Two Veteran 'SNL' Writers Chat About Planning Trump Sketches for the Show

Courtesy of Will Heath/NBC

Less than two weeks into the show's current summer hiatus, Bryan Tucker and Tim Herlihy were back in work mode at the Greenwich International Film Festival.

As a coda to Saturday Night Live’s highest-rated season in 23 years, on Thursday night co-head writer Bryan Tucker and a predecessor, Tim Herlihy, addressed viewers directly at the Greenwich International Film Festival, sponsored in part by The Hollywood Reporter.

Held at the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford, Connecticut, “Live From Connecticut” consisted of a 45-minute interview conducted by one Lorne M. — not SNL creator Lorne Michaels, but Lorne Manly of The New York Times — followed by an audience Q&A. A recurring theme was how the 42-year-old variety show tackles politics, and Donald Trump’s name came up a few times. 

SNL was so glad to have him as a candidate, and so shocked to have him as president,” said Tucker. “Like so many of you, probably.” While from outside, those at the NBC mainstay seemed gleeful to have the network’s former Apprentice star back as a host in November 2015 — a year and a day before he won the election — Tucker confirmed otherwise.

“There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of trepidation … I knew we’d get a lot of backlash. I mean, there were people protesting outside.” He then repeated an anecdote published by HuffPost hours earlier about Trump’s disdain for an ultimately cut sketch where he played a branched bully in a parody of Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book The Giving Tree — Trump’s announcement Thursday that the U.S. will officially rebuke 195 nations by opposing the Paris climate accord perhaps accelerated how much traction this tidbit got on the internet.

When asked whether the future president was nonetheless “relatively easy to work with,” Tucker responded with a rapid, “No,” continuing, “He had a lot of strong opinions. He’s exactly like what you might think. It was not an easy week for me.”

Tuesday, TMZ published an image of comedian Kathy Griffin beheading Trump as part of a photo shoot gag, causing her to lose her contract with CNN. Although Griffin found support from Jim Carrey and former CNN host Larry King, she has received a public excoriation similar to SNL writer Katie Rich, who was suspended indefinitely after an Inauguration Day tweet that implied Trump’s violent corporeal demise at the hands of his then-10-year-old son, Barron (Full disclosure: This reporter is a former SNL intern who took a Rich-taught improv class years before the latter joined SNL).

“It’s tough,” Tucker told THR about the suspension of Rich, who has not returned to the show. “Not my decision, went above my pay grade. I’m of two minds of it. As a comedy writer, I think we should be able to do what we want, we should have our freedom of speech. But I also have kids, and I do think that some things are bad taste and actions should have consequences. If it was up to me I’m really not sure what I would have done. I absolutely would have asked her to take down the tweet and apologize. The suspension, I’m not really sure.”   

In terms of non-political discourse, Tony-nominated Herlihy (The Wedding Singer) unearthed some trivia from his SNL tenure (1993 to 2000), including that his two least-favorite hosts were both former castmembers. However, his former roommate, Adam Sandler, was likely not one of them — Herlihy has written or co-written 11 of Sandler’s films (another famous past Sandler roommate: Judd Apatow).

Additionally, “The real-life Canteen Boy was a neighbor of my wife’s in Queens,” and “The most thunderous reaction I ever head anything get in my time there was like the eighth Mary Katherine Gallagher sketch,” where people were nearly “tearing the cushions off the seats.”

Soon Tucker was chuckling about one of the biggest mistakes he’s witnessed during his 12 years at SNL, from an October 2013 sketch where Bruce Willis wore the front half of a centaur costume to promote Centauri Vodka. “He either didn’t like the sketch very much or didn’t think that it should have lasted that long, but he decided about two-thirds of the way through to just kind of stop talking and exit,” Tucker recalled. “The person who was in the centaur [costume] behind [John Milhiser] kind of got dragged behind him. And the audience kind of thought, ‘Oh, that sketch ended weird.’”

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