From. New York Times
The God of ‘SNL’ Will See You Now
How do you please Lorne Michaels? Twenty-two ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast members – and one who came close – share tales of the audition that can make or break a career.
By DAVE ITZKOFF
AUGUST 22, 2013
For nearly 40 years, “Saturday Night Live” has been a reliable engine for generating new comedic talent, and a springboard for stars like Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Kristen Wiig.
Though new cast members come from many different avenues, there’s ultimately only one way to get on this NBC late-night franchise: impress Lorne Michaels, the “SNL” creator and executive producer who has run the show for 33 of its 38 seasons and is known for his cryptic, sphinxlike presence over the show.
This year he and his team have their work cut out for them as they try to replace the veteran “SNL” players Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis and prepare for the departure of Seth Meyers early next year. These losses will test a tradition that has evolved through decades, as Mr. Michaels and his colleagues spend their summers scouring sketch and improv comedy theaters and stand-up clubs around the country to replenish the ranks at “Saturday Night Live.”
But what exactly is Mr. Michaels looking for? While his personal tastes are enigmatic and the show’s recruiting process is generally opaque, dozens of performers have successfully navigated this minefield of uncertainty and anxiety.
Here, 22 past and present “Saturday Night Live” cast members — and one who almost made it — tell how they auditioned for the show. In these excerpts from their recollections, they reveal the stages of an obstacle course that often culminates with an audition on the “SNL” stage at NBC’s Studio 8H (sometimes more than once) and an ambiguous final interview (or is it a personality test?) with Mr. Michaels himself — all for that one career-making chance to declare that “Live, from New York, it’s ‘Saturday Night’!”
The Original Auditions
CHEVY CHASE I didn’t think the show would last more than a year. I’m not even sure Lorne [Michaels] did. We were going to get our licks in while we could. We went through this stage where basically people tried out with stand-up and [comedy] groups. Gilda [Radner] was already chosen, and Danny [Aykroyd], too. Then [as a head writer] I sat with Lorne in the Steinway building on 57th Street. There was a little proscenium stage, and lots of acts came in. We took Jane [Curtin]. Billy Murray, we didn’t take. [Laughs.] I don’t remember why. But for some reason he didn’t make the cut.
We had our cast and were back at [Studio] 8H, and there was a little room nearby with a long desk which could act as a stage. Lorne asked everybody to go up there and do something. At the end he said, “Chevy, get up there and do something.” So I made up some strange story about Gerald Ford. It was pretty clear that I was a funny guy. I was taller than everybody, and very handsome. [Laughs.] It was a good choice, really.
The Humble Beginnings
DANA CARVEY I was doing stand-up and being offered a lot of bad TV shows. Bill Murray, [Dan] Aykroyd, [John] Belushi — they were guys who might make you laugh, but they could beat you up if they wanted to. I looked like Timmy from the “Lassie” show.
MOLLY SHANNON I heard that Lorne Michaels was looking at tapes. I used my waitressing money and made a tape of my characters. I was on a pay phone across from an El Pollo Loco, and I found out that he had passed on it. I was crying. I was devastated.
TRACY MORGAN I was married, I had three sons, and I was on welfare. I didn’t want that no more. I knew that if I got “Saturday Night Live,” it would change me and my family’s lives forever.
CHERI OTERI I was temping, and my manager called me and said, “What are you doing Monday?” And I was like: “Very funny. I’m temping here at legal at Disney.” And he goes, “No, you’re not — you’re flying to New York to audition for ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ” I screamed so loud at the legal department at Disney, and that’s a no-no.
The Bad Advice
SHANNON There was a woman scouting for the show, and she said: “Whatever you do, when you audition for Lorne, don’t do that character, Mary Katherine Gallagher. Lorne will hate that. You’ll never, ever get hired if you do that for your audition.”
DAVID SPADE Dennis Miller told me: “You don’t want to kill too hard, Spudley. It throws up a red flag. You don’t want to be a polished road act.” And I go: “Well, I’m certainly not that. There’s no danger.”
JAY MOHR I didn’t take it [the audition] very seriously. The odds of getting on “Saturday Night Live” are zero. You could go to astronaut school, and you can learn how to get in a rocket and go to the moon, but there’s no “getting a stand-up on ‘Saturday Night Live’ ” school.
SETH MEYERS The hotel I was staying at, everybody was somebody who’d been flown in for the audition. If you went and got ice, you would hear snippets of auditions. Everybody else’s stuff sounds better than yours.
