Confession time: I haven’t watched anything on Saturday Night Live in years. I’ll catch a skit or short here or there on YouTube, but in general, I’ve left the show behind. Or maybe it’s left me behind. Either way, SNL works for the people for whom it works, and I’m not one of those.
But I grew up on SNL. My concepts of comedy were probably more formed by the first half decade of that show than anything else, and so whatever I think of SNL and its later years and its string of shitty character spin-off movies, Lorne Michaels is still a guy who has earned my respect in a big way. Sitting next to him at the Hot Rod junket was not just unexpected – nobody told me he’d be there! – it was a real geek moment.
Hot Rod is one of the better SNL cast member movies in years (I’m not counting Mean Girls, which is really great and not filled with SNL types, but is produced by Lorne); Andy Samberg teams up with his Lonely Island partners Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer (who directs most of the SNL digital shorts, and directs here again) and a cast of other great comedians like Bill Hader and Danny McBride (look for this guy to be fucking HUGE in 2008) to tell the story of one stuntman and his dream to save his stepfather’s life… so he can finally beat the crap out of him.
Hot Rod has been kicking around for a while. How did it start?
I came to it with Will Ferrell and Jimmy Miller, who came in with a writer they liked named Pam Brady, from South Park – who I liked immediately. They wanted to do the picture for Will and it got written and at the time I think Paramount was soft on making Will Ferrell pictures. We had made two or three of them, but they were, for whatever reason, not 100% on it. So it didn’t happen at the time, and by the time they were eager for it, it wasn’t what Will wanted to do anymore. In the meantime I had continued to work with Pam on the script, and we got it to a place where we liked it and the studio liked it. There was a lot of interest from various comedy stars and directors, all of whom would have made a very different kind of movie. When it came down to my decision on how I wanted to do, the only thing that got me excited was doing it with Akiva and with Andy. Andy had read the script and really liked it. It was not as hard with the studio as it should have been even though it was a first time director and a first time movie star. It’s not an expensive movie, even though it has stunts, but as movies go it was not expensive. They said, ‘Well if that’s what you want to do…’ So we got lucky on a lot of things.
How involved were you on a day to day basis? Did you fly from New York to Vancouver a lot?
I was there two or three times. I kept an eye on it. Being producer on a movie set is watching paint dry. It’s really good for morale because you want to show people you’re engaged, but if you’ve done your work properly – if the script is right and the cast is right and the director knows what he’s doing then I think it’s just a supporting role and you come back to it in post.
What about creative input?
Yeah. When we were doing Wayne’s World, we’d literally be writing it the night before. We’d be writing scenes in my office on the Paramount lot and shooting them the next morning, and that’s the way we’re used to it on the show. But with this one, because it was so much more elaborate, with more stunts and more physical comedy, we planned it more. But still, there was a lot of improv.
Akiva and the guys are very inexperienced – what led you to trust them?
I wouldn’t go that far! [laughs] It’s this idea done that way… when you’re choosing a director, it’s all about choices. There’s the sheer physical task of it, which is a grind, but you want to know that the choices and intelligence behind it is one you want to work with. There are a million choices along the way, and if they’re not all of a piece, if it’s not all the same sensibility or taste, then the picture winds up being the doesn’t know what it is kind of movie. So I thought if we make a good ‘one of those,’ we’d find an audience.
Was Ian McShane a tough sell?
I talked to him on the phone, and I think he knew – it was like Brian Dennehy in Tommy Boy. I think they don’t get asked to be in comedies. My experience on the show is that people like Christopher Walken, who are essentially known as serious actors, when they get a chance to do comedy, they’re very happy. DeNiro being one of the great examples. They have all those years of being cast one way, and now they do something different and it’s disarming.
You have announced that LeBron is going to host the season opener of SNL. Do you have any other casting?
Seth Rogen’s doing the second show, but I can’t think past October right now. I think by the time we go on the air, we’ll have the first eight or nine set. I don’t like to get too full because the decisions you make during the summer aren’t necessarily the ones you feel good about in the winter. You say, ‘Whose music are you listening to over the summer?’ Its’ going to be Amy Winehouse on the first show. You say, ‘There are a lot of people with albums coming out, but how does that one sound like 2007?’ Then we’re in an election year, so that traditionally is really good for us, and then you want to leave a little space for the unknown.
What can we look forward to on 30 Rock this year?
I think that show was born with a lot of strikes against it. There was a feeding frenzy about the Sorkin show, and we were the ‘Also doing a show about backstage at a comedy show is Tina Fey.’ I think Alec [Baldwin] from the beginning knew this was the right show to be on. We were on Tuesdays, we were on Wednesdays and finally we’re on Thursdays and you could see they just got better and better and they were trusting the characters more. I think it will be, as a comedy phrase, less dense. I think the first year of a show you’re trying to do everything you ever thought of and trying to put in everything you thought was brilliant. The more you do a show the more confident you get and the more at ease you get with it, it relaxes. Looking at the stories we have so far, I think we’re taking it to another level. I think this is the year when it will become a popular hit.
You recently put out that amazing complete first season of SNL box. Will there be a second?
Yes. And then there’ll be a third and then I think there are only thirty something left.
It’s great to watch because it’s fascinating to watch the show evolve from this scrappy guerilla program to what it is now, an institution. Now that you have a world where new castmembers never lived in a world without SNL, is it tough to recruit to recruit the edgier people because you’ve gone from being the underground to being the institution?
Probably yes is the answer. But at the same time, they tend to find us. In the sense that Chris Farley was the child that Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi never had, or Andy watching the Adam Sandler or Dana cast – every generation grows up on their cast. There are some echoes, but I never put anybody in who I think is like someone we had before. It’s always chemistry – this year, some of them have been there for a while and some are brand new, but they all connected. It one of those great seasons where it all worked, where it all connected. You look around the room between dress and air and there’s no ‘Oh I can’t believe it…’ They were all there for each other and it was no different from the first season.