'Saturday Night Live' on Heckling High-Alert for Donald Trump Appearance
Protesters disrupted a broadcast Sharon Stone hosted in 1992, and despite a Secret Service security detail and rigorous audience-vetting process, the controversial candidate could spark similar outbursts on live TV.
In 1992, during a monologue delivered by Sharon Stone spoofing her infamous crotch-baring scene from Basic Instinct, six protesters lurking in the audience of Saturday Night Live surged toward the stage. They were opposing "Hollywood's homophobia and misogyny as exemplified in the film," they later explained. (Stone played a bisexual murder suspect.)
The group was stopped by NBC guards before they could get there, but their voices could be heard on the broadcast. The four men and two women were held by security until police arrived and were later charged with disorderly conduct and harassment. Stone, for her part, "wasn't flustered at all," according to one eyewitness.
That incident was an isolated one at SNL. But despite the addition of a Secret Service security detail to an already rigorous audience-vetting process, history runs perhaps its strongest risk of repeating itself Nov. 7 when the controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage as host.
And heckling will happen, if Luke Montgomery has anything to do with it. The Los Angeles-based activist and founder of the anti-Trump campaign Deport Racism 2016 is offering $5,000 to anyone in the studio audience heard saying "deport racism" or "Trump is a racist" on the air. The group is one of several protesting Trump's SNL appearance over "racist and xenophobic language" they say he's used throughout his campaign — with Latinos and Latino-Americans targeted in particular. Montgomery's is the only group, however, that is not calling on the network to cancel his appearance, but rather is encouraging hecklers to infiltrate and hijack the event.
"They're doing it for ratings," Montgomery tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a pretty crass game that they're playing. And we are going to try to steal their thunder and steal the spotlight."
Just how big a spotlight? It's impossible to predict, but the ratings high watermark for the show involved another highly controversial Republican candidate: Sarah Palin's 2008 appearance opposite doppelganger Tina Fey drew an astounding 17 million viewers in the first half-hour.
Montgomery says the response to his offer has been enthusiastic, but he won't reveal specifics as to how many people have said they will try to penetrate the taping at 30 Rockefeller Center or how they intend on going about it. "We're really hopeful," he says. "I can't really tell you much more than that. We don't want to compromise any plans that are being made."
Representatives for SNL are tight-lipped about what security measures are being taken for Trump's appearance. A New York Police Department spokesman tells THR that "adequate security" measures will be in place. The Secret Service, which now follows Trump on the campaign trail, did not respond to requests for comment.
If the procedure is anything like those put in place for Hillary Clinton's appearance on the Oct. 3 season premiere, potential protesters will have to cross two security checkpoints. According to one frequent SNL attendee, audience members who arrive at 30 Rock for both the dress rehearsal and live taping are placed into one of several efficiently run lines: There's a VIP line, a line for people seated on the floor (closest to the stage) and a standby line.
After moving through a metal detector and checking in with a NBC employee, visitors are handed a ticket and given a wristband. They are then loaded onto an elevator bound for Studio 8H. At regular tapings, after getting off on the eighth floor, they are then instructed not to use cameras or smartphones during the taping. Their ticket is then taken from them — no souvenirs, sorry — and they are guided to a seat.
During the season-opener featuring Clinton, however, there was another checkpoint on the eighth floor, where Secret Service agents patted audience members down, scanned them with metal-detector wands and thoroughly rummaged through their handbags.
About 40 people get seats on the floor, the section directly in front of the stage where the band sits and the opening monologue is delivered. The seats are about eight feet from the host's mark, and anyone sitting there during the live broadcast could easily access Trump and get in front of the cameras.
The rest of the theater's 200-odd seats are in the stands, where access is close to impossible. But, like the Stone protesters in 1992, their voices could be heard by millions of people. (Not West Coasters, however. The Stone protest — as well as Sinead O'Connor's infamous tearing up of a photo of the Pope, which occurred just six months later — were both scrubbed from the later feed.)
Despite all these precautions, however, there is virtually nothing that NBC can do to prevent determined protesters from interrupting the show with their voices — the one thing no metal detector or frisking can keep from entering the studio.
"Live television is live television," Montgomery says. "It may have a delay, but it's still live. We're hoping someone can throw Trump off his game."