His dream came true at last, but Ciccarelli is sad to say SNL wasn’t all it is cracked up to be.
For the first time in my life, I was able to peek behind the wizard’s curtain. It felt so surreal, walking up to 30 Rockefeller Plaza on a Saturday night. I had been preparing all my life for this. All the hours I spent as a child watching reruns from the 1970s, along with the Saturday nights of my youth I spent plopped in front of the television with a drink and a snack (watching the late 1990s crew of Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan and Colin Quinn) and the John Belushi Samurai Baker action figure that sits in my closet at my parents house, were all in preparation for this: a chance to actually be at Saturday Night Live.
I’m a bit of a SNL fanatic. I read books about the show (even the great, albeit unfortunately out-of-print Saturday Night), I religiously watch the show over and over every week to catch every joke. I’ll say something about E Buzz Miller and I’m guessing maybe 13 percent of you who read this will actually catch the reference. That’s part of the point to me. In the same way sports teams build community, there’s something to be said about being an avid SNL watcher. It’s kind of like a badge of honor, a pop-cultural book club.
Some of us have stayed with the show through the rough patches (I remember when David Koechner and Mark McKinney were on the show from reruns), but we’re currently in an SNL renaissance period, after 35 years. You know SNL is doing well when you can’t watch a movie without seeing someone from the cast. Even so, SNL’s first movie since The Ladies Man will be coming out this summer, the highly anticipated, by me at least, MacGruber.
But none of this really makes a difference when it comes to my experience.
The Thursday before the show, I sat on a couch on the third floor of Annenberg waiting for class to start, when I got a phone call.
“Hey,” my friend Doug said. “Are you free Saturday? Tell me you’re free Saturday.”
“Yeah, I think so,” I said. “Why?”
“How do you feel about going to SNL?”
I’d like to take this time to apologize to anyone whose office is on that side of the building for hearing me curse excitedly for about 10 minutes. I went home immediately after class and cracked open my copy of Live From New York and threw on Season Four from Netflix. I was preparing incessantly. I’d finally get to hear Don Pardo’s voice live.
Later that afternoon, I realized who would be hosting when I was in the audience for the taping: Mr. Zach Galifianakis. For every 10 people who know him as the bearded guy from the Hangover, there are a few who have seen his stand-up live or on DVD (the great Live at the Purple Onion). I was kind of worried. Which Galifianakis would I get? Turns out, a little bit of both. But more on that later.
Doug and I got to Penn Station and hopped a cab over to the studio with little time to spare. After waiting around for our tickets to come down from on high, we finally passed through security and were on our way up to Studio 8H. Well, kind of. The audience goes up to the ninth floor.
The line was full of people who looked way too cool to be there, especially because New York hip kids from Vampire Weekend were the musical guest. We waited to be ushered into the studio when I passed a portrait of the original cast from the late 1970s.
Quick back-story: When I was younger and first becoming obsessed with comedy, my dad pulled out a photo that was signed, “To Eddie Love, The Gang.” We don’t know which of the original cast signed it (Chevy, Belushi, Aykroyd, et cetera) or if any of them did. This made me want nothing more than a consistent stream of comedy in my life. Second part of my quick back-story? My parents’ first date was to the New York premiere of The Blues Brothers. My whole existence is partially indebted to Lorne Michaels. Thanks, guy.
We finally sat down – in original seats from Yankee Stadium – and Jason Sudekis came out to warm us up. The seats weren’t too great, but we saw the famous SNL clock perfectly.
The actual show was kind of a blur. Galifianakis’ monologue was hilarious. He delivered probably the best monologue in recent SNL memory, with no interference from cast members. He was just telling jokes like George Carlin did on the first episode. And it killed.
Weekend Update was great as usual. The “bidet” sketch completely killed me, and it was generally a great experience. Surprise Paul Rudd during “What Up With That?” was fantastic as well.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how small the studio actually is. If you’re sitting in the side sections, there are sketches you can’t see and then there are sketches performed right below you. Not that we wanted to, but my friend and I couldn’t see Vampire Weekend if it weren’t for the television screens right above us.
I left feeling a little disappointed. Some of the sketches I couldn’t see, some fell flat, and others were just plain boring. But, we were still at Saturday Night Live. We still reached a certain apex.
We walked back to Penn Station taking in the New York night – cool people going cool places, tourists amazed by the Rockefeller Center, vendors selling meat on a stick and so on. It made me realize just how important SNL is, not just to me but to New York in general. The show couldn’t exist without the backdrop of New York. It’s got a New York attitude, a certain swagger Lorne Michaels has carried for more than three decades. If it were filmed anywhere else, it would just feel forced. While a stupid show might make some dorky kid from New Jersey think about the prospects life has to offer outside of the norms, that same show has helped define New York City for 35 years.
Cultural landmark, touch stone, institution – they’re all true for SNL.
Steve Ciccarelli can be reached at email@example.com.