By MARK BERMAN – Associated Press – Sunday, December 31, 2017
NEW YORK (AP) – was not a class clown at Northside High School, but he now has one of the most prestigious comedy writing jobs in the country.
is one of the co-head writers of NBC’s late-night institution
“It’s exciting – and every week is different because the hosts are always different,” , 48, said at the SNL offices at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
’s job gives him a platform to offer his spin on politics and pop culture. Remember those acclaimed sketches last season that featured as then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer? not only co-wrote those sketches but also came up with the idea to cast his old friend as Spicer.
The job keeps him too busy to revel in its significance, though.
“I don’t . think, ‘Wow, look at me, I’m so cool,’” said. “The work kind of takes over your life.”
The multiple Emmy Award nominee loves working on the show so much that he is in his 11th season on the writing staff.
“It’s stressful, but you find those people that you can hang out with and have a good time and laugh and write funny (sketches),” he said.
was promoted to co-head writer last season.
“He’s really good at being very silly,” SNL cast member Cecily Strong said in a phone interview. “He’s also really smart on top of being silly. He never loses his intelligence in a scene, even when we write something that’s dumb and light. . Especially now being head writer, is always challenging himself and trying to find something sort of new.”
’s parents are not surprised that has gone from community theater in Roanoke to big-time show business.
“We always felt like it would be a good idea to have a business background,” his mother, Helen Sublette, said in a phone interview. “But he knew from day one exactly what he wanted to do.”
Big Apple dreams
’s father, Allan Sublette, used to work for a Roanoke envelope company. Helen Sublette is a retired teacher. The two Roanoke natives moved back to the area when their son was 5 years old.
“He and his dad have a dry sense of humor,” Helen Sublette said. “He was never the class clown.”
“He’s very low key,” Allan Sublette said.
One of the television shows watched while growing up was
“I watched it my entire life,” said. “(But) it’s never something I aspired to because being from Roanoke, you’re like, ‘That’s not a path.’ “
He began doing local theater as a teenager. He signed up one summer to help paint the sets for Showtimers Community Theatre. When someone dropped out of the chorus, he was asked to fill in. So he began performing, first with Showtimers and then for Mill Mountain Theatre.
Because of his father’s job, would visit New York with his parents every few years and attend Broadway shows.
“As soon as I got into performing, I was convinced I was coming to New York as soon as possible,” said , who now lives in Manhattan. “I always knew that I would end up here.”
Helen Sublette said she and her husband supported their son’s dreams.
“He’s such a creative and bright person that we knew whatever he did, he would put his best effort into it,” she said.
NYC to LA and back
After graduating from Syracuse University in 1991 with a degree in musical theater, headed off to New York City. He spent a year auditioning for Broadway shows before realizing he was not as good of a singer and dancer as he thought he was.
So he moved to Los Angeles, where he initially supported himself by working as a production assistant and by writing infomercials.
At the age of 27, he began taking improvisational comedy classes at the famed Groundlings Theatre & School in Los Angeles. The Groundlings’ sketch comedy shows have been a launching pad for such future stars as Will Ferrell and Maya Rudolph.
made the cut for the Groundlings’ Sunday company in 2002. He and the other members of the company, including future SNL star Kristen Wiig, would perform in front of an audience each Sunday night after writing their own material.
“Once I got into that world, I was . surrounded by really talented people that pushed me as an artist,” said.
Wiig became a close friend.
“We always made each other laugh,” Wiig said in a phone interview. “I loved improvising with him.”
was eventually promoted to the main company, giving him the chance to perform on Friday and Saturday nights with the likes of Wiig and .
Performing with the Groundlings helped him get noticed for side jobs, such as acting in commercials and being part of the cast of the short-lived Fox television show “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss.”
Wiig moved on to and recommended him to the show. He was brought on for a two-week guest-writing stint during the 2006-07 season, which led to him getting a full-time job for the 2007-08 season.
His years with the Groundlings made him a good fit for SNL.
“At the Groundlings, . I wasn’t one of those performers who was like, ‘This is my scene and I’m the crazy person,’ ” he said. “I always liked to write scenes where everybody got to be funny.”
