“Live, from New York, it’s ‘Saturday Night’!”
August 22, 2013 7:39 PM   Subscribe

The God of ‘SNL’ Will See You Now. "How do you please Lorne Michaels? Twenty-two ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast members – and one who came close – share tales of the audition that can make or break a career." Also, extended interviews with Kristin Wiig, Will Ferrel, Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Jimmy Fallon and Molly Shannon, on what it took to get hired for 'SNL.' Check out audition tapes from: Phil Hartman, Andy Kaufman, John Belushi, Jimmy Fallon, Dana Carvey: 1 & 2, and Dan Aykroyd.

Mental Floss: How to Get on Saturday Night Live

Phil Hartman, previously on Mefi

Documentary: A&E Biography: "Saturday Night Live" (A look behind the scenes of the November 10, 2001 episode of "Saturday Night Live.") Episode transcript.
posted by zarq (26 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I've mostly graduated from watching SNL to reading and listening and watching people tell stories about working there.
posted by chaz at 7:44 PM on August 22, 2013 [16 favorites]

I think Maron and his potential fellow cast members dodged a bullet there.
posted by Auden at 8:15 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know whose SNL experience I want to hear more (i.e some) of? George Coe. He was the oldest (by far) of the original cast, and the first to get the shaft.

And what about Don Pardo? Dude's worked there since the beginning (save those same years Lorne Michaels wasn't around), he's almost a hundred years old, and what do we know about him?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:37 PM on August 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Back in my acting days, I would have given my left lung for an SNL tryout (and I'm a heavy smoker).
posted by Optamystic at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2013

A friend of mine got flown out for the SNL auditions the year they hired Jason Sudeikis (2006, I believe.) My friend told me they fly about 20 people to NY to audition a year. They put you through a ton of shit, then out of 20 they only take 2-3 people. I'm gonna keep just playing scratchers.
posted by joechip at 8:54 PM on August 22, 2013

So, I too am rather obsessed with the behind the scene details of SNL and its resident super villain/show runner Lorne Michaels. One thing mentioned here and in that SNL book released a few years ago, was that Lorne makes everyone wait outside his office for hours before seeing them. I always wonder what the purpose of this is? Power trip? Some sort of psych game?

Lorne's chief asset has never been talent imho, but the ability to soothe network brass and keep the show renewed year in and year out, which itself is an incredible feat.
posted by boubelium at 9:05 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Related to that is the fact that Michaels' pull with the network is what allows certain other non-SNL shows to exist at all. I don't you have a 30 Rock or a Parks and Rec get on the air and shrug off low ratings without Michaels' support behind the scenes.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:12 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Did somebody mention Don Pardo?

Born February 22, 1918... 95-and-a-half years old and still a booming voice.

Before SNL, he was staff-announcing all over NBC New York from 1944 (when it was all radio), was the first announcer for The Price Is Right (when Bill Cullen was host) and Jeopardy! (when Art Fleming was host - recreated in this Weird Al video). He also did intros for NBC Nightly News, local channel 4's Live at Five and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade among a lot of other things.

And, as announcer-on-duty, he was first to tell NBC viewers about the assassination of President Kennedy:
Transcript: NBC Newsroom in New York: President Kennedy and Governor John Connolly of Texas have been cut down by assassin' bullets in downtown Dallas. Will repeat that: President Kennedy and Governor John Connolly of Texas have been cut down by assassin's bullets in downtown Dallas. They were riding in an open automobile when the shots were fired. The President, his limp body cradled in the arms of his wife Jacqueline, have been rushed to Parkland Hospital. Clint Hill, a Secret Service agent assigned to Mrs. Kennedy said "he's dead" as the President was lifted from the rear of a White House touring car-the famous bubble top from Washington. He was rushed to an emergency room in the hospital. Other White House officials were in doubt as the corridors of the hospital erupted in pandemonium. The incident occurred just east of the triple underpass facing a park in downtown Dallas. Reporters about five car lengths behind the Chief Executive were behind the autocade. Stay tuned to your NBC station for the later news.
Seconds later, NBC News personnel, including Chet Huntley and Frank McGee continued the marathon coverage. NBC didn't record the first few minutes but the a private tape of the audio was later found.

He retired from everything-but-SNL in 2004, retired then un-retired in 2009, and has been doing his intros on a live feed from his home studio in Arizona. He missed two shows in 2013 when he broke his hip (Darrell Hammond filled in doing an ALMOST perfect Don Pardo impression), but is expected back this fall.

