NEW YORK — Live from New York, it was Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani telling NBC's "Saturday Night Live" audience that it was OK to laugh again after the Sept. 11 attacks that felled the World Trade Center.
After a somber opening that included singer Paul Simon, the show proceeded into its standard mix of skits, including a racy takeoff of "The Little Mermaid" and music from singer Alicia Keys. Only the "Weekend Update" news segment made reference to the dark events of nearly three weeks ago, including a joke about suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden hiding out in theaters showing the new Mariah Carey movie "Glitter." The "Update" also included an appeal for donations to the Twin Towers Fund.
But first, Giuliani opened the show's 2001-02 season flanked by Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Fire Commissioner Thomas von Essen and some two dozen stone-faced, uniformed police and firefighters.
After extended applause, Giuliani paid tribute to the heroes and the victims of the attack, then noted that "our hearts are broken, but they are beating, and they are beating stronger than ever," adding that the city would not bow to fear. "We choose to live our lives in freedom."
He was followed by Simon, standing on a flag-draped stage and wearing a New York Fire Department cap, performing his song "The Boxer," about a fighter battling loneliness and alienation in New York.
Giuliani was then joined on stage by the show's executive producer, Lorne Michaels. Calling "Saturday Night Live" one of New York's greatest institutions, Giuliani said, "Having our city's institutions up and running sends a message that New York City is open for business."
"Can we be funny?" Michaels asked, to which the mayor responded with perfect timing, "Why start now?" Then Giuliani delivered the show's famous "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" line.
Guest host Reese Witherspoon followed the show's standard opening credits, saying, "We've never done a show under these circumstances, so we're still finding our way, but I promise you we're going to give it everything we've got."