Bunny, Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story written and illustrated by Alan Zweibel is a tender and very personal glimpse into the relationship between a writer and performer who meet in summer 1976 during the freshman year of Saturday Night Live. Zweibel is responsible for penning scripts to the sketches featuring outrageous and memorable original characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella for Radner.
A series of dialogues and simple line drawings tell the story of the duo’s delicate friendship. A friendship cut tragically short after 14 years when Radner passed away from complications with ovarian cancer on May 20, 1989.
Sparse vignettes recreate moments of tension, fear, and confrontation but do not feel overly voyeuristic. Zweibel lovingly paints himself as the “asshole” during times of conflict. Gilda is his champion and closest ally. The pair have a profound love for one another that endures during times of uncertainty.
When she is instructed by Zweibel to hold onto casino winnings he could use to pay credit card debt, Radner has hotel security escort him away from her hotel room door when he comes begging out of the arrangement. There is a playfulness to this gesture and her apology the day after the incident comes in the form of a letter, which is hidden in the lavatory of his aircraft during his flight home.
This secret is revealed to Zweibel by a stewardess who tells him: “I was so touched by how warm and funny and loving this person was that I felt like I knew her my whole life and would’ve done anything for her.”
Fame is inevitable for the beloved performer who is approached by strangers so fond of her that they feel she is a familiar friend and call her by name. It is at this point that she asks Alan to call her Gilbert.
A romantic affair between the two of them nearly causes a rift as things fizzle out and they begin to explore the possibility of other partners. The picture Zweibel paints during these passages are stark. Small-talk on elevators and in hallways is painful to witness after knowing how well they are able to communicate with one another. This period of estrangement is resolved when Gilbert tells him, “I need you in my life because I trust you more than anyone and I don’t want to lose that.”
When Radner discovers Zweibel is in the grips of cocaine addiction, she confronts him directly. She tells him what he is doing is not only dangerous, but especially unwise for someone as “naturally insecure and paranoid” as he is. She encourages sobriety. At this time, she encourages him to clean up his act if he is serious about pursuing a relationship with a woman named Robin Blankman. The advice from his champion, Gilbert, is taken to heart. Zweibel and Blankman were married in 1979.
Over the next 10 years, Zweibel and Radner’s conversations appear to be spaced further and further apart as their lives take new paths. They did, however, manage to fulfill the role of a touchstone for one another in instances ranging from hilariously mundane to life-altering.
I am thankful to be privy to moments from such a special friendship. I have read Bunny, Bunny at least a dozen times over the past 13 years. Every month, I think of Radner telling her dear friend Zweibel that saying “Bunny, Bunny” as soon as you wake up on the first day of the month would bring good fortune. It is a sweet fairy tale that I have incorporated into my life. That being said, June 1 is just a week away.
Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.