Why ‘SNL’ Hosts Should Never Bring Their Own Writers

Tina Fey’s advice: ‘Don’t bring your own writers if you want people to love you’
Why ‘SNL’ Hosts Should Never Bring Their Own Writers

What separates a good Saturday Night Live host from a bad one? There are several factors (“being funny” likely tops the list), but the authors of Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live argue that one of the cardinal sins is for guests to arrive with “their own entourages and their own writers.” 

Tina Fey agrees: “My advice to anyone that hosts: Don’t bring your own writers if you want people to love you.”

On the one hand, why shouldn’t comics bring their own writers along? Pros who regularly write gags for, say, Jon Stewart or Seth Meyers would best know what kinds of jokes work for them. But Stewart is a good example of a host who knew better. “I didn’t bring any of my writers with me. They’ve got plenty. They’re very, very talented people over there who already know their thing, and hopefully I went into it thinking I’d bring a little something to the process,” he explained. “We had a great time doing all that stuff. It’s a very collaborative environment.”

When hosts insist on bringing their own teams, said longtime SNL writer James Downey, it rarely goes well. “It was ironic when Jerry Seinfeld came because some of the people he brought used to work here. I can tell you that approach has a terrible track record,” he said. “Almost without exception, when they bring writers along their stuff doesn’t get on.”  

Is that because SNL is biased against material written by outsiders? Not according to Downey. “We will have the read-through without there being any kind of prejudice against them,” he claimed. “It’s just that often they write stuff that eats it.” 

Tom Green brought in a few of his own writers and was kind of more preoccupied with his image as a guy who doesn’t give a fuck,” relayed Horatio Sanz. “And the show I think suffered.” 

One example of a comedian’s own writers improving the show? How about when Richard Pryor brought Paul Mooney with him in 1975? Mooney penned “Word Association,” still one of the show’s landmark sketches and one that SNL’s original staff was unlikely to write on its own. Mooney said the sketch was inspired by similarly frustrating exchanges with white NBC executives who questioned his comedy credentials, according to The Washington Post. 

But Pryor/Mooney seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Fey remembered Conan O’Brien as a host smart enough to leave SNL writing to SNL writers. “He has a staff of writers downstairs but he didn’t bring anybody,” she explained. “He came up here and put himself in our hands, which was a good move.”

She also appreciated when celebrity guests leave the entourage at home: “It’s difficult when a host will have a publicist in their ear telling them what’s funny. That always seems like bad news when you go down to talk to the host in their dressing room and you’re talking through a publicist.”

Ironically, “comedy people” can be the most challenging, said Fey, “because they have their own kind of comedy that they do and they can be very resistant to what they will and won’t do. I think they’re usually my least favorite. A host who actually writes on the script and hands it back to the writer is usually bad news.”


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