Phil Hartman was one of the most beloved comedians of the 80s and 90s, starring on Saturday Night Live and NewsRadio, as well as in tons of hit movies. Hartman was such a strong performer, his SNL castmates had a special nickname that represented his comedic talent.
The special nickname Phil Hartman’s ‘SNL’ castmates gave him
Surprisingly, Hartman was not always a comedian and actor. The star received a degree in graphic art and had a successful career as a graphic designer for album covers. Hartman helped create album art for bands like Steely Dan, America, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
The solitary work of a graphic designer was not for Hartman, though, and he soon started performing with the Los Angeles-based comedy group, The Groundlings. He found success as a writer and performer, co-creating and starring in Pee-wee’s Playhouse and appearing in movies like Three Amigos and Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie.
Hartman joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1986 and quickly made a name for himself as an impersonator, imitating people like Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra. Hartman was such a talented performer, his SNL castmates even had a special nickname for him.
“His nickname was Glue because he held all the sketches together,” castmate Kevin Nealon told Grantland. Hartman was willing to let others take the spotlight, playing the straight man to wild characters who got more laughs.
“They called him Glue for different reasons, but one of them was you can’t have that Matt Foley character if Phil Hartman isn’t there to be the dad reacting off it,” SNL writer David Mandel explained in the same article.
SNL creator Lorne Michaels echoed this, saying, “He kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and demanded very little.”
Why being ‘The Glue’ might have caused Phil Hartman to miss out on bigger roles
Hartman might have helped his castmates shine, but being “The Glue” had its downsides, too. As the show’s straight man, the comedian didn’t get a lot of opportunities to shine as a performer or show off characters, which meant he got passed up for bigger projects.
His castmates’ iconic characters made them household names and even led to movie deals, like Dana Carvey and Mike Meyers’ Wayne’s World. Hartman’s characters and impressions were excellent, but didn’t exactly make him noticeable.
However, Hartman did get his moment in the spotlight with his now-famous impersonation of Bill Clinton. The sketch where Hartman plays Clinton visiting a McDonald’s is now one of his most famous performances.
Hartman ended up leaving the show in 1994 and went on to star in NewsRadio, a successful sitcom. He was also starting to make more appearances on the big screen, showing up in movies like Coneheads, Sgt. Bilko, and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Phil Hartman’s tragic death
However, his life was tragically cut short when his wife Brynn shot him after an argument. After police arrived on the scene, Brynn locked herself in a bedroom and died by suicide.
Hartman’s friends, family, and co-stars mourned his death, as well as the loss of his considerable talents as a comedian and performer.
“I would say at least once a month I hear something on the radio, or something on TV, and I’ll think, Oh, that’s Phil! They’re just doing Phil!” SNL castmate Julia Sweeney shared with Grantland. “I don’t know if it’s my own bias or if it’s real. Of course he was mimicking voices like that. There’s like five layers there.”
Hartman’s comedic gifts made him a star, and it’s sure that he would have continued to make a name for himself in movies and television had he lived.