KRISTEN WIIG They said the audition should be five minutes long, and do not go over five minutes. I ended up buying a stopwatch because I was so nervous. I would time it and it would say “5:02,” and I would be like, “I’m going to get this in five minutes exactly.” Then I heard that some people were out there for 11 minutes. I was like, “What?”
BILL HADER I got in an elevator, and there was a guy who was also auditioning, and I thought: “That guy brought a lot of props. I didn’t bring anything.” And he was looking at me, going, “That guy didn’t have to bring any props.” We were just sizing each other up in the elevator. And that was Andy Samberg.
JIMMY FALLONIn makeup, they go, “Hey, Jimmy, some advice: Lorne Michaels doesn’t laugh when you audition. So don’t let that throw you.” Then the audio guy, he goes, “Hey, little advice — Lorne doesn’t like to laugh.” I’m like, “O.K.” Then Marci [Klein, a longtime “SNL” producer] comes out: “Jimmy, they’re ready for you. But hey, a little advice for you. If Lorne doesn’t laugh, be cool.” I’m like, what is this guy’s problem? He’s doing a comedy show. Why does he not like to laugh?
WILL FERRELL Everyone was camped out in these dressing rooms on the ninth floor. It felt like we were a bunch of paratroopers, about to storm the beach at D-Day. “You hear any news from the front?” You stand outside the stage doors while you’re listening to the performer ahead of you finish up. And you’re looking along the walls, at all the past cast members. It’s just hitting you, and you’re trying not to vomit.
OTERI Chris [Kattan] and Will [Ferrell] and I all went out — I don’t want to say where, because it’s a famous restaurant and it’s Italian-owned and I don’t want any trouble. But I ended up throwing up all night from food poisoning. All the blood vessels in my eyes were broken, and the blood vessels in my face. I did not sleep. I walked into the audition and
CARVEY I had done the Church Lady as a stand-up character. So by the time Lorne saw me, I did the whole thing: “Well, well, well, we like ourselves don’t we?” “Conveeeenient.” I had a bunch of impressions like Robin Leach and things that were cool back in the ’80s.
MOHR I did an Andrew McCarthy impression and that was good currency, because it was very strange and very off the beaten path. I did a lot of De Niro and Pesci as Batman and Robin.
OTERI The biggest thing on was Diane Sawyer interviewing Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. So I played Lisa Marie Presley in that interview. She’s like rock royalty marrying the king of pop, and she sounded like a street-corner thug. Overly defensive but a tough cookie.
ANA GASTEYER I did Martha Stewart. I was kind of obsessed with her. I knew that if I wore a blond wig I could look like her, and she had this patrician thing I’d grown up with.
FERRELL I did Bill Clinton. That was horrible. Especially when I saw Darrell Hammond’s audition. I was like, “Oh, I get it — he’s the impersonation guy.”
CHRIS PARNELL I did this Southern preacher, who, it comes out through his sermon, is sexually obsessed and really inappropriate.
MORGAN I did a gay track runner. And a character named Biscuit, from the inner city, who had a chip on his shoulder because his dad wasn’t there.
FALLON I did a celebrity walk-a-thon and put a bunch of celebrities in it. Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, Bill Cosby. I was such a giant Adam Sandler fan, and I had a good impression of him.
MEYERS It’s 2001, so I think I’m doing Russell Crowe, Hugh Grant and David Arquette.
FRED ARMISEN Fericito, the Latin timbales-playing Tito Puente guy, was the majority of my audition. I did Sam Waterston from “Law & Order” and Vin Diesel.
WIIG I did a very timely impression of Jane Pauley. [Laughs.] That was just a sign of things to come, because I always played older women with short hair.
HADER My audition was me as Vinny Vedecci, doing Al Pacino talking to his maid staff. Tony Blair talking about the new “Star Wars” movie in Parliament. James Mason with an expired gift certificate for a dozen doughnuts.
TARAN KILLAM I did eight or nine impressions, including Brad Pitt, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti and Seth Rogen. I finished with this sketch that is a hypothetical Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New York Jets, and to honor the two New York teams, they’ve hired Broadway superstar David Keith Mitchell to perform the halftime show by himself. It’s a medley of musical-theater show tunes, and David Keith Mitchell clearly knows very little about football.
CECILY STRONG I did Elizabeth Dole responding to a heckler.
KATE McKINNON I did Penélope Cruz.