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Remembering Gilda

Writer Alan Zweibel shares stories about his friendship with the celebrated SNL alum, Gilda Radner.

February 26, 2014|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Tom Fonss (Everyone Else), Erin Pineda (Gilda) and Brendan Hunt (Alan), star in the play "Bunny Bunny — Gilda Radner: A Sort of Romantic Comedy," at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The show, a tribute to Gilda Radner, runs through March 2.
Tom Fonss (Everyone Else), Erin Pineda (Gilda) and Brendan… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Alan Zweibel has been funny for at least four decades, launching his career into the stratosphere in 1975 as a writer for the first incarnation of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." On his first day there, he met Gilda Radner, who would become one of the comedy show's breakout stars and his closest friend. Together, they created the characters Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella, and maintained a special friendship until her death from ovarian cancer in 1989.

Five years later, Zweibel recounted the relationship in the book "Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner — A Sort of Love Story," which he soon transformed into a play that mingles comedy and a quirky romantic tension that has seen multiple productions since its off-Broadway debut in 1997. The newest staging is at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank through March 2.

The New Jersey-based writer, whose play with Billy Crystal, "700 Sundays," appears on HBO on April 19, plans a visit to the Falcon this week to see himself and "Bunny Bunny" brought to life. Zweibel, now 63, spoke with Marquee last week about his years as Radner's closest confidant and the reasons for writing their unusual love story.

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Does it surprise you that the play has continued to live on?

It's a tribute to Gilda. People still seem to be intrigued with her. She was one of those personalities that they felt they knew — even though they never met her. Plus, it hits other themes — boy/girl relationships, friendship, the loss of people in your life.

You meet a lot of unusual characters in comedy. How did she stand out for you in that crowd?

There was a chemistry that we had. We made each other laugh. I didn't know anybody, and she was new to New York. We were like two kids that gravitated to each other. There was this vulnerability there that I responded to as well.

What was that scene like at the first incarnation of "Saturday Night Live"?

It was exciting. [Producer] Lorne Michaels said "Let's just make each other laugh and we'll put it on television." And that's what we did. I was there for the first five years, and we spent all of our time in the office or in the studio. On hiatus weeks or over the summer I would do college lectures and they would come out to see a writer. I'd get applause if I told them I wrote Roseanne Roseannadanna. This was unusual. But I didn't know how unusual it was until I left the show. When I was there, it was a bona fide hit, but there was no way anyone could have predicted it would last 38 years.

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