I like watching Saturday Night Live. It is sometimes outrageously funny. And when it’s not sooo funny, or not funny at all, I’m still dazzled by the amount of effort and boldness necessary to stage, every Saturday, a brand new show that comes with that clear, alluring invitation: let’s laugh for an hour.
Although the comedy series 30 Rock (created by ex SNL head writer Tina Fey) provides a window into the creative process of SNL, there is some secrecy around it, and unquenchable curiosity from writers, comedians and fans in general. Actor James Franco directed a documentary about the making of one SNL show in 2008 (hosted by John Malkovich). Some of the fans who were able to see the movie (unreleased) took the trouble to share those insights on the web for other fans to enjoy. The information available is indeed scarce.
Writing for SNL is considered a great honour in the comedy circles, something that thousands of writers only dream of. It is also reputed to be very, very hard work, because of the time constraints, the high standards of the show runners and the competition within the team. Most sketches die before they make it to the screen. Not sleeping for one or two nights is standard procedure for writers, who out of ambition/desperation/perfectionism/possibly drugs, but mainly the sheer dynamics of the show, want to deliver the best they can. Or just something.
This crazy writing life appeals enormously to me. Not that I think I could ever do this job. But being a writer in an edgy, pressure-cooker environment such as this, one that resembles the Olympics and the Wall Street Stock Exchange, certainly seems like an experience I would like to have. My working life is exactly the opposite. It’s long term, with friendly deadlines, in a silent office, with no brainstormings and discussions and trial readings and hearts pounding with expectation and disappointment.
Boredom is an issue.
But there’s no way around it. In most kinds of writing, you are alone, and that’s it. You can, and should, look for other writers, or producers, directors, or plain old buddies with whom to exchange about your work. Riding a machine such as SNL, that kind of edge, is really just a fantasy. For me, it’s one of those fantasies that have value as such – reminding me to improve the dynamics of my writing life in a realistic way. That means, on one hand, getting the best out of my time alone – with feasible but ambitious quantitative goals – and going regularly out of the office for input – see some paintings, meet people, research a certain subject, do some associative work. I’m not always so disciplined and serious about this. But when I am, it pays off: I write better and am happier.