As many of my friends can attest, I have had the best luck with the lottery that is late night TV. In the past year and a half, I have seen The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Conan (when he was in New York that one week), Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and now Saturday Night Live’s dress rehearsals. That’s right; I’ve seen Adam Levine take his shirt off live, witnessed the birth of “YOLO” before everyone else and viewed sketches that never made it on air. And although many will agree that SNL has fallen from the high pedestal of comedy, some of the magic returned for me when seeing it live.
My first SNL episode was a rerun I saw when I was twelve. Janet Jackson was the guest host and “Coak Sorkers” was the best sketch of the night. Back then, writers like Robert Smigel, Steve Higgins and Tina Fey were still on the show. Most importantly, the cast was comprised of some of the best to ever be on the show including Maya Rudolph, Jimmy Fallon, Darrell Hammond, etc. It was a special time on SNL in my personal memory. Since then, the show has hit a lull that has lasted quite some time.
However, on my quest to be part of the audience to every late night show, I decided to email for the SNL ticket lottery this past August on the off chance that I would be one of the lucky ones. To my surprise, two weeks ago I was picked for the dress rehearsal with Adam Levine as host. Not too shabby.
So this past Saturday, my cousin and I arrived at Rockefeller Center and headed to Studio 8H. Two quick things about stages for late night shows: (1) They are a lot smaller than you imagine, and you will never get over that fact. (2) No matter where you sit, even if you are one of the lucky few who get stage level seats for SNL, you will have an obstructed view at least at one point during the show. For me, the best view I had was of the music stage (which is all the way on the left). The monologue stage in the center was not terribly hard to see, either. The sketch stage on the right, however, had to be seen primarily from the monitors.
Nevertheless, we quickly forgot about the shortcomings of our seats because we were in friggin’ Studio 8H! Since 1975, some of the greats have graced the SNL stage, and their friends could have sat in any of the seats around us, if not the very ones we were sitting in. Walking down the hall, we encountered framed pictures capturing epic memories like Adam Sandler depicting that opera guy on Weekend Update and Sean Penn sitting with the Church Lady. It was surreal seeing Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher outfit hanging in a glass case before us. It all brought me back to that twelve-year-old who thought she discovered the coolest show and that Lorne Michaels was a genius (not that he isn’t now; he’s just having some problems as of late picking the cast members and getting great writers).
Now about the actual show. When you watch it live or the next day on Hulu, there’s something that you will never get a chance to appreciate: The set designers, the crew who move things around in the limited space, the make-up artists, the costume people, the handlers who drag the host back to the dressing room in time for their next sketch; these are all the people behind the scenes who make the show run smoothly. With most other late night shows, there is something lost when you see it live.
Some hosts mechanically go through their show straight. Others seem more human when they flub a line or get distracted by a surprise guest or audience member. At SNL, you get to see all that and more, and the host is always excited to be there. Whether they do a good job or not, or if they even get a chance to prove themselves, is always another story.
So regardless of what you may think about the show in general, last night or otherwise, no one can take away the feeling of sitting in Studio 8H where history has been made and pop culture has been birthed and cared for. It’s one of the better late night shows to see live if only for the reason that you feel like a kid again and appreciate the gags that you may have since outgrown. Now that all the late night shows I care for on the east coast have been checked off the list, I believe I need to book my plane ticket for California.