Dale Says

October 1, 2013

Father Guido Sarducci on Sainthood

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 4:34 pm

When I read that Pope Francis will canonize Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints I couldn’t help but think of Don Novello’s skit on sainthood. As Father Guido Sarducci, Novello once lamented, “To be made a saint in-a the Catholic Church, you have to have-a four miracles. That’s-a the rule, you know. It’s-a always been that-a four miracles, and-a to prove it. Well, this-a Mother Seton-now they could only prove-a three miracles. But the Pope-he just waived the fourth one. He just waived it! And do you know why? It’s-a because she was American. It’s all-a politics. We got-a some Italian-a people, they got-a forty, fifty, sixty miracles to their name. They can’t-a get in just cause they say there’s already too many Italian saints, and this-a woman she comes along with-a three lousy miracles. I understand that-a two of them was-a card tricks.” Don had several terrific skits during his heyday as Father Guido Sarducci; including the five-minute university, art school, paying for your sins, and running for pope. He kept us laughing with his witty, self-deprecating sense of humor and his simplistic observations. He didn’t start out as a comedian. He was born in Ohio, the son of a physician, and he graduated from the University of Dayton and obtained a graduate degree from the Thunderbird School of Management. In the 1960’s, he worked as an advertising copywriter for Leo Burnett in Chicago. It appeared he was headed for a career in business. But his life took a turn in 1973, when he found a priest’s outfit for $7.50 at a thrift shop and created the Father Guido Sarducci character. He added a mustache, cigarette, tinted eyeglasses, and a thick Italian accent and took his act to a San Francisco nightclub, where it was well-received. He appeared on a San Francisco TV show, and comic David Steinberg liked his act and introduced him to Tommy and Dick Smothers, who hired Novello to appear as Father Sarducci on The Smothers Brothers Show. Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live, heard about Novello and hired him as a writer, a position Don filled for three years. He also appeared on the show as Father Sarducci thirty-one times, the most of any recurring character. Some of his observations became classics: On The Last Supper: It was actually a brunch. The check shows that one guy only had a soft-boiled egg and tea, while everyone else stuffed themselves. But when the bill was paid, it was divided equally. The moral: “In groups, always order the most expensive thing.” On The “Missing” Commandments: There were actually more than ten, but Moses was old and grumpy, and after he broke the tablets he could only remember the negative ones. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” The truth is, most of them were more like advice. The Twelfth Commandment, for example, was “Whistle while you work.” On Being Part of The Pope’s U.S. Tour (1987): It was a real thrill. It was just terrific. But now I’m a little down. I have what my psychiatrist calls “post-papal depression.” Novello came to worldwide attention in 1981 when he visited the Vatican in his Father Sarducci costume, took photographs in a restricted area, and was arrested by the Swiss Guards for “impersonating a priest.” The charges were dropped, his reputation was secured, and he used that publicity to leverage stage appearances, where he sometimes appeared with a dummy dressed as a cardinal in a wheel chair. Novello would explain that he (Father Sareducci) was the assistant of the 106-year-old Cardinal Dario Fungi, who was overwhelmed by jetlag. Novello has been involved in show business for over 40 years, as a writer and actor. During the 1980s and 1990s he appeared on several television shows, including The Tonight Show, Letterman, Fridays, Married …With Children, Unhappily Ever After, Not Necessarily the News, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. He also released two Grammy-nominated comedy albums as Sarducci: Breakfast in Heaven, and Live at St. Douglas Convent. He was the voice of Vinny in the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and he got to play a pope (Pope Pius XII) in the 2009 short film, All in the Bunker. I encountered Father Guido Sarducci in 1995 when he spoke at a fund raiser and mayoral debate in San Francisco. Willie Brown had been termed-out of the state legislature and was trying to unseat Frank Jordan, who was seeking re-election as San Francisco’s mayor. The debate organizers had asked Don Novello to give the invocation before the meal. He was delayed by traffic, and we were eating our salads when he bustled into the room, fully dressed in his priest outfit. He rushed to the podium and rapped the microphone to get our attention. “I’m-a sorry that I’m-a late,” he apologized. “But before I say the grace, the-a chef, he asked me to tell you to please don’t-a eat the salad. It’s-a poison.”

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