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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1870- James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (editors): Live from New York

I've been a fan of Saturday Night Live since the days of Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Dana Carvey. I was way too young to watch it at the time. I recorded the shows and watched them on Sunday morning while my parents complained that it wasn't fit for me to be watching but laughing through the occasional sketch anyway. (My mother in particular loved Dana Carvey's "choppin' broccoli" bit.)

Live from New York is basically a collection of anecdotes, observations, and opinions from past and present cast members, hosts, writers, and others who have had some sort of involvement.

The brief chunks and organization into chronologically important eras of the show make the 700+ page book go down easy. No doubt readers, just like fans of the show, will have their own favourite sections. I was interested in particular in the Dick Ebersol years as these are mostly ignored in compilation shows and other retrospectives. And of course, I was also on a nostalgic kick later in the book, starting to read about sketches and cast members I have loved over the years.

Is it enlightening? Somewhat, yes. With so many having gone on that stage or having worked back stage, there was bound to be a large variety of opinions, even some discrepancies in memory. To James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales' credit, they left in the words of those who were not necessarily happy with their time at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Still when so many people contribute, a clearer picture started to emerge. Harry Shearer, for instance, seems like a very difficult man. Cecily Strong is not as confident as she appears. Those whom you thought got along, didn't necessarily (Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn, for example), while others whom you'd not think all that alike turned out to be best friends (Seth Myers and Andy Samberg, for example). Also, Penny Marshall throws her family out of Lorne Michael's office window.

I also feel that Saturday Night Live has settled into a functioning groove. Like Letterman, it was more experimental in its earlier days, more subversive. This is a bit of a for better or worse scenario as those earlier sort of pieces were not always necessarily funny and so it depends on what folks really want from the show.

Interestingly enough, the one person who captured most of the book's attention was also the one person who did not really come into focus: Lorne Michaels, the originator and long time producer. He really comes across as a difficult man to know. Some in the book argue otherwise, but most seem to agree. It also seems to depend on when one first got to know him. Clearly those closer to his age and whom helped him start the show in the first place fill less intimidated than the majority of the newer casts. I also found it very amusing how so many seemed to attribute his quirkiness as part of his Canadian upbringing; a theory that at least one Canadian writer on the show calls out as BS.

It feels odd to note something missing from the book considering it's heft, but I did wish there was more about the musical acts over the years. There is some mention, of course. It would be hard, for example, not to mention the contributions of folks like Paul Simon or Justin Timberlake to the show or to ignore the infamous Sinead O'Connor moment, but there still could have been more.

Finally, I look forward to another updated edition to get the scoop from folks like Leslie Jones, Michael Che, and Pete Davidson who had not joined the cast when this book came out.

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