Friday, May 2, 2008

How to Write for Saturday Night Live

If you've ever wondered what it takes to become a comedy writer for Saturday Night Live, Richmond, VA's Style Weekly has an excellent in-depth look. The article, Live from New York, chronicles the rise of Richmond-born writer and my long-time friend Bryan Tucker, and includes insightful behind-the-scenes commentary from the recent Ashton Kutcher show. Here are a few choice excerpts as it relates to comedy writing:
Since moving to New York in 1997, Tucker, 36, has gone from unknown stand-up comic to a hardworking comedy writer. He’s worked for such shows as “Late Show With David Letterman,” “The Chris Rock Show,” “Mad TV” and “Chappelle’s Show,” where he solidified his reputation as the white chocolate of comedy...
Bryan Tucker with Ashton Kutcher on SNLFor Tucker, a joke can start as anything: a news story, something he observes or something he hears in passing. There are no hard rules. “One thing I’ve learned after doing this a few years: inspired ideas only come once in a while,” Tucker says. “The more professional you are, the more you learn to write something funny whether you have a great idea or not. You just do it so often you can make something serviceable out of things that are assigned to you.”
Usually, he’ll have an idea and run it by another writer or cast member. If that person likes the idea, they will try to write it together, sitting in a room and wracking their brains to come up with jokes or “beats” in a sketch. “Sometimes we come up with the script as we go, but that’s usually harder because you tend to second-guess every line as it goes. It’s better to figure out what it’s going to be, then have one person turn it into a script,” he says. He adds that he can always tell if a sketch is going to be successful if the camera guys are laughing during dress rehearsal. None are right now.
Sudeikis steps away and a hush falls over a small crowd of producers and stage managers. A woman yells “Quiet!” while Sudeikis walks onto a nearby set made to look like the deck of a cruise ship, joining Forte, Wiig and Kutcher. They’re working on one of several sketches that will be cut from the show, but nobody knows that yet. Losing your baby is a normal thing at “SNL,” a feeling all writers get used to: working madly on something all week only to see it disappear without a trace.
Bryan Tucker's office at SNLEven if a sketch makes it through to Saturday night, however, writers may have to significantly change things during the show. Once, while writing a show’s closing sketch, “Wine Lovers,” for host Antonio Banderas, Tucker had three minutes to take the four-and-a-half minute sketch, cut it to two and a half minutes, and make sure everyone understood the changes: the director, the actors, the cue-card holders...
If you have any interest in pursuing a career in comedy writing, this article is a must-read. It painstakingly details Bryan's beginnings from high school, though college, through touring with Selected Hilarity, temping, hitting open mics in New York, and every step in between. Plus, as an added bonus, it includes lots of quotes from me.
Read the article and be sure to check out our excellent post on How to Write Comedy.

3 comments:

Zach Ward said...

awesome to think about opening for comedy heroes SELECTED HILARITY at the skylight exchange summer after high school graduation.. and the great hall show at carolina was one of the most awkward standup sets I've ever done. thanks for the post larry and thanks to ted hobgood for helping worlds collide.

Nick said...

Yeah I get some skits that I know would be absolutely belly laughing hilarious and hits for sure because they seem to follow the same basic form and style of SNL's past hits. I get occasional inspirations and would love to be able to just send in my ideas for review to see if they would publish. How do i go about doing that? Is that even possible? Thanks!

T.R. Reddington said...

I just wanted to submit a possible skit on a statement read by Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera.
Veracruz Gov. Fidel Herrera says part of the Ignacio Allende prison will be emptied in January "because a grand production will be filmed there with our friend, the actor and producer Mel Gibson." (During the statement we see in the background you see guards leading a half a dozen prisoners to a bullit ridden wall and blind-folding them. The Governor completes his statement and then notices what the guards are doing. He tells the reporters to stop filming.)
Governor:(as he turns and walks towards the guards) Not now, January!!

T.R.Reddington
trnrita@yahoo.com