15 Trivia Tidbits About Lorne Michaels

Get to know the mastermind behind ‘Saturday Night Live’
15 Trivia Tidbits About Lorne Michaels

Lorne Michaels is the Canadian comedy boss who inspired dozens of fictional characters, from Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil to the Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy’s almost-as-evil Don Roritor to 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy. And that’s not even one of the 15 tantalizing trivia tidbits you’re about to learn about the iconic Saturday Night Live producer. Ready, steady, go!

He Was a Writer for ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In’

Saturday Night Live didn’t invent the counterculture sketch comedy show. That honor belongs to Laugh-In, a show that bridged the gap between the corny variety shows that came before it and Michaels’ groundbreaking late-night comedy. It was Michaels’ first job in American television, writing jokes and sketches for the Day-Glo, gag-a-minute show.

He Produced and Starred in ‘The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour’

After leaving Laugh-In, Michaels returned to Canada to star in his own show alongside his comedy partner, Hart Pomerantz. “That’s where I learned to do television,” Michaels told Alec Baldwin. “I spent a huge chunk of my 20s in an editing room.”

He Made a Movie About a Failure in Canada’s Annual Hockey Puck Crop

Comedy magnate Bernie Brillstein hired young Michaels as a writer for a summer variety show, partly based on his love for Michaels’ short film, The Hockey Puck Crisis. “Hockey pucks grew on trees, and there was a blizzard that destroyed the crop, so they couldn’t play hockey in Canada that year,” Brillstein says in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. “Being a hockey fan and a comedy fan, I thought it was hysterical.

He Invited Johnny Carson to Host ‘SNL’ Every Year

And every year, Carson turned him down. Of course, Johnny is the reason Saturday Night Live exists in the first place. He insisted NBC stop airing Tonight Show reruns on Saturday nights since saving the content for weekday nights would give Carson more time off. With a hole in the Saturday night schedule, NBC turned to Michaels to create Saturday Night.

He Went to Summer Camp with Future ‘SNL’ Music Director Howard Shore

“I was thirteen and Lorne must have been about fifteen,” Shore remembers. “On Saturday nights, we did The Fast Show, a show Lorne and I put together quickly—hence the title. We did comedy, we did sketches, we had kind of a repertory company and some musicians. If you think about it, it was truly the beginning of Saturday Night Live.”

He Married into Canadian Comedy Royalty

Michaels’s first wife, Rosie Shuster, was the daughter of Frank Shuster of Canadian comedy team Wayne and Shuster. Rosie was an Emmy winner herself as one of Saturday Night Live’s original writers. “My dad really mentored Lorne in terms of comedy,” she says. “I saw the whole thing unfold, and felt like Saturday Night Live was so much a part of something that grew from my home. Something about the show came from inside my family.”

He Got High with Lily Tomlin

“When Lorne worked with me on my specials, (we) would get into the editing room and get too perfectionistic,” remembers Tomlin. “I must say I think some illegal substances had something to do with it.”

His Current Wife Is a Former Lornette

Michaels married Alice Barry in 1991. Barry was one of the famous Lornettes, “the girls who work for Lorne and make sure he has plenty of popcorn.” Greg Daniels, creator of the American version of The Office, also married a Lornette.

He Quit ‘SNL’ Before Its Fifth Episode

Lorne quit on the Robert Klein show,” remembers production assistant Neil Levy. “They took away his lighting man and his sound man. He realized at the time that if he didn’t make a stand, they’d be stepping all over him." So Michaels walked away, telling NBC he was gone until they returned his lighting and sound guys. Then he went back to his loft and spent the week playing poker. (Spoiler alert: Lorne got his preferred crew guys.) 

He Hired His Cousin After He Did Card Tricks for Paul Simon

That production assistant, Neil Levy? “Lorne’s a cousin of mine, and he had brought Paul Simon up to a cottage where I was staying. I didn’t actually know who he really was. That’s what an idiot I was,” he remembers. “I did some magic tricks for Paul Simon. I think that impressed Lorne. After that, he took me down on the dock and asked me if I wanted to be his assistant on this new show.”

John Belushi Almost Burnt Down His Loft

Just before Judy Belushi married John, she kicked him out of the house for any number of Belushi-related transgressions. Lorne offered to put him up for the short term. “He fell asleep with a cigarette going, and the mattress caught on fire,” remembers Judy. “Lorne called me afterward and said, ‘Can I send him home now?’”

He Almost Got the Beatles to Reunite

It was a funny SNL bit. Michaels talked straight to the camera, offering the Beatles a total of three thousand dollars to reunite on the show. If George, John, and Paul wanted to give Ringo a little less? That was up to them. 

Thing was, McCartney and Lennon were in Manhattan and almost went over to 30 Rock to play a number or two. Lorne’s plan if they showed up: Tell the audience they couldn’t perform because union rules stipulated they needed to play their own guitars.

He Also Produced ‘Kids in the Hall’

When the Canadian comedy troupe was up and coming, Michaels came and saw one of the Kids’ shows in Toronto. “Lorne has a beautiful laugh,” Dave Foley told Jimmy Fallon. “He laughs like an old-timey cowboy, like the chuck wagon cook.” (Actually, Foley reveals, Michaels didn’t laugh at all. But he signed up the Kids for a show anyway.)

After Leaving ‘SNL,’ He Created a Bomb Called ‘The New Show’

After Michaels burnt out producing Saturday Night Live, he returned to NBC a few years later with The New Show, a sketch comedy show with funny hosts and musical acts. Gosh, that sounds a lot like … Saturday Night Live. One big difference: Both critics and audiences hated it and The New Show lasted fewer than 13 weeks before it was canceled. Michaels lost more than a million dollars of his own money on the debacle. 

He Led a Canadian Conspiracy to Rule America

A 1985 HBO mockumentary imagined a world in which the Canadian government plotted to overthrow America by taking over its entertainment industry. The Canuck cabal was led by Battlestar Galactica’s Lorne Greene. Another Lorne -- Michaels, of course -- was in charge of Operation: Manhattan, a diabolical plot to integrate Canadian performers and writers into Saturday Night Live.  … Are we sure this was a mockumentary?

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