Thank you, Don Pardo.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:55 PM on August 22, 2013 [22 favorites]

I just stayed up entirely too late watching that A&E episode. I thank you now, but I will be shaking my fist at you tomorrow...
posted by blurker at 11:12 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing mentioned here and in that SNL book released a few years ago, was that Lorne makes everyone wait outside his office for hours before seeing them. I always wonder what the purpose of this is? Power trip? Some sort of psych game?

One of the links suggests that it's to increase the stress on the performer, because a live show is high pressure and you want someone who can nail their act no matter what you put them through.

I suspect it's also to dissipate their short-term memory of the rehearsals they did in front of the mirror before coming in. You want someone who's got their act cold, not someone who's just come in from going over it and over it all morning.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:15 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Holy cow, JImmy Fallon's audition is hilarious.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:20 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lorne is such a small man. I'd bring something to read to one of his marathon waiting sessions. Some paperwork ... a portable desk. Fireworks. Bicycle ... and order in some sushi.
posted by user92371 at 1:11 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Again, I don't believe for a minute that it's him being petty or small. I'm certain it's to break their focus, give time for their preparedness to unravel and any emotional issues they might have to really flower. The cast is everything -- he's not going to squander that on childish dominance games. He needs to know that they can deliver the goods when they're not super-amped and no longer in the mood, because that's what's going to happen as the show airs.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:24 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jon Lovitz just did an episode of Kevin Pollak's Chat Show in which, among many other subjects, he talked about getting hired for the SNL cast, and his friendships with Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman. Worth watching if you're a fan of that era of SNL.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 2:35 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and sys rq, I'd be interested to hear more from George Coe, too. About all I know, from something I read somewhere, is that he was hired in anticipation that there would be a need for an older actor to play character roles, authority figures, and so on. When it turned out they didn't really need someone like that, he was let go.

In retrospect, it worked out OK for SNL, and fortunately, it did not stop Mr. Coe from having a busy career, either. He may not have had too bad of a feeling about it, because after his initial stint in 75-76, IMDB says he returned twice more - in 1978 and again in 1986 - to play small roles. So they liked him enough to ask him back, and he was willing to do it - doesn't sound like any bridges were burned, at least up to that point.

I was mildly surprised to see that he's still working at age 84 - he does one of the voices on "Archer," and was on an ep of "Two and A Half Men" last season.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 2:53 AM on August 23, 2013

It's going to be interesting this fall to see if they can fill in the gaps left by Hader, Sudeikis, and Armisen. They've done it before, and they still have some good players, so we'll see.

Episodes of The Nerdist or WTF with Mark Maron are always the best when they have an SNL cast member on. I love hearing about the audition process because, even though they all go through the same routine, each one has a different experience. Hader, especially, got lucky because he just happened to have a few connections that vouched for him with Michaels. I'm really going to miss him, he's up there with Carvey and Martin Short as one of the best players of all time.
posted by bondcliff at 6:17 AM on August 23, 2013

From Will Ferrel's interview: "I had always heard that Adam Sandler had met with Lorne Michaels for five minutes and did a bit where he humped a chair, and Lorne signed him to a five-year deal."
posted by Corduroy at 8:33 AM on August 23, 2013

When did Lorne Michaels himself become a character on SNL? Watching in the 80s I don't remember that at all. But every episode now seems to have him doing his straight man thing. It works, it just seems odd to me.

Oh man, Phil Hartman.
posted by Nelson at 9:42 AM on August 23, 2013

Nelson, he's done it off and on throughout the series. in the first season he offered the Beatles $3000 to get back together on the show. It became a running joke -- leading to Eric Idle repurposing his Rutles gag from Rutland Weekend Television, and later when George Harrison guested there's a subtle bit where he's arguing with Michaels about how he should get the $3K and Michaels is saying that since he's only one-fourth of the Beatles he's only going to get $750...
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:50 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and as I'm sure diehard Beatlemaniacs know to their wonder and frustrated tears, that first bit almost worked.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:53 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

George_Spiggott: ". in the first season he offered the Beatles $3000 to get back together on the show. It became a running joke "

He did that at least twice during the first season. The first offer was $3000, the second was $3200. :D
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on August 23, 2013

George_Spiggott: that first bit almost worked

The transcript is awesome (and here's a clip!)
As you can see, verifiably, a cheque made out to you, The Beatles, for $3,000. All you have to do is sing three Beatle tunes. She Loves You, yeah, yeah, yeah - that's $1,000 right there. You know the words, and it'll be easy. Like I said, this cheque is made out to The Beatles. You divide it anyway you want: if you want to give Ringo less that's up to you. I'd rather not get involved.
Here's the transcript for second offer.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:42 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Season 2, Lorne tries to convince Paul Simon to stay in a giant turkey suit.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:59 PM on August 26, 2013

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