It’s the most Jewish “Saturday Night Live” moment you’ve never heard of, involving a musician you’d never expect.
Long before he served as David Letterman’s musical director and trusty sidekick from 1982 to 2015, Paul Shaffer was a young member of the house band on “SNL.” On Passover in 1976, a 27-year-old Shaffer led a group of cast members and writers that included Al Franken, Gilda Radner, Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Alan Zweibel and producer Lorne Michaels in a seder.
Legend has it that Bill Murray and one of his brothers, who are Roman Catholic, even showed up.
The seder was such a hit that it was held at Passover the next four years and was dubbed “Paul Shaffer’s Celebrity Seder” by Michaels, who co-sponsored the event with Shaffer.
“When it came time for ‘next year in Jerusalem,’ ” Shaffer told the AJT, “I used to tell everyone, ‘Well, Lorne has promised, next year, real silverware.’ ”
Shaffer, who grew up attending an Orthodox congregation in Thunder Bay, Ontario, said he was well prepared for the occasion.
“They were legendary, those seders,” Shaffer said. “A dear friend who was a writer on the show, Marilyn Suzanne Miller, came up with the idea for a Passover seder, and I said I could conduct it. My family being not so Orthodox, but yet my education being so, there was no way I was going to subject them to the full length, but I wanted to cover just the important parts. Even that was tough because all they wanted to do was get to the meal. So I came up with a way of making it entertaining but in a very reverent way.”
When Letterman ended his run as host of “Late Show” in 2015, the ever-present Shaffer quietly stepped out of the spotlight as well, but the 67-year-old has remained busy. Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band (his iconic band from “Late Show”) this year released their first album in 24 years and are touring to support it. They’ll stop in Atlanta on Sunday, June 11, at the Center Stage Theater in Midtown.
The tour, which began in April, is Shaffer’s first since he played with the Blues Brothers in 1980.
“I haven’t had to travel much in my career,” Shaffer said. “When I toured with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi for the Blues Brothers, we were 30 years old, and I think that was our last chance to be touring rock musicians. These days I’m just trying to stay healthy on the road. I was spoiled working for Letterman. Every day for 33 years I would show up, and my stuff was all set up. It was so easy compared to this. The show is worth all of it, though. It’s so much fun to do.”
The new album, “Paul Shaffer & the World’s Most Dangerous Band,” is full of the 1960s-era rock and soul that Shaffer grew up on and features a number of special guests, including Darius Rucker, Valerie Simpson and Bill Murray.
Shaffer has been close with Murray since before he backed up his iconic Nick the Lounge Singer character on “SNL.”
“Bill is an old friend from before ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” Shaffer said. “In 1974, when I first got to New York from Canada, he was one of the first guys I met. We used to do musical comedy things together even way back then for the National Lampoon radio hour. I remember one song we did called ‘Kung Fu Christmas.’ Then in 2015 I worked with him on a Netflix special called ‘A Very Murray Christmas.’ ”
At a Chabad function in March, Shaffer was presented an award by Letterman, who has famously let his beard grow out since leaving late-night television.
“Dave was nice enough to come out and present me the award,” Shaffer said. “There were a lot of religious people there, and Dave said to everyone, ‘I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and asked, ‘Rabbi, what time is sundown?’ ”
Who: Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band
Where: Center Stage Theater, 1374 W. Peachtree St., Midtown
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, June 11
Tickets: $54 to $59; www.centerstage-atlanta.com