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An Insider's Look At 'SNL' Behind The Scenes

April 1st, 2009 10:53am EDT favorite Add to My News
SNLI am a Saturday Night Live junkie - so much so that at times I have trouble hiding how big of a fan when that little thing called professionalism may be at stake. It was so apparent in the interview I conducted with current featured player Bobby Moynihan - a self-described "SNL" nerd himself - that he casually mentioned the prospect of me attending a show.

Now I could tell Bobby was a really nice guy, but I thought he was just trying to be polite. I was pleasantly surprised (read: screamed like a 12 year old girl!) when a week later he followed up on that invitation and asked if I wanted to hang out in the writers' room for the March 14 episode Tracy Morgan was hosting. Answer: Yes...yes I would.

You know how some companies advertise "behind the scene" tours but really there is nothing "behind the scenes" about it? This was going through my head right up to the point that Seth Meyers and Keenan Thompson had to slightly move out of the way - in the surprisingly narrow hallways - so I could get past them and take my seat in the writers' room. Yes, I was in studio 8H. Yes, I was backstage at "Saturday Night Live." (You could have followed some of the events that night on Twitter.)



When you enter the writers' room on the ninth floor, the first thing you notice are the photos of every cast member lining the walls in, from what I could tell, no particular order. For example, Tina Fey's picture was right next to Rob Schneider's. From the doorway there's a window on the right that looks down to the studio on the eighth floor from which the writers' (sort of) watch the show from a table in the middle of the room. Lining the room are couches and chairs that I have to assume have been there since 1975. This is where the people that have no business being in that room sit. This is where I sat.

Saturday Night Live

Writers' Room



The room was crowded. Before the show started Bobby Moynihan came up to say hello. He mentioned usually the room is not this crowded but 30 Rock had finished shooting for the season and half the cast and writers were in attendance. And yes, I had noticed Scott Adsit - looking very non-Pete Hornberger in a full suit - and Judah Friedlander - looking very Judah Friedlander in his trademark hat - walking in and out of the room. And this would be a theme for the evening: random celebrities walking in and walking out. At one point Bill Paxton from Big Love walked in. On my "Air Rundown" sheet I noticed there was a "Big Love" sketch scheduled right after Weekend Update. This was true, but Paxton had no part in it. See ... random.

SNL Big Love Sketch

Big Love sketch



Surreal became my word of the night. Being in a room that I had read so many stories about was surreal. Watching the "Saturday Night Live" broadcast with the people that actually wrote the sketches was surreal. Watching the show and having Will Forte politely tap me on the shoulder so he could get by was surreal. Watching Seth Meyers on the closed circuit television wearing a suit give his sign off from Weekend Update, then, five minutes later, having a white tee-shirt wearing Seth Meyers leaning in the doorway watching the same closed circuit television was surreal. Being told we could not go on set to watch Kelly Clarkson - usually everyone in the writers' room can watch the musical act from the set but on this night it was too crowded - and sharing a look of disappointment with Judah Friedlander was surreal. On the way back up to the writers' room, almost being run over by a very focused looking Tracy Morgan in the stairwell was...well, that was just scary; that was one intense looking dude.

After the show an exhausted and a bit deflated - he had a sketch cut at the last minute - looking Bobby Moynihan asked if I wanted a tour of the set; Bobby Moynihan asks a lot of questions that there is no possible chance I would ever say "no" to. He needed to stop by his dressing room to change before we went down to the set. While I was waiting outside his dressing room I had never felt so out of place in my life. Andy Samberg and Bill Hader were hanging out to my left discussing Hader's John Malkovich impression that he had done on update earlier. Casey Wilson, Fred Armisen and his fiance, Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, pass me in the hallway. Kristen Wiig and a couple friends were hanging out in her dressing room to my right. It's kind of like being the nerdiest dude at a party (this is something I have experienced quite often) with really cool people - so cool, in fact, that you don't care that you're not talking to anyone ... you just want to be able to say, someday, that you were there.

I finally see a familiar face. I have no idea what came over me, but the nervousness was gone and I went straight over and started talking to Chris Parnell. Now, I really don't know Chris Parnell, but I had spent about 45 minutes on the phone with him for an interview ... close enough. I think it took him a minute to remember who I was, but I didn't care. The man who plays Dr. Spaceman was, at this point, the only semblance of reality I had to cling onto.

Saturday Night Live

SNL set after the show



I've been in a lot of small television studios before including David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. "Saturday Night Live" is bigger than those ... but not by a lot. There are surprisingly few seats in the studio, hence the almost impossible nature of getting a ticket. Bobby suggested going up on stage for a photo; I was almost scared to do so. I almost felt like I should just keep my eyes shut like Indiana Jones when Belloq opened the Ark of the Covenant. Also, to be honest, I felt a little nerdy taking photos. Bobby made it clear I could hang out in the studio the rest of the evening taking photos and not be able to come close to the amount of photos he had already taken. OK, fair enough. So, yes, for a few moments I was standing right where every host had stood before me: Steve Martin, George Carlin, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken ... I almost shouted out, "We have a great show tonight! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are here! Stick around!" -- I did successfully fight off this temptation.

Saturday Night Live

Bobby Moynihan & Starpulse writer Mike Ryan on set



Saturday Night Live

SNL set after the show



Bobby said there was something he wanted to show me on the side of the set. We walk up a few stairs and turn around to see a sign that says, "Watch Your Head." Bobby told me to look closer. Right after the warning was the word "Farley." Chris Farley used to hit his head so often on that sign as he went down the stairs that he carved his name into the sign as a reminder. Moynihan said it was also a reminder to him ... a reminder to never forget where he is and how special that really is. Even on a night, like this one, where an important sketch was cut at the last minute, he still works in a place where that sign exists. Bobby Moynihan says that he never forgets that sign. You know what? Neither will I.

Saturday Night Live


(Mike's Pulse)

Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
or follow Mike on Twitter


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