'The Other Two' Bosses on 'SNL,' Their Lorne Michaels Reunion and the Comedy of "Tiny Humiliations"

THR - Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider - Photographed by Josh Telles - H 2019
Photographed by Josh Telles

'SNL' alums Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, showrunners on Comedy Central's new series, open up about the family comedy — which follows two struggling siblings navigating their younger brother's instant fame as a pop star.

Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider never worked together prior to joining the writing staff of Saturday Night Live in 2011. But their fruitful six-year partnership there — marked by viral music videos (see Cameron Diaz straddling a minivan in "Back Home Ballers") and a creative bond with cast breakout Kate McKinnon — culminated in the pair serving as co-head writers during the wild 2016-17 season, which netted 11 million weekly viewers for its chronicling of the election and President Trump’s first 100 days.

But as Kelly and Schneider, both 35, were managing what may have been the most high-profile season in the NBC stalwart’s storied history, they simultaneously plotted their next move, which rolls out Jan. 24. Their new Comedy Central series, The Other Two, is a bit of a stretch for the beleaguered cable network fond of sketch and slapstick. The family comedy — starring Drew Tarver, Helene Yorke, and Molly Shannon — follows two siblings as they navigate their kid brother’s instant fame as a pop star. 

Meeting up at a Hollywood bar in early January (their conversation has been edited for length and clarity), newish Angeleno Kelly, who lives with his longtime boyfriend, and devout Brooklynite Schneider, who married comedy writer Mike Karnell in July, discussed reteaming with SNL boss Lorne Michaels on The Other Two and the underlying "exhaustion and sadness" of writing political jokes now. 

You two didn’t start out at SNL as writing partners, did you?

CHRIS KELLY No, we started around the same time and happened to write together one week. One week turned into two. The SNL schedule is so crazy that if something works, you keep doing it.

What are your shared sensibilities?

SARAH SCHNEIDER We were gravitating toward darker, sadder things than the other writers and cast.

KELLY We like silly and we like death. Tiny humiliations really make us laugh. In the pilot, there’s a scene where Drew Tarver’s character goes in for a commercial audition where he smells a fart. We pitched that several times at SNL and it never worked for anyone else there.

Was it a relief to turn your attention away from the news cycle?

KELLY I miss SNL immensely. That half-hour before the show, I’ll find myself just going about my life in L.A., and I’ll get borderline teary. Then I remember writing up-to-date political commentary and Trump. I don’t miss that at all.

SCHNEIDER Even that season, we started pivoting away from Trump because it was just so exhausting. You have to keep up with all the other jokes in addition to the news. You don’t want to repeat anything, or unintentionally poach from Seth Meyers or Steven Colbert.

KELLY Keeping up with what people wanted SNL to be was difficult. Some weeks people wanted more political commentary but the rest of the audience would be like, "Why isn’t the show silly anymore?" It became about finding the sweet spot and handling a lot of breaking Friday news.

SCHNEIDER The pussy tape!

KELLY We had a vice presidential debate skit that was all ready — and the evening before, the pussy tape got released. I don’t want to make it just about us, because it was bad for everybody, but fucking damn it.

Do you have a favorite memory from that season?

KELLY I just liked making funny videos with Sarah, Kate and Aidy [Bryant]. Then we became head writers, the world exploded and it was all political commentary.

SCHNEIDER There was never a pure moment of silly joy. Every moment was tinged with so many emotions, such as exhaustion and sadness. Kate [as Hillary Clinton] singing "Hallelujah" after the election was poignant. I’ll never forget it.

Was that cathartic so soon after the election or difficult? 

SCHNEIDER I had a particularly hard time. We originally wrote a cold open that was much longer. It was all the women in the cast talking about how rough it was — and there was almost no comedy. It included a lot of things that Chris and I really wanted to say — and it got cut down and cut down until it was gone. Her going up there alone and singing said everything. But that day sucked. 

How much are the brother and sister on The Other Two informed by both of you?

SCHNEIDER A good amount. We knew we wanted to write siblings. The way that we relate is very sibling-esque. 

KELLY Even at SNL, when we talked about our hometowns, we had the same well of experiences. I’m from Sacramento and she’s from New Jersey. And Sacramento is the New Jersey of California. 

It’s not an easy time to launch a comedy on basic cable. 

KELLY It’s a crazy time to even watch TV. The shows that I tend to latch onto are ones I’ve heard so many people talk about them. That’s how I heard about Search Party on TBS. Same with Killing Eve. People wouldn’t stop talking about it. I hope we’re the comedy Killing Eve, but I don’t know what’ll happen.

Lorne Michaels is an executive producer on The Other Two. So he was cool about you both leaving SNL?

KELLY We spent our whole last season at SNL casting the pilot and getting his feedback.

SCHNEIDER But in a very kind way, he was like, “The door is still open if you want to stay.”

KELLY In the dream scenario, I would like to go back and write on the show for a week or two — pop in and help out.

SCHNEIDER We’ll see if Lorne reads this and says, "No."

This story also appears in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.