It's difficult to properly convey to you the excitement level that hits you the second you walk through the revolving doors at 30 Rockefeller Center before a live taping of Saturday Night Live. After all, it's one of the hardest tickets to get in show business. So, unlike a concert or athletic event where you can see the eyes of some attendees glazing over from boredom, everyone who is in attendance is someone who desperately wants to be there. As anyone who is in the building will attest, the energy in these moments is both palpable and kinetic. And that's just in the lobby of the ground floor of the building!
As you have probably gathered by now, your Uncle Grambo was fortunate enough to be one of the lucky 250 or so people who got to watch this weekend's episode of SNL (host: Shia LaBeouf, musical guest: My Morning Jacket) from the friendly confines of Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center. A full run-down of the evening follows after the jump.
We arrived in the building around 10:15pm, just about 75 minutes before the show officially commences. As you walk in the lobby of 30 Rock, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of people lined up behind velvet ropes along the walls, many of whom look as if they have spent the majority of the day waiting in line for tickets. Fortunately, thanks to the good graces of the NBC PR department, we were able to walk straight in, save for a short conversation with the keepers of the magical guest list. Let me tell you, it was quite hilarious watching a slew of people approach these staffers and attempt to namedrop their way into the show (our favorite attempt was when one young blonde lass tried to use the "My brother is a lawyer at NBC" line). As we waited our turn to go up the elevators up to Studio 8H, we found ourselves standing next to one Suze Orman, whose teeth are even more blazingly white when you see them up close and personal (little did we know at the time, but SNL MVP Kristen Wiig would do an amazing impression of her later in the show).
Our press escort popped out of the elevator bank at approximately 10:40pm and scooted us upstairs. As you walk from the elevator bank to the studio, you stroll down a long hallway that is lined with framed photographs of the litany of SNL cast members who once populated these very same halls. Seeing the faces of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner and Eddie Murphy, you can't help but feel like you are small part of a grand tradition of comedic greatness. As you make your way closer and closer to the stage, you encounter various levels of security. If memory serves, we had to show three different sets of security/PR people along the way. And while we were handed both wristbands and tickets when we walked in, the most important credential we had all evening was, surprisingly, the envelope that the tickets came in. As for why, not sure we'll ever know.
After a few minutes of waiting around (perhaps the ushers were cleaning up the popcorn from the aisles?), we were taken to our seats just after 11pm. We sat in the back row of the studio, which was actually the fourth row of what I'll affectionately call the "upper deck" (meaning, not the swivel chairs you see on the floor while watching the show). We were directly in line with the main stage where Shia LaBeouf would deliver his monologue some forty minutes later.
We sat next to an affable hippie and his son, the elder of whom explained to us that he worked on a number on the "fake commercials" that SNL has shot over the years. But just when I was about to ask him if he was present for the filming of the legendary Schmitt's Gay spot, I noticed that Claire Danes, of all people, was walking down the aisle towards me. She was accompanied by her slight of stature BF, Hugh Dancy, and another friend was not famous. She looked far skinnier than I remembered her from her last on-screen role, Stardust, and her hair looked exceedingly thin. That said, there is no denying that she is straight up gorge. After all, it's not everyday you look Angela Chase right in the eyes.
As my heart rate returned to normal, my attention shifted to the flurry of activity down below our seats on the set. As Lenny Pickett and the Saturday Night Live Band warmed up the crowd with a number of R&B standards, stagehands were running around putting last minute touches on the various set decorations. Occasionally, the venerable Lorne Michaels would pop his head out, look around, and duck back beneath the set (presumably to tweak the skits from the dress rehears performance). With approximately 10 minutes left before showtime, Don Pardo wandered out onto center stage to begin warming the crowd up. He was quickly followed by Jason Sudeikis, who explained the rules of the road to the audience ("Be sure to laugh your asses off!") and cracked a few jokes, all the while wearing orange-accented hi-tops and Kansas Jayhawks basketball shorts.
