“Every man is a hammer or an anvil.” – Nietzsche
This week, hundreds of Chicago improvisers flung themselves into the blades of auditions for “Saturday Night Live.” Only a handful will get to perform before Lorne Michaels. Of that group, he might… might choose one or two to come to New York for another audition.
For some reason, the thought of SNL causes every improviser’s chest to seize up. It’s why most of us moved to Chicago. We saw the show when we were kids and thought, “I can do that.”
In fact, you already do.
If you’re an improviser with any sort of skill, you’ve made an audience laugh. That’s what Belushi, Farley, Aykroyd and Hartman did. They just did it in front of cameras.
… but they’re famous!
Yes. And many of them are dead. Most have fallen into obscurity. Do you want Joe Piscopo’s life? How’s Laraine Newman doing these days? Nora Dunn is back in Chicago, occasionally getting stage time at iO. That’s where I play. Are we peers now?
For every Will Ferrell, there’s an Ellen Cleghorne.
For every Tina Fey, there’s a Chris Kattan.
For every Finesse Mitchell… wait… who was he again?
So many performers are knocking themselves out to be on that show. And hell, if it were offered to me, I’d take it. But it would be a double-edged sword. You’re trying to please Lorne, you’re trying to please your fellow writers and performers, you’re trying to please the audience. And you’re trying not to become hated for reading the same catchphrase over and over.
According to Tom Shales’ “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live,” it’s not the most supportive environment. You’re in constant fear of getting fired. And even if you get hired, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to become the best performer you can be.
Some eventual superstars struggled mightily at SNL: Chris Rock, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Robert Downey, Jr., Joan Cusack, Damon Wayans and Sarah Silverman. All had far better careers after they bolted from 30 Rock.
… but they’re famous!
You wanna make movies like (some) SNL cast members do? You can make “It’s Pat!” – a movie that earned $60,000 worldwide. Or “MacGruber,” which didn’t crack $10 million. These are enormous, enormous failures.
Or you could be rich like Adam Sandler and have people hate you for making endless trash like “Jack & Jill,” “Funny People” or (fill-in-the-blank).
Again, I love SNL. It’s part of my blood. I love it when it scores and it kills me when it fails. But here’s the point I’m leading up to…
You don’t need it.
Again. You. Don’t. Need. It. If you get it, great. That’s awesome. Enjoy the ride. I’m not waiting around.
In 1962, the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records. The label turned them down, saying that “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.”
And after that, the Beatles stopped making music forever.
Artists create art. They don’t stop. You are an artist. You are Andy Warhol and Elvis and Picasso and Chuck Berry and Arthur Miller and Steven Spielberg and Stan Lee. They all faced rejection. They all kept going.
Now, what if Walt Disney submitted to that art school where you have to draw the pirate and the turtle? And what if he got turned down? Or worse, what if he got accepted? He’d be drawing art for someone else for the rest of his life. Instead, he sat down in his garage and turned a cartoon mouse into billions of dollars. He wins.
Honestly, I’m sick of waiting for doors to open. I’m ready to punch holes in walls. I’m writing and directing sketches, just like they do on SNL. I’m making live audiences laugh, just like on SNL. I make videos, just like they do on SNL.
So I don’t get paid (yet). But I also don’t have to answer to anyone’s sensibility but my own. If I want to write a 2-hour real-time play about a man who writes an improv blog, I can. And it would suck. But that’s my choice.
The artists we truly admire are those who do something old in a new way. They create new music, they advance painting, they make movies that redefine what we expect. That’s the life I want to lead.
I’d much rather fail on my own terms than get paid to be stuck in a sketch like this 3-minute piece of shit.
But if you’re reading this, Lorne, I’m available.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com