Last weekend the world received the gift of the SNL 40th Anniversary Special. The special turned my mind to 2003, when I was fresh out of college and living in New York City. It was a strange time for this born and raised upstater. One of the first things I did when I arrived in New York was request tickets to see Saturday Night Live.
And thus, one Friday afternoon in mid-September I found out that I won two tickets to see a live taping in December. 1 The staffer gave me the details of when to get there and who was hosting that night. The musical guest: P!nk, not too shabby. The host: The Rev. Al Sharpton. Yeah, that’s right Al Sharpton hosted SNL only once and that’s the show I got to see…jealous?
There was no question who I was going to ask to see the show with me. In one of those great moments in Residence Life housing assignments, I met two of my closest friends as a result of being randomly assigned to the 3rd floor of Frisch Hall. We watched the SNL 25th anniversary special together in the lounge. It was still early in our college days, but, watching that show together and laughing at the same jokes, I realized I had found friends I could be myself around. We would steal jokes from SNL and beat them into the ground.
We were told to get to Rockefeller Center two hours before the show; I think we got there at least three. Even waiting in line to see the show was exciting. I was ready to quit college and become an NBC page, but I had already graduated, so it wouldn’t have been as dramatic. If you’ve never been to a live taping, there is a lot of standing in lines until you get to the studio. Shortly before we were seated, we were in line and Johnnie Cochran walks past us. The glitz and glamour of television was all too real.
The studio is a lot smaller than I had anticipated. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to move sets around and make sure people are in the right places Al Sharpton was a great host, Paris Hilton showed up during Weekend Update, and P!nk was a show stopper..per usual! I thought my memory might be a little fishy, but according to our good friends at Wikipedia all those things actually happened.
But what stands out to me most of all from that night is that what they do is really incredible. All these people put on a 90 minute live show every week where a million things can go wrong. Some characters become classics and some are never seen again. There are probably more bad sketches in SNL’s 40 year history than good ones, but it takes a lot of courage to go on to a nationally televised show, without being able to start over, and try to make people laugh.