Saturday Night Live head writers and Weekend Update hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che have different attitudes toward co-hosting the Emmy awards Monday night.
Jost admits to being nervous about hosting ‚ÄĒ especially when he thinks about the show ahead of time: “I’m thinking about it in advance. That’s more nerve racking than when you’re actually out on stage.”
Che, meanwhile, takes a more laid back approach to the show. “You can’t be nervous. It’s comedy,” he says. “If I was a fireman I’d be scared. Firemen should be afraid. … But for comedy, we’re literally going out there and we’re just going to tell some jokes and people are going to like them or not. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
As co-head writers for SNL Jost and Che are used to the high pressure. “Head writer” sounds like a great and lofty title, Che says, but it’s really more of a supervisory role ‚ÄĒ someone whose job it is to think about the show overall. “We’re competing to get stuff on just like any other writer,” he explains. “You don’t walk around with a big ol’ cigar or anything like that.”
As for what being a head writer means to Jost? He answers: “Great question, we would love someone to explain it to us.”
SNL is up for 21 Emmys ‚ÄĒ including a the award for outstanding writing for a variety series.
On writing the show up to the very last minute
Colin Jost: The first part [of the show] is usually the part that’s figured out last, which is what makes the job stressful.
Michael Che: Because the news cycle is so quick now that what seems relevant Monday probably won’t by Saturday.
Jost: [SNL executive producer] Lorne [Michaels] always talks about how the first 15 minutes of the show are the most important, because if you’re tuning in, that’s your real chance to hook a viewer. The monologue is such a tricky thing always, because you want to show off who this person is, maybe in a way you haven’t seen them before … and the cold open is such a different animal, and that’s constantly shifting. The number of weeks where the cold open and the monologue are both even vaguely figured out before Thursday, it almost never happens. If it does, you just cross your fingers that those will hold up by Saturday.
On what it was like to have Donald Trump host SNL when he was campaigning for president, and whether he would be interested in having Trump back on the show
Che: [It was] working with an unfunny, insecure dude. … For me, I don’t mind anybody being on the show, because I think something good can come out of anything in comedy. But I wouldn’t go for it [again]. … I don’t know what the “win” is. I don’t think people find him funny.
On behind-the-scenes at SNL after the 2016 presidential election with host Dave Chappelle
Jost: The next day when we were there for the table read, [Chappelle] was like, “The reason you’re in comedy is to react to things that are going on and make them funny, to find humor even in whatever’s the weird, darkest things. You have to figure out how to still put on a comedy show, because that’s why you’re doing this.” I think that was just the right motivation for everyone to try to put a show together by Saturday that was still a comedy show, and I think that was reflected in his monologue really well.
Che, on his decision to comment on comedian Louis C.K. returning to the stage after admitting to sexual misconduct
Che: I truly think him going onstage and not addressing anything was insane. I don’t fault the attempt of making it right; I do fault the execution of not making it right. I think everybody has the right to defend themselves. Everybody has the right to take the opportunity to clarify or apologize or make any bad situation right, but when you don’t do it, you can’t ‚ÄĒ it’s indefensible.
On disliking Twitter ‚ÄĒ Che deleted his account several years ago
Che: I don’t like Twitter, because no one is as angry as they say they are and no one is as happy as they say they are. It’s just kind of this land of hyperbole. I have a platform. We go on TV and we’re lucky enough to be able to tweet to a camera. It’s not for me. I just don’t like the way it makes people feel. I don’t like the way it makes people gang up on other people ‚ÄĒ justly or not, it’s just uncomfortable. I don’t like it at all. It’s just a cesspool of everybody just yelling at each other. Anger and extreme joy are the only voices that get heard on Twitter.
Jost: It also used to have a great function, because you’d follow comedians or your friends who were really funny and every time you’d go on you’d see a great joke. … Having Twitter on your phone is like being with a journalist that hates you 24 hours a day. Anything you say on that can be spun. Truly, that’s what you have to think of it as.
Che: It’s like walking around with the district attorney and everything you say is just going to the district attorney.
Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. My guests are Colin Jost and Michael Che, the anchors of “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update.” They’re also preparing to host the Emmys Monday night, and they’re nominated along with “SNL’s” other writers for best writing for a variety series. Last January, they became head writers of “SNL.” Jost had held that position once before but gave it up after becoming an update anchor. “SNL’s” new season begins September 29. Let’s start with a clip from one of last season’s final episodes. Here’s Jost and Che on May 5.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)
COLIN JOST: This Stormy Daniels payment has turned out to be the loudest hush money in history. And during his “Kings Of Dementia” comedy tour, Giuliani…
JOST: …Giuliani also said that the hush money was, quote, “funneled through a law firm.” Dude, funneled is not typically a word innocent people use when talking about money.
JOST: No one says, yeah, my grandma funneled me $5 in my birthday card.
MICHAEL CHE: Rudy Giuliani is claiming that President Trump only learned a week ago that he was reimbursed in Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels in $35,000 installments. I have a couple questions.
CHE: Like, what kind of billionaire pays for stuff in installments?
CHE: You’re the president of the United States. Why are you paying for sex like it’s a NordicTrack?