Then, in a totally unexpected turn of events, Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen joined the band for a rousing performance of Blondie's "One Way Or Another." Wiig played the part of Deborah Harry amazingly well; not only was her voice crackin', but she had the Harry hip sway down pat. Meanwhile, Fred Armisen turned in a very serviceable Chris Stein impression, shredding on the electric guitar in such an impressive fashion that I almost forgot he used to be a drummer and not a guitarist. As soon as the song wrapped up, the house lights began to dim.
As the stagehands rolled a faux presidential backdrop onto the main stage and turned on a lamp that was sitting next to a formal chair, Amy Poehler emerged dressed as Hillary Clinton for the evening's cold open (I would later learn that the audience at the dress rehearsal saw a different cold open, one that took place at DNC headquarters). As she quickly reviewed the cue cards, Lorne Michaels approached her and knelt down to give her a quick and quiet pep talk. This was my favorite moment of the evening; although Lorne has a bit of a rep for being enigmatic when it comes to his relationships with the cast members, there was something in his body language and the way that he approached Poehler that radiated a very fatherly and caring vibe. It was something you would never see on television, but somehow, it spoke volumes about how close-knit the SNL family truly is.
And from there, the rest of the show was, at least for me, a blur. If I were to note one thing about seeing the show live and in person that you don't see when you watch on TV, it would be how frenetically paced things are on-set. The very second the red light goes off on a camera, crew members are tearing down sets and physically grabbing cast members. In particular, after Shia LaBeouf's monologue, a woman came bounding at him from off-stage and literally TORE the suit coat off his back as she pushed him backstage for a costume change (he appeared as a Doug Henning-esque magician about 45 seconds later in a slightly puzzling "Match Game" spoof). Despite the hectic pace,there was never a moment where the set even approached chaos (controlled or otherwise); rather, all of the on-stage hustle seemed to radiate a thoroughly professional vibe.
It's also worth noting that, despite the frenetic pace, we saw nary a frown or disgruntled look on any of the cast or crew members' faces. Instead, smiles abounded everywhere you looked during the commercial breaks. If the performers were tired or stressed out, they certainly didn't show it.
There was one other interesting factoid from the evening that stood out. In the sketch where Bill Hader plays Vinnie Vedecci, the Italian talk show host with a penchant for smoking multiple cigarettes during the course of his celebrity interviews, one crew member drew the assignment of smoking the cigarettes that he would hand to Bill Hader in-between shots. He seemed to relish this job, as he chain-smoked his way through half of four cigarettes during the course of the sketch. Also, throughout this entire bit, both Fred Armisen and Will Forte sat on the side of the stage, where the camera would occasionally cut to them. As a part of the skit, they were both eating a bowl of spaghetti. Whereas Fred Armisen mostly twirled the spaghetti around with his fork, Will Forte ate almost the entire portion of pasta that was sitting in front of him during the course of the sketch. Looks like someone skipped their dinner!
The skit we chose to bring you above was the last sketch of the evening. Although both Kristen Wiig and Kenan Thompson were the evening's stand-out performers, it was Amy Poehler's performance as a mom who wanted to ensure her children were dressed as "New York Funky" as possible that made us (and the rest of the audience) laugh the hardest.
Then, just as quickly as it began, the 90-minute show came to a close. After watching Shia wish everyone a happy Mother's Day, we walked out into the lobby, where we noticed a VERY gorgeous (and sober looking) Tatum O'Neal holding court with a few friends and cast members. We debated going up to her to say hello, but instead decided to make our way to the elevators. We met up with a few friends who just so happened to be at the taping, too, and headed off into the night, feeling exhilarated after what could only be described as a truly special evening. Regardless of what you think of the show, after witnessing everything that goes down in between skits and commercial breaks up close and in person, there is no denying that the people who put SNL together are some of the hardest working people in television.
Be sure to tune in next week for the Season Finale of the Saturday Night Live's 33rd season. The host is Steve Carell and the musical guest will be Usher.