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I grew up during one of the best periods of Saturday Night Live. I stayed up late every weekend to watch Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, Tracy Morgan, Chris Kattan, Colin Quinn, and Jimmy Fallon. The monologue and sketches were debated and rehashed the following Monday at school. Before the social media era, SNL was a key place for celebrities to show different sides of themselves and often even prove that they were in on the joke. It humanized them more than a more traditional late-night show could and gave them a stage to show off some lesser-known skills. It was something I looked forward to.
When I started getting into podcasts, Marc Maron was at the top of his game with WTF, and SNL was one of his favorite topics. Countless comedians came on and discussed the auditioning process, the breakneck pace, how sketches get chosen, and, most importantly, how Lorne Michaels still made all the final decisions. Maron’s preoccupation about never making it on the show was a recurring theme that only added to the show’s mystique. Around this time I also read Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, an exhaustive oral history of the show that expertly lays out all the players and gets into the nitty-gritty of the demanding weekly schedule which makes you realize why the cast was famously reputed to do so much cocaine.
Last Saturday night, I finally got to go, thanks to a generous friend whose wife is a writer on the show. When the official email came through confirming our tickets, I was elated—and a little nervous about being able to stay up until 1 am. We booked a table at Le Rock for 8 pm in order to arrive at the studio at 10 pm, as instructed. The check-in process is fine. You wait, do a TSA-style security check, and wait some more. Most of this is soundtracked by a DJ duo who look like undercover cops playing, a little too loudly, a genre of music that I can only describe as an assault on good taste. They pass out canned Dos Equis margaritas, soft drinks, and Dasani water. Your tickets come in a small white envelope with a number or letter written on the back, and when yours is called, you get in another line and head into Studio 8H. Once inside, things finally feel special. The ushers are aggressively pleasant, the nervous energy is contagious,, and the band plays a warm-up set while the audience watches set pieces and props get shuffled around.
Then Michael Che launches into his crowd work, most of which centers around him asking a few tourists if they like his pink A Bathing Ape hoodie. The host last Saturday was, of course, Australian heartthrob Jacob Elordi (6’5”), who most recently starred in Saltburn and Priscilla (the director Sofia Coppola and her husband, Phoenix singer Thomas Mars, were in attendance).
One of the most striking parts of seeing the show live is just how carefully timed and choreographed it is: At the end of Elordi’s monologue and after every sketch, a woman would grab his hand and run with him to the next costume change. The show itself was solid. Punkie Johnson stole Weekend Update with her impression of Deobra Redden, the man who went viral for athletically leaping over a desk to attack a judge. Rachel McAdams emerged, to rapturous applause, to join a mediocre sketch about an acting class. Reneé Rapp performed two songs I have never heard while Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) and Cara Delevingne, who were standing next to us in the crowd, enthusiastically showed their support. I left genuinely impressed at the operation and how it all worked.
Everyone loves to shit on Saturday Night Live these days, and the show is not creating bonafide stars like it used to. But I still watch every week and always have a few laughs. It’s not in its heyday, but it’s topical, timely, and still very glamorous. Hosting or performing as a musical guest remains a pop-culture right of passage and maybe the best place to promote your new television show, movie, or album. The show celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2025, and the rumors are that Lorne will take a step back, handing the job to Tina Fey or Seth Meyers. Maybe I romanticize the show’s history and lore, but it is still something special, and no matter who is leading the charge, I hope it lasts for another 50 years.
Originally Appeared on GQ