saturday night live

A variety show on acid: Imperfect but fun documentary considers Saturday Night Live

The official movie poster for Bao Nguyen’s new documentary.

In 1975, a new variety show premiered on NBC that was unlike anything that had come before it; it was, according to Laraine Newman, one of the show’s original cast members, a cross between 60 Minutes and Monty Python. Despite its ups and downs, after 40 years on the air, Saturday Night Live (or SNL, as it’s more commonly known in the pop culture lexicon), shows no sign of slowing down, and continues to both reflect and influence American culture. Director Bao Nguyen’s new film, Live from New York!, which takes its title from the show’s opening introduction, explores the history and impact of the storied comedy program in a documentary that is both highly entertaining and slightly frustrating.

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At the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, I sit with a group of other writers around a table as the audible antics begin approaching outside the door.  SNL veterans Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, along with director Craig Johnson, are splitting each others’ sides with jokes and voices.  They are tired and somewhat giddy from a day of press, supporting their incredible new film, The Skeleton Twins, and they loosely greet us with smiles and how ya dos.  Bill chucks a muffin from that morning down the hallway, comically screaming ‘This BETTER BE GOOD!’.  Bill and Kristen feed off each other’s energy, a polite and friendly Craig Johnson between them, and they all take a deep breath and search around the table for who’s first to dive in…


Craig, you co-wrote the script with Mark Heyman, and I heard he’d been working on the script for eight years.  How did the final cut of the film differentiate from the original script?

Craig Johnson:  Well, we actually had a couple versions of it that were unfinished that were all over the place.  We had one where Milo was a drag queen. (To Bill) I haven’t even told you about these versions of it.  There was a road trip element.

Kristen Wiig: Maggie was a cat. (laughing)

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Carrie Brownstein might be the hardest working person in show business. Not only has she, within about a year, assembled one of the most explosive and critically acclaimed new bands in rock music, she is the star of the highest rated program on IFC, the sketch comedy series “Portlandia.” Now she’s managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule to piece together a Portlandia stage show, alongside her costar on the program, Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen. All of this getting done, of course, before they unleash a new season of Portlandia. And then, her band Wild Flag will be launching a big Spring tour; and then, she will probably write two or three books, make a movie, and cure cancer all before June.

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