Guess Which Convention the Weekend Update Guys Liked Better (Q&A)
Ahead of their special 'SNL' DNC edition, Colin Jost and Michael Che weigh in on everything from Bernie Sanders' reluctance to relinquish the spotlight ("I feel like he’s kind of Ted Cruz-ing it") to the differences between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to comedy.
Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update team of Colin Jost and Michael Che have taken their parody newscast on the road. Last week, MSNBC broadcast a special segment from Cleveland after the third night of the Republican convention, not long after Ted Cruz drew jeers for refusing to endorse Donald Trump and encouraged Americans to "vote your conscience." (Jost joked, "It’s like if Jiminy Cricket showed up ... and everyone in the crowd was like, ‘A cricket – Kill it!’")
They'll be at it again tonight at the Democratic National Convention, scheduled to air on the cable news network after Barack Obama delivers his remarks in support of Hillary Clinton at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the guys at the hotel conference room that served as their makeshift headquarters, where they weighed in on everything from Bernie Sanders' reluctance to relinquish the spotlight ("I feel like he’s kind of Ted Cruz-ing it") to the differences between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to comedy. What they say may surprise you.
How do you guys put together something like this amid all the DNC insanity?
Che: We have everybody from the show with us and we're kind of used to doing things on the fly.
Jost: This is a weird one, though, because when we’re doing our regular thing at least it’s at our home base. It’s really weird to do the thing you usually do in a studio in New York in a makeshift studio in an arena in Cleveland or Philly. On a basic level: We didn’t even have printers to print out notes.
Che: It felt like a task on a reality show where everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. You can’t really prepare for it but you have to be prepared for anything.
How is the writing process different from a regular SNL episode?
Che: It’s not the writing of the jokes themselves so much as it is not writing for a live audience. The jokes have to be a little more conversational, a little more pointed — as opposed to waiting for something to land. Because there’s no one really there to laugh. I know a lot of people who saw it were like, "Man, the audience sucked." Well, yeah, because there was no audience.
Jost: It was like five people and crew members.
Che: It’s tricky because usually we’re letting jokes hang so they can land. But here we have to let it keep it moving, kind of like a cable news thing.
Jost: Which is kind of nice because it just makes you do something different. You find a different rhythm. It feels a little bit more natural because you’re not interrupted by camera cuts as much and by the audience. Maybe it will be even better this week because we’ll know what to expect. But it’s kind of exciting to try a slightly different format.
There’s something weirdly satisfying about hearing just a few people laughing. It feels like you’re hanging out with friends.
Jost: Right, like a Talk Soup setup. Which I always liked watching for that reason. When we do a rehearsal at SNL, the only people there are the crew. And if you can make them laugh, you know something’s pretty funny. They’re there to not laugh.
Che: They’re not even there for Weekend Update. They’re there because they want to see Bruno Mars perform.
So what do you make of the conventions so far?
Jost: We were just saying that Philly and the DNC is so much crazier than the Republicans. When we were going to the Republican one, everyone kept saying, “Be careful, watch out.” But this is ten times crazier. Just way more people and so many more protesters — and all of them are Democrats. That’s the crazy part. Like, Republican, it was ten crazy people who had giant crosses and bullhorns but they were just religious people who were there. This is just other Democrats going nuts about Bernie stuff.
Che: One of our writers, Josh Patton, made a good point of how Bernie supporters and Trump supporters are the most animated of all the candidates. And being that Bernie lost, they seem to be a little more angry and frustrated here. I guess that’s the reaction you’re seeing. Maybe if Trump would have lost the Trump, his supporters would have come out in full force and tried to change something. But this convention is ten times more aggressive and crazy than the RNC was.
Does that scare you guys at all?
Che: Nah. I GREW UP IN THE PROJECTS!!! Put that in all caps when you write it.
Not the Trump projects.
Jost: Not those. Those are pretty nice.
Che: I grew up in a different tower.
Jost: It depresses me a little bit.
Che: Why? Now I’m interviewing you. “Why?”
Jost: “Speak to that.” Because so many people are out and all of the energy is specifically for a cause that’s a lost cause. Like, I get Bernie’s platform and making sure Hillary enacts that. But just screaming that they want Bernie when they’re doing a roll call where you know the result is not Bernie, it just seems more futile and I wish those energies were going toward something more productive.
Che: Also a lot of these Bernie supporters are really young. This is the first election for a lot of these people. You don’t want them to be already jaded by the process after their first one. You want them to kind of keep it going and keep a level head and still hold whoever is president to task. When you watch on TV they’re crying and distraught. This isn’t the end of it. You can still keep fighting and pushing.
Jost: I haven’t cried that much in a relationship.
Che: Ever! I didn’t cry that much when my dad left! I’m just kidding, I did.
What did you make of Bernie’s speech? Did he speak about himself too much?
Jost: It was a weird mix.
Che: A very strange thing. I don’t know what Bernie’s endgame is. I feel like he’s kind of Ted Cruz-ing it a little and giving it mixed signals. I don’t think he realizes how influential he is and how detrimental it can be sitting on the fence. You’re either all in or you’re not. And this is from an unbiased perspective.
Jost: I don’t like the setting-up of an ulterior agenda with Cruz or with Sanders. Bernie’s weird because he is endorsing her but clearly loves the support he’s getting.
