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SNL‘s head writer reveals his true feelings about Justin Timberlake, his favorite moment from last season and how much he misses Amy Poehler.
You hosted the White House Correspondents’ dinner in April to great reviews. How did you prepare?
I had a bunch of writers from SNL helping me. We spent three weeks working on material, cutting and changing up until the actual day. My SNL training definitely kicked in. But really, it was the most stressful thing ever. I mean, following a really funny president is not what any comedian is angling for.
You showed a lot of restraint in covering the Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal in the finale of SNL. Why?
Well, the timing was terrible because the news broke on a Monday, and that’s a lifetime away from Saturday night. Also, there were a lot of talented people in late-night who got their cracks at it, so you have to try to find a way to repackage it in a way that’s fresh. Strangely, at the table read, I don’t think Arnold got mentioned hardly at all. I think it’s because Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga were here for the finale. There was a lot going on. Timberlake is so good. I pale in comparison to him. It’s like a butter knife next to a Swiss Army knife.
How much pressure do other late-night comedians put on you to make sure every joke on “Weekend Update” is completely fresh?
There isn’t a huge risk of repeating what they’ve done, but we did have to be careful with bin Laden. After it was announced that his wives were potentially coming to the U.S., we had a joke — “They’re either gonna go to Guantanamo Bay or get their own show on Bravo” — and someone on staff was like, “I think I’ve seen that joke four times this week,” so we just pulled it altogether.
Which “Weekend Update” segments are the toughest for you to get through without cracking?
When Fred Armisen is doing an “Update” bit that’s not going well, that’s probably the hardest to not laugh because he is the most fearless performer. Once he did his Native American stand-up comedian character, and the audience just wasn’t going for it. But it’s this great thing — you don’t worry because he couldn’t care less. I feel stressed when other people’s [bits] don’t go well, but with Fred, I’ve been trained to just go with it and know that for certain people, it’s gonna be their favorite thing.
What was your favorite moment of this past season?
When Dana Carvey came back, and we did “Wayne’s World.” It was fascinating to see how the audience reacted. And this year, Bill Hader’s character Stefan got the same reaction. You could see people grabbing the person next to them like, “Oh, my God, we’re at Saturday Night Live on a night when Stefan is here!”
Can you ever see yourself having another “Weekend Update” co-anchor?
The hard part would be imagining anyone other than Amy Poehler. She was my closest friend on the show, and she steers the ship very well. I miss arguing with her — we both come from arguing backgrounds. She’s one of the great all-time arguers.
When you’re out and about New York, what kind of feedback do you get about the show?
It’s mostly positive. But I do get criticism that’s not necessarily intended, which is like, “I love ‘Weekend Update,’ I can’t stand the rest of the show.” And then I have to say: “Well, I’m the head writer, so I’m responsible for that. Ah, that’s my fault.” I do own up.
People seem hypercritical of SNL in a way they aren’t of other late-night comedy shows. Why do you think this is?
I think people have ownership of the show, like it’s a part of your family and you’re allowed to lay into it. You would never want to trade that for not having passionate fans. My favorite thing is meeting people who say they hate the show, but they “haven’t watched it in 30 years.” That irrational, tough-love hatred — that’s the greatest thing.
MUSIC, VARIETY AND COMEDY SERIES CONTENDERS: THR picks five likely candidates
- The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
- Conan (TBS)
- The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
- Real Time With Bill Maher (HBO)
- Saturday Night Live (NBC)
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