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Behind The Scenes of Saturday Night (Rewritten)

Jester takes a look at how the much-praised confederation of downtown performers and writers puts together their take on SNL.

On the actual Saturday Night Live episode of October 22, Weekend Update included a bit with Fred Armisen playing a blind prop comic. But unlike a similar earlier appearance by Armisen as a deaf comic who tells racist jokes in sign language with a black interpreter, this bit tried to be experimental, with the blind comic needing help even finding his first prop, then wandering out of frame, which fell flat even with the studio audience, who are usually lively no matter what.

Saturday Night Rewritten, the brainchild of Erik Marcisak staged at Juvie Hall most Sunday nights, approached this bit with far from experimental intentions October 23 and succeeded as cast member and writer Rick Murphy rolled out his unknown insult prop comic, mining humor by making the character mercilessly heckle Rob Bates, the co-anchor of SNR’s “Weekend Update Update” segment.

Jester spent the day with SNR’s writers and cast as they reacted to what they saw on SNL the night before and crafted their show. Sometimes what aired on SNL was just a launching pad for an SNR idea that followed a different tangent, and sometimes SNR’s sketches were recognizable as an alternate version of SNL’s sketch.

At noon, writers -- most of whom were also cast members in the show -- begin trickling in with their post-mortems on SNL, including writer Lorie Steele, who had actually been in SNL’s studio audience the night before.

“You want to like it, because you’re pulling for them when you have the energy of being there,” she says. Her favorite sketch of SNL’s night was host Catherine Zeta-Jones playing the sexy and most popular high school teacher (French language class), but Steele takes the assignment of writing the host’s monologue, to be played in SNR by Christina Casa as Zeta-Jones.

Along with the monologue, the writers set out direct correlations to SNL’s opening sketch about George W. Bush interviewing troops with mock-spontaneity, a fake commercial about “butt cancer,” the aforementioned prop comic, and a sketch in which a couple reveal their spanking fetish during their sung vows.

In the discussion of the SNL episode led by Marcisak, who assigns the sketches and produces the show from this point on, the least favorite sketches appear to be that “butt cancer” treatment commercial and one later in the show in which a hotel desk clerk in Tuscany and his odd colleagues confound three stranded tourists.

The meeting comes to order, or as close as Marcisak can get it to order, as writer/performer Stuart Draper proposes an “impromptu” talk with the insurgents by Osama Bin Laden as SNR’s response to the opening skit, in which Darrell Hammond provided the lead-in as anchorman Brit Hume. Hammond’s other anchor impersonation, Aaron Brown, figures in a skit whose joke was the reporter in the field (Zeta-Jones) becoming progressively more disheveled, gets sighs, and SNR passes on re-staging it.

The “butt cancer” ad inspires criticism of it for over-relying on goofy synonyms for buttocks, and after toying with the idea of turning this somehow into a “Welcome Back Kotter” spoof, writer/performer Rick Younger takes it on. The Italian hotel sketch proves convenient for SNR as Marcisak has just returned from a vacation in Italy and has stories to share that become a sketch almost verbatim, with some cast members helping flesh them out, particularly Phil Wedo as host of an odd contest call-in TV show Marcisak had seen on his trip.

The French teacher sketch inspires the writers, particularly Rick Murphy, who enthusiastically turns it into a showcase for his character of an auto shop teacher who’s popular with his students -- a sketch that later gets one of the biggest responses from the SNR audience.

The wedding vows sketch inspires construction of SNR’s own vows sketch, in which the shock revelation ends up being that the couple really hate each other and maybe shouldn’t marry at all.

Once the writers finish discussing SNL and mining it for inspiration, Marcisak also opens the floor to ideas that are unrelated to what aired but fit the format, which ends up making room for Rick Younger to play Mr. T yelling about not getting cast in Rocky 6 and Stuart Draper with the appealing Christina Casa and Lindsey Joy playing out the story of the Scores Collection Service, spoofing the NYC executive who’s been sued for an unpaid strip club charge card bill. With Josh Drimmer the only writer left who hadn’t gotten a skit, eagerly pitching it, Marcisak gives in, laughing, “because Josh has such a hard-on for it.”

So by about 1:30 p.m. all the assignments are done, and Marcisak dispatches the writers to parts unknown to do their work, and to return at 4 p.m. to read through what they’ve done. Just like SNL, sketches or bits will get tweaked or cut before the dress rehearsal that starts by 6 p.m., or from the live show begun shortly after 8 p.m.

In dress rehearsal, cast member Alan Fessenden, filling in as director for regular director Stacy Mayer, fine-tunes parts of sketches and builds on what is done in the read-through. SNR’s take on SNL’s sketch about a party full of jazz dancers has morphed into a parody of “Rent,” entitled “Mortgage,” which finds Fessenden instructing Kibibi Dillon how to enter singing and then how the rest of the cast should enter as a chorus.

In the vows sketch, Wedo and Joy as the couple get a little hung up on when and how to hold hands as they end up arguing, and Fessenden helps them sort this out, with emphasis on what the physical action should be in the angriest moments. Sketches aren’t necessarily dress-rehearsed in the running order they appear in SNR’s live show. Murphy’s shop teacher, now embellished with his boom box of 80s metal tunes, is mock-seriously warned by show tech director Joe Guercio (also a performer) that the music will keep playing through the whole scene if he doesn’t move as though he’s shutting it off before he talks.

Down to the wire, around 7:45, it appears SNR still has no musical guest, but somehow possibly through a connection with a cast member, materializes Silvia Hachete, a beguiling singer who lends an air of Andy Kaufman-like “is she kidding or serious” with shifting accents and comic surprises in her songs.

Just after the last sketch in dress rehearsal ends, the theater is cleared, seats set in place and the house is opened, all within minutes. In short order, the symphonic strains of familiar music kick in the darkness, building anticipation as the cast gets ready to go live with their work.




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