Has TikTok And Social Media Broken 'Saturday Night Live's (Somewhat) Classist Barrier?
How do you get on Saturday Night Live? In the past, casting directors relied on educational pedigree (Ivy League, NYU Tisch, Northwestern, and USC to name a few), beloved comedy institutions (Second City, The Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade), and industry connections to select America’s newest stars for the SNL stage. Rare was the talent that skirted the years-long process of going through the SNL casting wringer before their time at 30 Rock.
Then came Tik Tok.
In case you haven’t heard of the video-sharing app taking the world by storm (you’re only five years late!), TikTok can be used on most any mobile device and allows creators to upload original, unfiltered content for the world to see. Users can like, comment, share, or swipe past videos on the endless scroll of the For You Page. And it has more than 1 billion active monthly users with oh-so-sweet algorithms guiding content to users most likely to enjoy those videos.
So how does TikTok accelerate a comedian’s journey to SNL? Independent comedians use accessible, creative tools to write and produce short videos with advanced editing, voice effects, and songs (and cats and moms and spaghetti and…) that no other platform offers those looking to make original content. The comedian’s followers, combined with TikTok’s algorithm, provide immediate feedback -- if a video resonates with users, it will go viral, garner millions of views, and be shared to other apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to reach a wider audience.
The comedians of TikTok strategically use their accounts to essentially piece together a single, multimillion-view resume (an electronic “Psst, Lorne Michaels”): a collection of their strongest videos, often including SNL-castable strengths. Original sketches, characters, impersonations, and political commentary embellish their pages, and many comedians’ bios link to Twitter accounts and even merch sites.
One comedian who has perfected the business of TikTok comedy is Caitlin Reilly, who is known for her “WASP mom” character and has more than two million followers and nearly 150 videos. For many of them, she employs celebrity impersonations, accents, wigs, and sharp, quotable lines that solidify Reilly as a polished performer. ("Psst, Lorne Michaels.")
As live shows were canceled in the wake of Covid-19, comedians who fluent in TikTok’s algorithm gained the upper hand over live performers who struggled to maintain relevance while their stages remained dark.
Enter Please Don’t Destroy.
One of TikTok’s best-known sketch groups featuring Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy, Please Don't Destroy was hired for SNL’s 47th season as a three-man writing team. After tirelessly using the platform to gain notoriety, their account has attracted more than 6 million likes and 333k followers, bringing a new generation of younger viewers to SNL’s more traditional format.
TikTok comedians deliver consistent content, build a recognizable brand, and drive views, all while maintaining a loyal audience. Though many don’t have high-level institutions backing their credibility, TikTok democratizes the SNL casting process by prioritizing audience engagement over wealth, education, or industry connections.
But the practice of hiring internet comedians isn’t new: long before TikTok, sketch groups used YouTube channels to display full-length videos and archive their body of work. The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, hired to SNL in 2005) and Good Neighbor Stuff (Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, hired 2013) have written some of the show’s most memorable sketches, proving that the viral hitmakers can fend for themselves in the show’s infamous writer’s room. New cast member James Austin Johnson got himself noticed making hilarious, TikTok-style videos for that hoary old thing Uncle Donnie got kicked off called Twitter.
Basically, if you find a platform you like and create really funny stuff that blows up huge, SNL calling is a real possibility now.
TikTok and other social channels may finally break the classist barrier for SNL hopefuls by providing platforms for them to show what truly matters in a new cast member: raw, energetic talent ready for the big time.
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Top Image: Caitlin Reilly, Please Don't Destroy