Brian Williams Reveals His 'SNL' Fears and How Chevy Chase Changed His Mind
The NBC anchor tells Alec Baldwin that it took him six months to agree to the gig and an esoteric pep talk to get him on stage.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams has become known for his wry sense of humor in various cameos and guest appearances, but he wasn't always so confident in his comedy skills.
The Nightly News man was invited by Lorne Michaels to guest host Saturday Night Live in 2007, and it took him six months to say yes. The fear he had to overcome, Williams told Alec Baldwin on his NPR podcast, was that whole trustworthy journalist thing.
"I worried that I was going to flush 25 years of... my credibility down the toilet," he explained. Then, as he headed to meet with Lorne Michaels, still unsure of whether he should take the gig despite having been told by his friends and family to do so, he ran into Chevy Chase.
"I asked Chevy after I shook my hand and introduced myself. His answer was fascinating," Williams reveals. "He said, I watched Dan Rather for 20 years, and the day he retired, I was no closer to knowing who he was than I was the day he started. I think you should do it. And so Chevy, in a way that he does not yet know, decided that, and that was a big -- that was a big dam to break in my life. The courage it required, that is not my trade."
Once he decided to take the job, he still needed some encouragement and coaxing.
"Lorne gave me a great locker room speech, between dress rehearsal and the live show," he said. "'Mr. Williams, I think you said you went to a Catholic high school. Is that correct? Did you have a talent night with say, the parish priest, wearing a coconut bra, just making a fool of himself wearing a coconut bra?’ I said, ‘Well, we didn’t have an actual coconut bra like Bloody Mary in South Pacific, but we had a night like that. Yes, Lorne.' 'I need you to be that priest. I need you to show these people you’re willing to make a fool out of yourself, and be a good sport.'"
Ever since, Williams has become a comedy staple, with continued appearances on The Daily Show and, most prominently, cameos on 30 Rock and his Slow Jamming the News with Jimmy Fallon. He has earned praise from SNL and 30 Rock alum Tina Fey, who told NY Magazine that "He has that kind of timing that you have to have, that you can’t learn," while Fallon said, "He’s a great straight man. He’s very subtle. He’ll do a little eye roll, but he doesn’t overact."
Unfortunately, none of that helped with his audition for "TGS" on 30 Rock.