Before Saturday Night Live, before The Groove Tube even, Ken Shapiro was making funny faces on television with Chevy Chase when nobody knew their faces.
Shapiro and Chase performed sketches together on Channel One, then on PBS as the first people seen on-air on The Great American Dream Machine, before making sketch comedy movie The Groove Tube in 1974 (a year before everyone discovered Chase on SNL). Shapiro later wrote and directed Modern Problems, the 1981 comedy starring Chase as an air-traffic controller who acquires superpowers in a toxic accident.
Shapiro died Nov. 18, at his home in New Mexico from cancer. He was 76.
A native of Newark, N.J., Kenneth Roy Shapiro got his start as a child actor, going then by Kenny Sharpe, playing the kid in Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theatre in the late 1940s. In his 20s, he fell in with Chase and made their first short film together, “Singing Faces” (seen above), in 1968.
They actually sang and more in sketches together for the PBS variety program, The Great American Dream Machine, in the early 1970s.
His lasting legacy on comedy was 1974’s The Groove Tube, which Shapiro directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in, spoofing TV and not only giving Chase his movie debut, but also that of Richard Belzer, too. The film helped inspire Lorne Michaels pitch SNL to NBC a year later.
Rest in peace, Ken.