Live from New York
The writing for each week’s begins on Tuesdays. At a table read on Wednesdays, sketches are pitched to executive producer Lorne Michaels. Sketches are rewritten throughout the week, and new sketches are added. waits until after the dress rehearsal Saturday night before texting his parents to tell them which of his sketches will be in the 11:30 p.m. show.
Writers take a hands-on role in their sketches, from telling the director what sort of camera shots they want to making suggestions to the costumes and props departments.
and writer James Anderson used to write a lot with Wiig when she was part of the cast.
“He’s really good at writing characters,” Wiig said of . “Sitting in a room with him . you feel comfortable trying out voices and saying, ‘What about this?’ . He’s so supportive, and you find things together.”
and Anderson now often write with Strong.
“He’s somebody who sits down and writes full, funny characters for women,” Strong said of .
Because of his musical theater background, has co-written many musical sketches for the show, including the “Lawrence Welk Show” spoofs that featured Wiig as the oddball member of the Maharelle sisters, and the parody of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video that featured Strong’s Melania Trump character.
Michaels promoted to co-head writer in January, making him one of four co-head writers. There are more than 20 writers on the show.
“I still have something on the show almost every week, but you’re also responsible (as co-head writer) for shaping other pieces,” said.
He is a calming presence amid the chaos.
“It’s such a crazy environment. so it’s good to have someone who’s level-headed,” Strong said.
was a critical and ratings success last season, thanks to its sketches on the presidential campaign and the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. The show won the Emmy as the outstanding variety sketch series of the 2016-17 season, while Alec Baldwin (who plays Donald Trump), Kate McKinnon (who plays Hillary Clinton) and won acting Emmys.
“Politics was happening to all of us, so we responded to that in a way that people obviously enjoyed,” said.
co-wrote the Spicer sketches with two other writers. He thought of his old Groundlings friend for the Spicer role.
“I was like, ‘That’s , that anger that he’s not able to convince people. to buy his lies,’” said.
“There were a lot of conservative people that were like, ‘I’m a Trump supporter, but I think this (sketch) is hilarious.’ That is something to me that is important.”
Strong is fond of a political sketch that she appeared in last season. Host Scarlett Johansson’s character invented a helmet that enabled animals’ thoughts to be heard, and her dog turned out to be a Trump supporter.
“(It was) trying to find a different point of view that’s also very smart and maybe one we haven’t thought of as people who might be more left-leaning ourselves but who are reasonable people as well and want to write comedy that’s sort of for everybody,” Strong said.
Two of last season’s head writers left after the 2016-17 season, leaving and Bryan Tucker as the only co-head writers when this season began. But the show once again has four co-head writers because “Weekend Update” anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che were recently given the co-head writing title as well.
The hours are long. – whose husband handles marketing for Broadway shows – sleeps in his office on Tuesday nights. Other nights, he might not go home until 2 a.m.
“You get used to saying, “I have to sleep till 10 (a.m.) and then do a 12- to 15-, 16-, 18-hour day,” he said.
Back when he lived in Los Angeles, wrote the screenplay for a movie, “Lucky,” that was not widely seen when it eventually was released in 2011.
But in recent years, has been spending his summers working on much more popular movies.
Writer/director Paul Feig has brought to the sets of his movies to supply jokes for scenes in such films as “Bridesmaids,” which starred Wiig and ; “The Heat,” which starred and Sandra Bullock; “Spy,” which starred ; and the “Ghostbusters” remake that starred Wiig, , McKinnon and SNL’s Leslie Jones.
“The pressure’s off – you want to do a good job, but it’s not ultimately your project,” said. “They’ll shoot a scene as written once, and then . you suggest like 10 alternate jokes . so when they’re in the edit (room) they can have choices. It’s really fun.”
is developing a pilot for a possible prime-time TV series. He is not sure if this will be his final SNL season.
“You have a summer to relax and you’re like, ‘No, I want to come back,’” he said. “It’s a hard thing to let go of.”
He never wants to completely bid adieu to the show.
“I love it here and I really respect Lorne and all that he’s done for me,” said. “I will transition to a different part of my career at some point soon, but I’ll always be a part of the show, hopefully.”
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