If you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live, its history, and the guy who has been running the show for most of its run, Lorne Michaels, then the full New York Magazine interview with him is a must read. There aren’t a lot of great headline-making statements in the interview, but it is fascinating to hear Lorne Michaels discuss the show, the audition process, Seth Meyers’ departure, Jimmy Fallon’s take-over on The Tonight Show, and the minority problem on SNL with typical candor. The guy is unshakeable. It’s a long piece, but it’s worth the read. However, if you don’t have the time to spare, here were my favorite takeaways:
On why it helps that Jimmy Fallon — unlike Letterman — is not an ironic guy:
Well, when you compare it to what we were doing in the seventies or Sam Kinison in the eighties and nineties—that’s all still out there, in the clubs. But Jimmy has always just been a great entertainer—a real host. Like Carson, he wants you to be comfortable on his show. He’s looking for how to get the best out of you. He’s not looking to score off some mistake you’ve made or you misspoke. I think that’s why people relax on his show and enjoy him.
On why he doesn’t have a Twitter account (and this is the best quote):
I don’t tweet for a very simple reason, which is that I drink.
On political comedy, and why the SNL hasn’t done many political sketches this season:
Republicans are easier for us than Democrats. Democrats tend to take it personally; Republicans think it’s funny. But we’re not sitting here every week going, “We’ve really got to do the First Family.” This week, our cold open is about three big stories. We have Piers Morgan interviewing A-Rod, Chris Christie, and Justin Bieber. We’re doing more of that kind of thing than stuff about Benghazi or the new budget agreement. The country has lost interest in it. I can’t tell you why. It’s no less important, but in some way you can’t do health care more than twice, at which point there’s just nothing left. But Jay Pharoah does a really good Obama.
On how SNL manages to create so many conservatives — Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Norm MacDonald, Colin Quinn, Jim Downey, and Adam Sandler — a rarity for comedy:
Well, let’s put Victoria in a separate category. When she arrived here, she was married to a fire-eater. Then she married an old boyfriend who was a cop. She was always deeply Christian. I would say Norm is more cranky than political. I love Norm. We’re both Canadian. I think Downey grew up with parents who were Kennedy Democrats and then he evolved. But we’ve never been agenda people. Our job—and it sounds too grand to say and none of us ever say it—is speaking truth to power. I’m registered as an Independent, not because everything that we do would be undermined if we were partisan—Jon Stewart has that role. Us? Theoretically, whoever it is in power, we’re against them.
On advice he gives to cast members who come to him saying they want to leave to do movies:
The advice I give most often is, build a bridge to the next thing. When it’s solid enough, walk across it. Don’t go because somebody promised you this or somebody promised you that. You’re a star on SNL. That does not automatically mean you’ll be a star in everything else you touch. I just saw Ana Gasteyer downstairs. You see her in Wicked—that’s where she wanted to be, and she got there. I think when Will Ferrell left, he’d already had three movies that worked. Kristen did Bridesmaids. It was the biggest hit ever that summer. Then she came back and did another season. That’s Kristen. … What I discovered after the first five years was that talented people tend to move on and less talented people tend to be the most loyal. It’s rare that you find both.
On whether Lorne Michaels really said that Steven Seagal was the worst host ever:
That was in a sketch. It’s an Al Franken joke. Nicolas Cage was hosting, and he said, “I’m going to be the worst host ever.” I just read it off a card: “No, that was Steven Seagal.” I think the Steven Seagal show was just a really hard week. I’m not sure, on an objective level, that he was necessarily the worst.
Then it was Milton Berle, right?
No, Milton Berle I was just not prepared for. I’m more sympathetic to him now than I was then, in 1979. He had ruled this place for so many years, and we were these kids telling him no. In the middle of the monologue, a steel pipe hit the floor, which had never happened before. Milton went, “Uh-oh, NBC just dropped another show.” I see the stagehand, who was an old stagehand here that Milton knew. I said, “Willy, what happened?” He said, “Milton told me to drop this pipe.” I said, “Milton, we don’t do planned ad-libs.” He put his hand on my shoulder and went, “I know. Satire. Don’t worry, I’ll make it CBS.”
He wanted to close the show with “September Song,” him and a piano. Just before he went on to do it, he treated me like I was a child again, which half made me laugh, but half was like, Hey! He said, “Don’t worry, the standing ovation is all set.” The host has ten seats, and suddenly he starts singing and ten people in the balcony stand up. No one else is standing up. It was just bizarre. The idea of the arranged standing ovation is just a part of show business that we were trying to separate ourselves from. We all get there eventually, I guess.