How do you please Lorne Michaels? Twenty-two ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast members – and one who came close – share tales of the audition that can make or break a career.
For nearly 40 years, “Saturday Night Live” has been a reliable engine for generating new comedic talent, and a springboard for stars like Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Kristen Wiig.
Though new cast members come from many different avenues, there’s ultimately only one way to get on this NBC late-night franchise: impress Lorne Michaels, the “SNL” creator and executive producer who has run the show for 33 of its 38 seasons and is known for his cryptic, sphinxlike presence over the show.
This year he and his team have their work cut out for them as they try to replace the veteran “SNL” players Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis and prepare for the departure of Seth Meyers early next year. These losses will test a tradition that has evolved through decades, as Mr. Michaels and his colleagues spend their summers scouring sketch and improv comedy theaters and stand-up clubs around the country to replenish the ranks at “Saturday Night Live.”
But what exactly is Mr. Michaels looking for? While his personal tastes are enigmatic and the show’s recruiting process is generally opaque, dozens of performers have successfully navigated this minefield of uncertainty and anxiety.
Here, 22 past and present “Saturday Night Live” cast members — and one who almost made it — tell how they auditioned for the show. In these excerpts from their recollections, they reveal the stages of an obstacle course that often culminates with an audition on the “SNL” stage at NBC’s Studio 8H (sometimes more than once) and an ambiguous final interview (or is it a personality test?) with Mr. Michaels himself — all for that one career-making chance to declare that “Live, from New York, it’s ‘Saturday Night’!”
KATE McKINNON I did Penélope Cruz. I did Sally Field and Temple Grandin. It’s too bad she’s not in the news more. I have that in my back pocket in case she does anything wacky.
The Lorne Meeting
McKINNON I thought I had undone what I done in the audition room by being so boring. I was pretty catatonic. I think all I said was, “I’m from Long Island.”