Lorne Michaels has seen thousands of comedians perform during his nearly 38 years as “Saturday Night Live” creator and executive producer.
But only a lucky few make it from the stage of local comedy clubs to the coveted “SNL” cast member gig.
The New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff interviewed 22 past and present cast members who discussed the show’s famously nerve-wracking audition process.
The main point of anxiety?
Lorne Michaels doesn’t laugh during auditions.
Jimmy Fallon: In makeup, they go, “Hey, Jimmy, some advice: Lorne Michaels doesn’t laugh when you audition. So don’t let that throw you.” Then the audio guy, he goes, “Hey, little advice — Lorne doesn’t like to laugh.” I’m like, “O.K.” Then Marci [Klein, a longtime “SNL” producer] comes out: “Jimmy, they’re ready for you. But hey, a little advice for you. If Lorne doesn’t laugh, be cool.” I’m like, what is this guy’s problem? He’s doing a comedy show. Why does he not like to laugh?
Andy Samberg: The only person I for sure knew was laughing was Tina [Fey, then the “SNL” head writer], which, outside of Lorne, is the best thing you could hear.
Cheri Oteri: I felt good because I heard Lorne laugh a little bit. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, laughing his very subtle, subtle laughter. Almost regal laughter.
Will Ferrell: I did a sketch where I was a guy, alone in my office, who in between taking calls would play with cat toys. There’s a point where I’m rolling around on the ground, in complete silence, playing with cat toys. And I’m thinking: Oh, it’s over.
Not everyone who eventually made it onto the show nailed it on the first audition:
Molly Shannon: I heard that Lorne Michaels was looking at tapes. I used my waitressing money and made a tape of my characters. I was on a pay phone across from an El Pollo Loco, and I found out that he had passed on it. I was crying. I was devastated.
Rachel Dratch: I didn’t get it that year [of her first audition]. They hired Horatio [Sanz], Jimmy [Fallon] and Chris Parnell, and they said: “We’re not taking any women this year. But maybe next year.” I was at peace with it.
Taran Killam: I leave the stage, and Lorne gets up from his seat and shakes my hand and says, “Thank you for coming.” And I was like: That’s it. Goodbye. No more. I didn’t have to wait long before I got a phone call which said, “They want to fly you back out in two weeks to audition again.” And I’m like: What? I gave you all of my A material. Can’t they just hire me from that? The second audition, Lorne didn’t get up to shake my hand. We got a call: It’s not going to happen this season, but it’s not never.
But these comedians got the greenlight straight off the bat:
Seth Meyers: They flew me all the way back to New York to meet with Lorne. I realised later that he was doing a final personality vet. He said, “Do you think you can live in New York?” And I thought, “Does anyone blow it at this stage?” Does anybody get this far in the process, and then is like, “It’s definitely New York? Well, if you guys can’t be flexible on that, I’m not sure if I can be flexible on that.”
Bill Hader: I knew I had been hired, and I knew that Andy [Samberg] had been hired. Then I get on the plane with him, and I’m acting like: “Hey, can you believe this? We’re going to be on ‘SNL.’ ” And Andy was like, “God, do you think it’s going to be both of us, or are they just going to pick one of us?” And I started to realise: “Oh, they haven’t told him yet. Do I tell him?” So I just sat there talking with him this whole plane ride, as he’s like, “What’s going on?” I knew, and it was awkward.
To read all of the cast members’ memories, check out the New York Times piece here >
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