On This Day in 1978: Steve Martin Performs Legendary ‘King Tut’ Skit on Saturday Night Live

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Ear worm warning. Hearing Steve Martin sing King Tut on Saturday Night Live is going to stick with you for awhile. But promise, it’s worth it.

On this night in 1978, Steve Martin, the brilliant actor and comedian, performed the novelty song to give the national audience a taste of how his comedy genius had moved from the spoken word to music. Martin released the single the next week.

And a song about a long-dead, funky boy-king reached No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, selling more than 1 million records. Obviously, ladies loved that disco King Tut style, but so did the men.

Steve Martin Was Mocking the King Tut Buzz

King Tut already was in the news for being long dead. Maybe you know him by his full name, Tutankhamun. He became pharaoh of Egypt when he was about eight and died roughly a decade later. He ruled from 1335 to 1324 BC. Archeologists discovered his ornate tomb in 1922.

And a half-century later, King Tut was on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Rather, it was an exhibit of the artifacts found in the tomb. Steve Martin gave Tut the rock star treatment. No doubt, you’ve seen a photo of King Tut’s mask. King Tut made ancient Egypt all retro cool again.

The golden mask of legendary Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after its restoration, on December 31, 2015. The restored mask — now back in its display case at the museum — was shown to journalists after a team of German experts worked on it for more than two months to remove a crust of dried glue from the beard of the priceless relic. (Photo by Fayed El-Geziry /NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Martin Performed Song with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Steve Martin brought the idea to Saturday Night Live. He called his backup band the Toot Uncommons. But it actually was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Martin had been their opening act on tour and was friends with John McEuen. He taught Martin how to play the banjo.

McEuen told Country Music Pride: “When we did ‘King Tut,’ (Steve Martin) came to the theatre we were playing in L.A. with this idea between the soundcheck and the show that he described to the band. ‘Play this. Now have the bass go like this. Jeff, you guys go, ‘Tut, Tut, King Tut.’ Everybody worked on it for about an hour, we went on stage and did it, and we just blew the roof off the place. So that was fun.

“I would say that Steve has always been productive – making something. It’s not always good according to some sales figures. But the sales figures don’t always indicate what was good or not, and the critics often don’t know that some of it is so stellar that we’re really lucky to have him around.”

Steve Martin basically performed the song as an extension of his wild and crazy guy persona. He and Dan Aykroyd popularized the skit on Saturday Night Live. The first skit premiered the year before with Martin as  Georg Festrunk and Aykroyd as his brother, Yortuk. Now, you have another ear worm. No need to say thank you.

And for your viewing pleasure, here’s Steve Martin in all his funky, Egyptian, royal glory. He always will rock King Tut.

https://youtu.be/FYbavuReVF4

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