The SNL writers' room

Photograph of SNL production perspective.

I have long been intrigued by the SNL writers’ room. Saturday Night Live has been an influential force in my life, stirring my interest in comedic writing: the intricacies and genius behind it. Often overlooked as a genre, comedic writing is arguably the most difficult form of writing there is, for it is often the case that one can either write it naturally or simply cannot write it at all. Humor is a tricky thing, because it is destroyed by effort and created by accident or in a spark of an idea. You cannot force “the funny” in anything—it kills the laugh. Instead, in humor, you must sit back and let the ideas come to you. Then, you must be brutally cruel to your own writing and cut out everything that is only funny to you, and not anyone else. Then, you must be brave and present it to the world—and most of the time, it is still not funny.

Saturday Night Live attempts to ease the difficulties of writing humor by employing multiple comedic geniuses to work together in writing skits. This strategy is remarkably effective, because it expedites the process of cutting out what’s not funny, and creates a higher likelihood that something funny will spark. Putting a comedy writer in a room alone is like trying to start a fire with one match and damp wood—it may work, but probably not. On the other hand, putting a bunch of comedy writers in the same room to write together is like trying to start a fire with damp wood and many matches at the same time—it’ll probably burn for a little bit! In this strange analogy, the damp wood represents this strange and confusing modern we live in. This is an important context, for it is harder to create laughs when people are anxious or depressed by a pandemic or ineffective government (although suddenly, far more important!).

The cast of the SNL writers’ room is important to highlight, because they are all geniuses and important to the mission of comedy in their own way. 

Currently, the head writers at SNL consist of Colin Jost, Michael Che, Kent Sublette and Anna Drezen. Colin Jost and Michael Che are well-known for their weekly skit called “Weekend Update,” where they use jokes to translate recent news to the audience. 

Though there are many other wonderful writers at SNL, it would be tedious to list them all, because most of their names are totally unknown to the public. This is the tragedy and magic of being a writer for a television production: You are the essential core of the show, but you will likely never be famous because your face is not on screen. For some (such as myself), this is an ideal situation, for being famous seems stress-inducing, and being essential  to a production seems extremely satisfying work.

Many are wondering how SNL is producing now, during a pandemic. The answers are fairly simple. All the staff has to get tested for COVID-19 frequently, and everyone wears masks and social distances within the production (unless the camera is rolling). The writers’ room itself has changed enormously. Now, a lot of collaboration on skits happens using Zoom. Additionally, when writers wish to work in the same room they must wear masks and sit feet apart, which undoubtedly makes rapport more difficult. Nevertheless, the jokes must continue. Without laughter, we are lost.

 

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