Saturday Night Live has entertained audiences for 34 years. With the show coming off one of its most successful seasons to date, we look at how Lorne Michaels continues to catch lightning in a bottle.
Funny people, on the whole, aren’t really that hard to come by. and though this may sound counterintuitive, that’s what makes piecing together the perfect Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast such an art. that’s also what makes the job of creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels so difficult.
Just a little more than a month before the start of the show’s 35th season, Michaels is still in search of such new talent, talent that will be capable of hefting the show’s blazing comedy torch in the wake of its best-rated season in history. It is Michaels’s hope that he will find the right people during a weeklong trip through the storied comedic stomping grounds of Chicago and Los Angeles, the homes of SNL “farm team” comedy troupes Second City and Groundlings, respectively.
But what separates just another comedy-club king from someone with the potential to be a Saturday Night Live superstar? The answer is undoubtedly more art than science. Dana Carvey, for example, who was an SNL cast member from 1986 to 1993, was able to nail personalities as diverse as the Church Lady, Ross Perot, and George H. W. Bush. The late Chris Farley, on the other hand, who gave five years to the show, wasn’t much for impressions, but his manic thrashing-and-crashing performing style took physical comedy into previously unseen territory. Mike Myers was known for his original and memorable characters such as Wayne Campbell of “Wayne’s World,” Linda Richman of “Coffee Talk,” and German talk-show host Dieter of “Sprockets” during his seven seasons on the show. And don’t count out looks, either: Though former head writer, cast member, and “Weekend Update” host Tina Fey was a driving force of the show during her six-year tenure, it was her striking resemblance to 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin that earned her the most attention (and an Emmy nod) during a temporary return to the show last year.
However, Michaels -- who created NBC’s Saturday Night in 1975 (the name changed to Saturday Night Live two years later) -- makes it clear that bearing a passing resemblance to a pop-culture pincushion isn’t what ranks highest on a résumé. “We have a really good hair-and-makeup department for that,” he tells American Way in a rare interview. Instead, the key is having strengths that round out the cast. “It’s much more about bringing in people who are complementary to the people you have.”