Nobody in the history of television — next to maybe Johnny Carson — has had the impact of Lorne Michaels. Billy Murray, Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig; the list of careers the Canadian comedy writer has launched stretches back over nearly five decades. Even outside of the Saturday Night Live spectrum, Lorne has been incredibly influential in the late night TV world, helping to jump-start the hosting careers of both Conan O’Brien and Seth Meyers.
Lorne Michaels has a reputation for being mysterious, some might even say snobbish, but Jimmy Fallon attributes it to his mentor’s obsession with detail in comedy. “He’s there almost every day, at 5 p.m., asking me: ‘Can you cut this down? Do you really need this one?’ He’s obsessed with detail, even down to the words ‘the’ and ‘with.'” Lorne Michaels is celebrating his 70th birthday today, and in honor of the man responsible for creating a platform for everything from “Weekend Update” to “Matt Foley: Motivational Speaker” and “What Up With That,” here’s some trivia you might not know about the great Oz of SNL.
1. Lorne didn’t even watch SNL between 1980-1985. Lorne left the show in 1980 and didn’t return until 1985. During that dark period, he said that he never watched an episode of the show because it was just too painful. “In retrospect, to be relieved of the show was an emotional withdrawal that took me, truly, years to get a perspective on.”
2. He almost reunited The Beatles on SNL. In 1976, Lorne offered The Beatles $3,000 if they would reunite and play three songs. “You know the words—it’ll be easy. Like I said, this is made out to The Beatles— you divide it up any way you want,” said Lorne. “If you want to give less to Ringo, that’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved.” Paul and Linda McCartney were actually in New York that night and spending the evening with John Lennon at his Dakota apartment. Paul said they considered going down to studio 8H, but decided to let the show have its gag with only George Harrison showing up.
3. His first job in show business was with the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Lorne grew up in Toronto and after graduating with an English degree from the University of Toronto he landed a job at CBC, which led to the development of his first show — The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour.
4. He only sort of regards Steven Seagal as the show’s worst host ever. It had to be somebody, right? And while Steven Seagal might excel at wearing a ponytail, hosting live a live comedy show isn’t in his bag. Lorne told New York Magazine why he gave Nicholas Cage some relief in a sketch when the actor expressed he was nervous about hosting the show.
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.
5. Even after 40 years he still hangs around for the show’s famous Tuesday night writing session. Lorne is notorious for being involved in every aspect of the show. “He even comments about the paint on the walls” Fred Armisen told the Hollywood Reporter. So it’s no surprise that after taking the show’s host that week to dinner around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, he then heads back to Rockefeller Center where he writes with the staff until around 3 a.m.
6. He knows that SNL has its share of disgruntled former cast members, but doesn’t sweat it. You don’t run a show for nearly five decades without leaving a few people with a bone to pick. But, it’s not something that Lorne lets bother him and feels that most of the show’s former cast members probably regard their time on SNL as the highlight of their career.
“I don’t think there are that many people who think that their time here wasn’t one of the best periods of their life. It’s hard, and it’s competitive, but, as Dana Carvey says, ‘Show me one person who was funnier after SNL.'”
7. Will Ferrell tried to bribe him with a briefcase full of fake money. Will Ferrell revealed on Marc Maron’s podcast that when he was having his meeting about the possibility of joining SNL he decided that he needed to make an impression on Lorne.
“I got a briefcase and went to the toy store and bought a bunch a fake money. And in my mind’s eye I was just going to open the briefcase while Lorne was talking and start stacking money. ‘Lorne, we can talk all day long, but we all know what really talks, cash money.’ And I was just gonna walk out of the room. Well, I came in and could immediately tell the atmosphere wasn’t funny. So I just sat there with my briefcase like an idiot.”