I love Saturday Night Live.
I know that's not a very hip admission anymore. I don't care. I watched SNL as a kid and have watched it every Saturday since. Has it sucked at times? Yes. Does it ever go a whole show without at least a few dud sketches? Almost never. And yes, comedy snobs will find the fields of dead jokes fertile ground for snubbing.
It doesn't matter. I love sketch comedy. I love the courage it takes to bomb live. I've actually had the luck and good fortune to have sat in for a whole taping of the show, back when Tina Fey was the head writer, and was included in one notes meetings with only Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey and one other amigo of mine.
I'm sure lots of people have done that. But for me it was a great thrill. They do two full shows every weekend. First, they do an early one: the "rehearsal". They bring in an audience and do the whole thing. It becomes pretty clear what works and what doesn't. Then, they have a pow-wow where they scrap extra sketches that flopped, pick the sketch order and compare notes. This is the meeting I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall in.
Unlike what you might imagine, Lorne Michaels didn't miss anything. He gets it. Completely. He didn't miss a single beat. I listened to him ruminating about each sketch and he was letter perfect, even with small comedy beats I thought I was clever to have noticed. He caught everything.
It was eye-opening, frankly.
And Tina Fey didn't say much. Back then it was before she was the Tina Fey we all know and love now. She was pretty quiet, taking notes, nodding yes a lot and generally looking fucking exhausted. Both of them were incredibly polite to me and neither would know me now if I hit them in the stomach with a shovel.
But, as I say, it was a thrill.
After they decide the lineup, they thank the rehearsal audience and usher them out. Then they bring in a fresh audience for the live taping. The SNL players start to get amped up. The musical guests mill around. The various unaffiliated hangers-on (like me) chat up the regulars. I said hello to Darrell Hammond and he scowled and looked away like I had an ass face. Some people don't love the "fans" being on the set. In his defense, I do have a face that sort of resembles someone's ass.
But everyone else was great. Seth Meyers was super friendly. We met Andy Samberg and Will Forte briefly. Amy Poehler waved hello. And the show's photographer, Mary Ellen Matthews, who takes all of those amazing stills you see during commercials ("bumpers", they call them) couldn't have been nicer. I half expected a stuffy, self-important ass, but we were shocked to find such an unassuming, down to earth person snaps all those memorable pictures.
SNL is iconic. Many, edgier, racier, even funnier sketch comedy shows have come and gone, but Saturday Night Live continues to chug along. I like most of the cast members more than I like my own family, and I often sit back and wonder if Abby Elliot and I would fall in love immediately or just have really really descriptive sexts.
I'm a simple, stupid man.
But SNL is an industry, and while I've been tempted, at times, to just catch the "good stuff" online, I always watch the whole show on my DVR. It's a form of loyalty, I suppose. There's so little of that left in the world, misguided and one-sided as it may be.
One thing I never knew before my visit, is just how acutely aware they are of the shitty sketches. It would be like you or I watching them. They're not deluded. They get it. They groan. They chuckle to themselves. They shake their heads.
From time to time, something KILLS in rehearsal and then flops in the live show. They expect that. And they really involve the guest star in the decision process about what sketches to include and in what order. The show which I had access to featured a guest who had zero comic timing and a musical guest who brought an entourage of about four thousand people with him, so the place was a zoo, and everyone had the stinking suspicion that they were about to air a real crapper.
"He/She's a great person, but he/she's struggling with the comedy." Lorne confided politely about the guest host. Of course, he wasn't spilling the beans. We could all see it. Some people have no comic timing at all.
"Oh well." Tina Fey said, with a smile.
"Oh well." Lorne agreed. The show must go on.
Lorne explained to us that most viewers tune in until Weekend Update. That's the line of demarcation. After that, they fall asleep or change the channel or turn off the TV. So SNL tries to stack their best stuff before Weekend Update. If it's a really weak show, you'll see the musical guest early, as kind of an interest buffer to get you through to the fake news.
The show ended up being a real donkey, and everyone knew it. The SNL cast tried their best to ramp up the comedy, but shit fell flat all over the place. In one sketch, Keenan Thompson threw his voice a certain way that killed in rehearsal, and then flopped in the live version. So he threw it harder, trying to bring the audience in, maybe starting a spark that might get any kind of fire going. No dice. It felt forced and he gave up.
I was watching the disaster from Lorne's office. The only thing that saved the day was an impersonation by Darrell Hammond that people had grown to love. Bill Clinton. That was the highlight of the show.
Afterward, my friend and I were invited to the after-party and then the after-after party. Both were pretty forgettable. It felt like a party after a losing away-game. Everyone was a little bit bummed and salty. I was expecting a John Belushi drugfest but instead I got stuck in a booth talking to two of the scummiest, most power-hungry CAA junior agents in the history of civilization.
The reason I tell this story is to illustrate how much I love SNL. I've been watching it religiously for as long as I can remember. And so when I heard that Aaron Rodgers, one of the funniest people in the NFL, was invited to host, I was thrilled.
He's gonna be awesome, I thought.
But Aaron Rodgers passed. And that's beautiful offseason story #1. Aaron Rodgers passes on hosting SNL because he promised a friend he'd stand up at his wedding.
What a guy. That's real friendship. How many of us would do the same thing? To host SNL, I'd consider shooting my mother in the abdomen with a bow and arrow.
Actually, who am I kidding? I wouldn't think twice.
But to be at a wedding? Seriously? I don't even go to weddings when I'm NOT invited to host Saturday Night Live.
Aaron Rodgers said that he hopes he's invited to host another episode in the future. I'm sure he will be, and when he finally does, he's going to be awesome at it. He's a natural.
Awesome story #2 is much more sappy, but more powerful.
New Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano coached Rutgers in 2010. During that season, one of his players, defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, suffered a serious spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.
Since then, he's shown remarkable resolve and has worked tirelessly at a recovery.
LeGrand has been beating his best-case scenario milestones in rehab, so much so that he was able to lead the Rutgers Scarlet Nights onto the field for a game last season.
Still, as the draft approached, Schiano was mindful of LeGrand's loss.
The gesture was that today the Bucs signed Eric LeGrand as an undrafted free agent.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a goddamn thing of beauty.
Talk about making a splash in the NFL.
Schiano's gesture and that of the Buccaneers reminds us that light can come to even the darkest places in the NFL. The fitting tribute for Eric LeGrand marks Schiano as a person of genuine loyalty and integrity.
I'm positive that across the country, Greg Schiano and the Bucs just welcomed thousands of new fans.
I know they got me.