In addition to explaining how Mike Schur passed over a post-Super Bowl debut for Parks and Recreation to ensure they could get Amy Poehler as the lead in the series, Mike Schur also chatted last week with Rob Lowe on his podcast about his time at Saturday Night Live and later as producer on “Weekend Update.” In fact, Schur had a very inauspicious beginning on SNL, having been initially rejected for a writer spot but being called back when Norm MacDonald and some of his “Weekend Update” writers were fired for making too many O.J. Simpson jokes. Schur’s first show as a writer was also the first after the passing of Chris Farley. In fact, because of all the noise surrounding Norm MacDonald’s firing and Farley’s passing, Schur was able to basically work unnoticed for about six months while he gained his confidence as a writer.
Eventually, he was promoted to producer of “Weekend Update,” and he had an inauspicious beginning in that capacity, as well, because his first show as producer was the one after the 9/11 attacks. “I took this job thinking this will be fun,” Schur told Rob Lowe. “Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon are my friends and it will be fun to write some dumb jokes about the news, and then, you know, kablooey.”
Schur was unsure initially how to approach “Update” on that first show back. He wondered if he should acknowledge the attacks, but Lorne Michaels told him that they would do that at the top of the show, and it was his job to “just do jokes. That’s the point. That’s why people tune in, the ‘Weekend Update’ theme plays, and then they see 12 jokes and a couple of features, and then they go to a commercial. Just do that. That’s what we need.”
Schur, however, still had to come up with those 12 jokes and set the tone for the rest of “Update” with the very first joke. “What is the first joke you make after 9/11? How do you do that?”
Eventually, they settled on a joke about the Mariah Carey movie, Glitter, which had just come out two weeks earlier and had bombed. “Someone wrote a joke. I don’t remember who it was. It was like, ‘The CIA believes that Osama Bin Laden may be hiding in a very dark place with very few people. They’ve started searching in movie theaters showing the movie Glitter.'”
“It was such a dumb joke in the best possible way,” Schur continued. “And the show, it has a really emotional opening, and Giuliani was there. And the Chief of Police and it was very somber, and Paul Simon sang “The Boxer,” and they did the show, and then they get to ‘Weekend Update.'”
“My heart was pounding,” Schur said. “You can imagine a world where you do a joke about 9/11 and you are literally fired.”
Schur was not fired, of course. They read the joke, and “it gets a laugh. They laughed at it like it was any other joke. It wasn’t an amazing joke, but people laugh just the appropriate amount, and then they moved on.”
And this, Schur explains, is how Lorne Michaels has continued to approach the show even during our current pandemic. “The act of doing things like ‘Weekend Update’ or ‘SNL’ or making movies or any of that stuff. The point of it is the doing of it. So one way or another … the truth is, for normalcy to return, everything has to return, and one of those things is movie and TV. You just got to keep making them, even if they stink.”
That, ultimately, is what Lorne Michaels has done, and what much of the entertainment industry has continued to do in the midst of this pandemic. It continues to do what it does, because in order to get back to normal, the industry must continue to conduct itself as normally as possible. That is exactly what Schur is doing now, producing and co-writing Rutherford Falls for Peacock with Ed Helms and Sierra Teller Ornelas, even if he does hate operating a writers’ room on Zoom.
Source: Literally! with Rob Lowe