This weekend, Saturday Night Live (SNL) kicks off a brand new season. The popular late-night comedy show is now in its fifth decade, and over the years has featured sketches, parodies, and musical appearances by everyone from Tom Hanks to Madonna. To celebrate, we met with SNL writer Sarah Schneider to chat about her writing process and the integral role that teamwork plays in making a live show each week.
At SNL, twenty-seven writers work together to create new sketches every week. On Monday, brainstorming begins, and by Wednesday collective ideas are narrowed down to fifteen scripts. These are then rehearsed with actors on stage, edited, and rewritten right up until showtime on Saturday night.
No writer at SNL writes alone, and Sarah views her relationship with her writing partner Chris Kelly as fundamental to her creative process. “In comedy, there’s a natural heightening that occurs around the setup of a joke that builds on the exchange of ideas, dialogue, and banter. It’s the same with collaboration. There’s a natural elevation of an idea that can only happen from having a back and forth exchange.”
Though the writers at SNL don’t start off knowing one another, eventually they form writing pairs. “Writing in the live TV environment can often feel like you are drowning even though you are kicking hard to tread water. But if there are two of you and you’re holding on to each other, you have a better chance of staying afloat: When my legs get tired, I know that Chris will still kick.”
Four years at SNL make Sarah a seasoned staff writer, but she still gets a rush every time she sees one of her scenes performed. “Writing for TV, specifically live TV, is an intoxicating adrenaline rush. It’s like nothing else. At the same time, it’s a unique challenge. If you pour your heart into a sketch that completely fails on Saturday night, you know that the very next day you get to start over.”
Look for Sarah’s sketches this fall on Saturday Night Live, and check out some old favorites, including Say What You Wanna Say, (Do It On My) Twin Bed, and her notorious sketches spoofing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Interviewed by Pavla Mikula