How to Get Cast (And Get Laughs) on 'Saturday Night Live'

A hilarious new feature by New York Times' Dave Itzkoff features SNL alums recounting their auditions for the show's notoriously difficult creator, Lorne Michaels.

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A hilarious new feature by the New York Times' Dave Itzkoff today features SNL alums recounting their auditions for the show's notoriously difficult creator, Lorne Michaels. The comedians' tales, naturally, are highly entertaining, but also offer some hints for aspiring residents of Studio 8H.

Tip 1: Be Chevy Chase

Itzkoff's piece is peppered with tales of stress and fear of failure, except in the case of the supremely confident, self-congratulatory Chevy Chase. "It was pretty clear that I was a funny guy. I was taller than everybody, and very handsome," says the comedian, who was on the show from 1975-76. "It was a good choice, really." 

Tip 2: Don't worry if Lorne doesn't laugh

Jimmy Fallon (1998-2004) says that his SNL colleagues counseled him not to get too rattled if Michaels didn't laugh: 

In 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?

Tip 3: Food poisoning is not fatal to success

Cheri Oteri (1995-2000) remembers the time that she joined Chris Kattan (1996-2003) and Will Ferrell (1995-2002) for a meal at an Italian restaurant before her audition, after which she "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," she says. "I did not sleep. I walked into the audition and the makeup person said, “Oh my God, what happened to you?” I looked like I was in a car accident."

Tip 4: Feel free to impersonate someone obscure

Though some former cast members explain that their auditions included impersonations of then-popular celebrities—Seth Meyers (2001-present) did "Russell Crowe, Hugh Grant and David Arquette" in 2001—others made strong impressions by mimicking more random public figures. Kristen Wiig (2005-2012) explains she did "a very timely impression of Jane Pauley" and Cecily Strong (2012-present), who joined the cast in 2012, did "Elizabeth Dole responding to a heckler."

Tip 5: Your gag probably won't work...

Ferrell says he went into his callback audition with the idea he was going to do a gag. It didn't end up working out:

I [had come] in with a briefcase full of counterfeit money that I’d bought at a toy store. And in the middle of whatever Lorne was going to say, I was going to start stacking the equivalent of $25,000 on his desk. “Listen, Lorne, you and I can say whatever we want to say. But we really know what talks, and that’s money. I’m going to walk out of this room, and you can either take this money or not. And I can be on the show.” But it was just not a joking atmosphere. It was just tense. And I never get to do my gag.

Tip 6: ...but your random instinct will

A random idea ended up being gold for Andy Samberg (2005-2012) in his callback:

I had gone to a flea market in New York and bought these short shorts. Liz Cackowski [then an “SNL” writer] had come by to wish me luck [on my callback], and I was wearing those shorts and doing this bit, called “The Out-of-Breath Jogger From 1992.” It was just me in these short shorts, yelling out things from 1992 and talking about how out of breath I was. And she was like, “You should do that tomorrow.” I was like, “O.K., I’ll do it.” Because what have I got to lose, really?

Read the rest of the piece here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.