a new film coming out in February, "Cops & Robbersons." What does this talk show mean to your movie career beyond that?

A: Obviously it puts it on hold for a while. It was a difficult decision in some ways, because I love making movies. But on the other hand, I've had a yearning the last several years to get back to television somehow, not knowing exactly what the actual vehicle would be. Television is a totally different media, and requires an entirely different presence and performing. It's much more topical and current because a movie takes a year to make.

Really, if you think about the scenario, if we do poorly, I'll be making movies again. (Laughs) If we do real well, I'll probably take a break and make movies again too. So one way or another, I'll be making movies at some point.

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Q: There have been suggestions that perhaps you're doing a talk show because your last couple films, "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" and "Nothing but Trouble," didn't live up to expectations.

A: That's silly. The reason it's silly--I mean, that's one of those media, press things--but the reason it's silly is because people like myself are artists. We do this all our lives. We're not going to cash in because we've had a movie that went in the dumper. I mean, I've had a lot of No. 1 movies too. So that was never part of the decision. I made the decision to do this show before my last film ("Memoirs") came out, which I expected to be a hit.

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Q: You have been purposefully vague on the details of your talk show. Why?

A: Well, just because up until recently I wasn't really sure how it was going to go, or how I could tell people, without giving anything away, how it will be different. Maybe part of the reason for that is that I'm generally spontaneous on television, and things will go accordingly. Earlier I didn't know what will work and won't work. I have a much better idea of that now after doing five practice shows.

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Q: Can you give a description of your show then?

A: I just think that it's going to be filled with perhaps more topical, more interesting, more intellectual comedy, certainly in the "Weekend Update" area. We're going to use the variety of talents that I have, that I'm confident in. That includes music and athletics and physical comedy--areas that I don't think the other guys have talents in.

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Q: It seems like "Saturday Night Live" can't come up with 10 good skits a week. How many skits do you plan on doing?

A: We're just starting to plan those out. We're reprising the Land Shark character from "Saturday Night" as a T. rex . We're playing around with "Dr. Kevorkian's Office." There's an idea for a character I came up with called Monsieur Faux Pas. He's just a guy who gives me a chance to make every faux pas I can. . . . But I've got to tell you, I don't want anybody to think that this is a show that you turn on and you see sketches. That's not what it is. It's a talk show.

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Q: David Letterman is often acerbic with his guests, and Jay Leno is often criticized for being too kind. Where will you find yourself on that line?

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