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‘SNL’ alums reflect on what Phil Hartman’s career might have been

What would late Saturday Night Live legend Phil Hartman‘s career have looked today?

Starring roles on Breaking Bad, The Crown, and more, according to some of his castmates and other SNL alums, who recently paid tribute to the comedian in honor of what would have been his 75th birthday.

Fly on the Wall hosts Dana Carvey and David Spade orchestrated a two-part tribute to Hartman, who tragically died in 1998, on their podcast, featuring guests including Mike Myers, Julia Sweeney, Kevin Nealon, Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, Jon Lovitz, Conan O’Brien, and more. The guests shared memories of working with Harman, who spent eight seasons on SNL from 1986–1994, and several reflected on what the performer’s career might have looked like in the streaming era.

The first part of the special was recorded live at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles, where Sweeney, Nealon, and former head writer Jim Downey spoke with the hosts on stage as Hartman’s daughter Birgen watched from the audience.

“I just feel so sad that we didn’t get to know what Phil’s career would have been,” Sweeney said. “He would have been busy,” Carvey responded. “Yes, I always wonder about the career Phil would’ve had too if he went on. I mean, certainly Tom Cruise wouldn’t be where he is right now, that’s for sure,” Nealon said half-jokingly.

“Well, you know, it sounds funny, but Phil would’ve been someone to parachute out of an airplane and hang off things, you know, because of all his hobbies,” Carvey noted. The hosts and guests noted elsewhere in the podcast that Hartman was an adventurous hobbyist who enjoyed scuba diving and sailing, among many other eclectic pastimes.

Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Dana Carvey.
Leon Bennett/FilmMagic; Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty; Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

“He could have been a good Walter White from Breaking Bad,” Nealon suggested. “He would have worked and worked and worked and worked and worked. He would’ve been nonstop,” Sweeney said. “[With]…streaming he could’ve done like 10 shows at once with his range,” Carvey added.

Myers also pondered Hartman’s 21st century career potential while joining the hosts for a studio recording included in the second part of the tribute. “We miss him,” the Austin Powers star said. “I saw him as a hero and a mentor, and a very good friend and…he raised the bar for everybody… of what was possible. And…I would’ve loved to see what he’d be working on now.”

“The amount of work he would’ve gotten if he wanted to take it…because of his range, you could have put him in any of these shows,” Carvey said. “If he chose to…he could be in The Crown.”

Myers also suggested that Hartman’s talents could have translated into a successful career behind the camera. “I feel that he could have also directed,” he said. “Because he came from…[a]… drawing…[background]…he thought in pictures.”

‘Saturday Night Live’ cast members with show boss Lorne Michaels in 1993.
Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty

Downey also testified to Hartman’s importance to SNL, explaining that the order of an episodes’ sketches would sometimes be determined by the performer’s wardrobe logistics. “Phil was probably in more pieces than any cast member in history, especially now that the casts are so huge… I mean, when you guys were there it was more like eight, nine [cast members]…Phil would be in so many pieces…that our running order…[for sketches]… would be determined by his wigging requirements.”

EW ranked Hartman as the second-greatest SNL cast member in the show’s history thanks to his incredible versatility and consistency in roles ranging from frustrated everymen to outlandish characters like “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.”

Listen to part 1 of Fly on the Wall’s tribute to Hartman below and part 2 here.

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