A lot of people say Trump has gone beyond the point of parody. As professional parodists, has he? And which convention has been easier to write material for?
Che: I feel like it’s a lot easier to parody Democrats just because they take themselves so seriously. I think Republicans have a little bit more of an open mind as to how ridiculous they are. Democrats pride themselves in being the highbrow, smart, right choice. So it’s a little bit more fun as a comedian to say, "Listen, we come from the stance that we’re all full of shit, we’re all a little silly and we all stink, so don’t take yourselves too seriously." You know what I mean? A lot of times people will say, “That’s offensive.” But more so on the Left, because …
Jost: That’s their game a little bit. They have a list of, “This is the list you say, this is the list you don’t,” and they’re worried if they say the wrong thing.
Che: Republicans don’t care.
Jost: Yeah. They’re like, “Enh, I’ll say this. No? That’s wrong? OK.”
Che: I like them red states. I perform there and they say, “God damn, that n—r’s funny. I love that boy!"
Jost: You’re paraphrasing me.
So you’re saying as comedians can almost identify or sympathize with Trump’s claims that political correctness has gone too far?
Che: Well, what joke can I say about Donald Trump that he hasn’t said about himself? When he gets dressed, he comes out as Donald Trump. We’ve made fun of his hair for 30 years. It’s still the same if not worse. There’s nothing we could really say about him.
Jost: We’re not changing his mind.
Che: Yeah. Donald Trump is Donald Trump! He doesn’t apologize for who he is. We know he’s tacky. We know he’s orange. We know he’s got a bad haircut.
I’m actually a little surprised to hear how much support you have for Trump, in a weird way.
Che: It’s not actually support. See, I feel like comedy is a lot like magic: You can’t see the trick coming. The element of surprise is what makes it cool. So if Twitter has a million jokes about Donald Trump, we have to come up with the million-and-one that people haven’t heard before. But if you come up with a group that everyone protects or has sympathy for, and you can make jokes that make people laugh, then it’s a bit easier for us. It makes it a little bit more fun.
Jost: Right. And what Michael always says is that you don’t want to have a take on a joke that’s not going to change anyone’s mind. There’s certain things you have to point out, but if they’re not original or presented in a different way, it just feels like you’re droning on. It turns people off.
Che: No matter how you feel, you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself. If you can laugh at Donald Trump, then you better be able to laugh at yourself, too. For us as comedians, we have to point out what’s funny. You know those “what’s wrong with this picture” puzzles you get as a kid? That’s what we do, but it shouldn’t matter what side it’s on.
Colin, you’re position at SNL switched at the beginning of last season, from head writer to focusing on Weekend Update. Why did that change happen and do you feel it benefited Weekend Update?
Jost: Definitely. And also my life in general. I had done that job for three years and was pretty burned out doing it. It was really hard to do both. Later in the week, it was hard for us to have time and sit down for Weekend Update. And Michael writes a lot, too.
Che: I can honestly attest that we were having a lot of conversations, prompted by me, saying, “How the hell are you able to do that?” The workload of head writer on a 90-minutes sketch-comedy show that goes on week after week, plus [Weekend Update], is damn near impossible. Colin and Seth [Meyers] and Tina [Fey] and people like that who are able to do that — it’s really, really, really difficult. So when he was able to lock in and focus, I think we had more fun because we had time to. But we’re both still writers on the show and contribute so much.
Jost: Now, on weeks where we have a sketch or two on top of Weekend Update, we’re like, “How did we ever do more than this?” It’s nice to be in a performer’s head space earlier on in the week.
Che: Since we love doing comedy and are really ingrained in the show, you end up taking on more than you really should because it’s so much fun to do. You don’t really think about how tired it’s making you because all you think about is the show.
Jost: Yeah. When Lorne [Michaels] is like, “Could you write a cold open?” You’re like, “Yeah, sure. I’ll do that.” Sometimes it’s nice to protect yourself and be a little more selfish. That can be hard to do.
Che: I wish every SNL fan could watch how the show is produced every week. They would get so much more of an appreciation. And that’s coming from a guy that was an SNL fan that got to write on the show and thought, “Holy God, this is difficult.” Seth had an orientation meeting with me when I first started working on the show. He was like, “The production and speed of the show is going to blow your mind far more than any performer ever will.” And he’s absolutely correct. It’s kind of mind-blowing. That’s how we can come here and put a show together in just three days. You have to learn how to roll with the punches.
I think a significant improvement could be felt between your first season and last season, in the jokes, the pace, the chemistry.
Jost: We had a lot of fun this year.
Che: I always feel like in TV, it’s really hard to be a stepdad. When you inherit a segment that people grew up with, they are like, “This is not what I’m used to.” It’s hard. There’s a period where you’re trying to do what people are used to and fulfill what they miss. After a while you just have got to shake it off and be yourself.
Jost: Make it new.
Che: And honest. And the people that like it will come along. And the people that don’t like? Well, there’s 99 other channels.
Jost: I think there’s, like, way more.
Che: I don’t have cable.
Jost: I think you need a bigger package.
Che: When you put up the article and blow up one sentence, can you make it, “Colin Jost: I think you need a bigger package?”
Jost: That will get readers for sure.