CHE: And how did y’all land on $130,000? That’s such an oddly specific number. I asked Stormy to come on “Update” and explain it, but her agent said no because if she’s seen on camera with a black guy, her price goes down.
GROSS: Colin Jost, Michael Che, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on your writing nomination and on hosting. Before we get to other things, I want to talk with you about, regarding the Emmys and “SNL,” you know, I’m thinking as we record this Wednesday afternoon, East Coast time, it’s earlier than that on the West Coast, where you are. There’s a hurricane, like, a catastrophic hurricane, heading toward the Carolinas. And that’s something that you might have to – like, assuming the hurricane is anything like what they’re saying it will be, that’s something you’ll probably have to address at the Emmys. And, you know, it’s really awkward to have a celebration when people are suffering like that. So is that something you’re thinking through? Like, how are you going to deal with it?
JOST: Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, it definitely crossed my mind yesterday. I mean, you never really know what’s going to happen leading up to a big event because you’re planning it for so long and then something could dominate the news that day. But when it’s something that’s a tragedy, again, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen yet. But the biggest thing, I think, sometimes we face at “SNL” is you want to show as much support as you can. And, you know, you want to use that moment to maybe just actually raise money for people who are there because you have a mouthpiece to tell people, go online, give money. The people in that room have money, generally. And, you know, you hope you can make it a moment just even to get support for those people.
GROSS: So the last time we spoke, Donald Trump was a presidential candidate. He wasn’t the president. It was just, like, days before the election. So the first show after the election, Dave Chappelle hosted. Chris Rock made a guest appearance. A Tribe Called Quest were the music guest. These were all people with, like, strong political points of view. And instead of an opening sketch, the opening was Kate McKinnon dressed as Hillary at the piano singing Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah.” And she ended it by saying, I’m not giving up, and neither should you. Can you take us behind the scenes a little bit and tell us what it was like, after the president was elected, trying to figure out what the first show of post-election Trump era should be?
JOST: Well, the sort of, like, amazing move from Lorne was that he had offered him that date, like, at the end of that summer. So I think he just sensed that whatever was going to happen in the election was going to be this huge moment, and he wanted to make sure whoever the host was would be someone that could deal with that and who, at that moment, people in America wanted to hear from. And that’s – I mean, Dave is basically the ideal person to do that. So he had the foresight to book that way in advance.
And then that night, you know, the election night was insane because you – I don’t know, I assumed, like, most people probably thought Hillary was going to win. And you were watching the results come in. And, you know, people were having all kinds of reactions around the office. It was very intense. And you’re then trying to write comedy and, you know, not everyone even attempted to write comedy. Some people, understandably, were very upset.
And Dave was the perfect host at that moment because the next day when we were there for the table read, you know, he was just like, the reason you’re in comedy is to react to things that are going on and make them funny, to find humor even in whatever is the weird, darkest things. You have to figure out how to still put on a comedy show ’cause that’s why you’re doing this. And I think that was just the right kind of motivation for everyone to try to put a show together by Saturday that was still a comedy show. And, you know, I think that was reflected in his monologue really well.
GROSS: So you all watched the election results at the office?
JOST: Yeah. I mean, we were there. Tuesday night is our writing night. So we’re basically there all night. You’re mostly there all night until the table read, which is Wednesday afternoon. You kind of go straight through. So normally, it would have been a later start than normal because you’re watching election results roll in. But then it was even more delayed because people were processing what was happening. I mean, it was just very shocking. Whatever – you know, whatever you expected going in, I think it was still shocking.
GROSS: So I’m asking some of these questions ’cause you’re head writers as well as “Update” anchors. Who came up with the idea of Kate McKinnon as Hillary singing “Hallelujah?”
JOST: Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider and Kate had an idea of doing some kind of song. I forget what the original – I think they had a different song originally. But they had the idea of doing something in that vein. But I don’t know if it was just Kate or if it was a whole group from the cast. I forget the original version or original origin of it. And then I know Lorne had thought of “Hallelujah” because Leonard Cohen had just – I think he had just died that week or…
GROSS: That’s right.
JOST: …Before? I forget the exact timing. And I think he just thought that might be a song that would be – that would seem sort of doubly appropriate in some way.
GROSS: So getting back to “Update,” when you do “Update” on Saturday night, it’s really Sunday morning on the East Coast ’cause by the time, you know, you’re on, it’s after midnight. Every late-night comic has done bits on the week’s news. And so, like, you’re kind of, like, late to the game in that respect. So how do you find things that are going to feel fresh at the very, very end of the week or the very beginning of the new week?
CHE: Fortunately, there’s not a lot of people that I think think like me. So I never really have a problem with finding interesting takes because I feel like when you kind of do your own thing, it’s not going to bump. You know? If I have a thought and five other comedians have that same thought then I’d feel like it’s not even worth saying. You know?
GROSS: What’s an example of a joke that you can say that you feel like other comics can’t? Can you think of one?
CHE: Well, nobody else is calling the president a cracker on national TV.
GROSS: Yeah (laughter). That got you a lot of love.
CHE: Yeah. It sure did.
GROSS: What kind of reaction were you…
CHE: And also…
GROSS: …Expecting? Yeah. Go ahead. No. I’m kind of being sarcastic. You got it from both sides for that.
CHE: Of course.
CHE: But to me, that’s in