Events — 14 March 2011
SNL Recap: Zach Galifianakis/Jessie J

Aykroyd and Belushi. Carvey and Hartman. Sandler and Farley. Ferrell and Fallon. Samberg and Wiig. For years, tickets to a live taping of New York City institution Saturday Night Live have been amongst some of the most difficult to come by in the entertainment industry. In fact, at one point there had been a twenty year waiting list just for a pair of free tickets to either the dress rehearsal or live taping. When SNL found itself having to contact next of kin for ticket notification, the show decided to convert to a lottery system, in which tickets are randomly distributed every year through e-mail requests the prior August. But as anyone will tell you, chances of successfully being granted these tickets are both few and far between. Fortunately for us at, we came across a pair to this past weekend’s dress rehearsal, which became an unforgettable opportunity that we just couldn’t pass up. And having actor/comedian Zach Galifianakis as the host certainly didn’t hurt.

Getting into Studio 8-H at 30 Rock is no easy task- even when you finally procure tickets. NBC insists upon a 7pm arrival time for the commencement of the 8pm run-through, meaning almost a full hour of waiting in lines, security checkpoints, and more standing around. But once upstairs and into the hallowed halls which are lined with pictures from SNL’s incredible history, the wait becomes an eye catching conversation starter. Once inside the studio itself, you watch the excited, awe-struck audience file in, dressed up and appreciative of the uniqueness of the access they’ve been granted. The crowd is anxious for the authentic live sketch comedy that only New York’s Saturday Night Live can deliver, uncaring about the premise regardless of how funny or cringe inducing the material, because of the fearlessly outgoing casts that have preceded them on this night.

With the band warmed up and the stage hands preparing for an evening of frantic running around and moving pieces of the intricate set into the front and background of the studio, veteran cast member and actor Jason Sudeikis is introduced to explain several in-studio rules: no cameras, fire exits, throwing curse-filled barbs toward the audience members seated on the side with limited views. While surprisingly SNL does not use a stand-up comic to warm the amped crowd up further, the actor set a perfect tone for the evening with his deadpan, sardonic delivery- i.e. “If there is a fire, make sure you take something with you. This place is like a museum.” Sudeikis then introduced cast member Kenan Thompson who, backed by Lenny Pickett and the Saturday Night Live Band, delivered a rendition of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” with other performers, Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliott, and Vanessa Bayer singing backup vocals, in what may be a weekly ritual.

After the performance, the crew assembled the stage for the cold open and before we knew it, the legendary “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night” was exclaimed and the opening credits were off and running. The entrance of Galifianakis brought the small crowd to its height for the evening as his monologue ranged from the obvious (“The only time it’s good to say ‘I have diarrhea’ is when you’re playing Scrabble) to the absurd (stripping down to a short red dress, lip synching to little orphan Annie’s ‘Tomorrow,’). If there had ever been a host more geared to host SNL, we haven’t seen him yet. Aside from flubbing some of his lines, the bearded comedian just oozes funny, from his thicket of facial hair to his big belly and penchant for tight clothing.

Rather than review the show that aired, we’re more inclined to detail the parts of the live performance that happen off camera. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is watching the performers morph into their characters in the 5 seconds just before they go live on the air. Watching cast members Andy Samberg and Kristin Wiig, for instance, stand normally and then delving into their characters, no matter how few lines they have scripted is simply fascinating. The speed at which the performers run on and offstage to change characters and work with costume and makeup on their transformation is equally as impressive. But the sheer number of crew members that work behind the scenes moving pieces of the set around, adjusting the lighting, preparing each camera shot is truly remarkable. And seeing Lorne Michaels looking on at the set just prior to the show’s opening, and conversing with Thompson as the crowd sat hushed made us wish that the mics had been turned on.

It seemed unfortunate that just as the show began, it had ended- a full two hours later, with sketches and material that would be dropped from the actual live show. And as mesmerized as we were as the show progressed, we were equally as disappointed as it concluded- the classic saxophone playing as Galifianakis, musical guest Jessie J, rapper B.O.B., and the entire cast on stage, hugging and waving at the crowd in appreciation. But it was us who reveled in waving to them. For the experience at SNL, even for this one evening, was utterly unforgettable. The history of the show, the names that graced the stage, the A List hosts that had previously set foot in that studio- and now we were invited to be a part of that patronage, for one of the most memorable experiences that one can be fortunate enough in which to participate.

- Jane Van Arsdale

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. I was there. Really great show.