Dave Attell Says That Writing for ‘Saturday Night Live’ ‘Was Never My Thing’

Attell spent one season at the comedy mecca before calling it quits and returning to the stand-up stage
Dave Attell Says That Writing for ‘Saturday Night Live’ ‘Was Never My Thing’

Saturday Night Live may be one of the most sought-after workplaces in comedy, but Dave Attell still prefers the stage and the mic stand.

On November 24, 1993, an up-and-coming, Queens-based comic performed his first of many spots on The Late Show with David Letterman, which, as fortune would have it, was watched by New York’s comedy kingmaker, Lorne Michaels. Michaels quickly recruited Attell to be a writer and background actor on the recently launched 19th season of Saturday Night Live, where Attell lasted one season before moving on to appear in two HBO stand-up specials with a couple other rising stars, Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle

Today, Attell is one of the most respected comedians in stand-up (and, somehow, the least-divisive of the HBO big three), and he’s considered one of the most influential funnymen of the last three decades by the industry’s biggest stars. 

But back in the early 1990s, Attell was just a twenty-something stand-up with a day job that he didn’t especially care for — that day job just happened to be at the biggest and most competitive comedy institution in the country. On the most recent episode of the Fly on the Wall podcast with SNL veterans David Spade and Dana Carvey, Attell said that their alma mater “was never my thing,” though he later learned to appreciate the community it gave him — at Norm Macdonald’s funeral.

“I know SNL is an experience, it’s different for everybody, but, for me, it was kind of like something I did when I really wanted to do stand-up,” Attell said of his brief time on the show. “Agents and managers said this would be great. And I auditioned, and Lorne liked me and I was a writer. I wasn’t a performer. And, you know, I really wanted to learn how to do it, but I didn’t really have that mindset yet. I really wanted to be a stand-up. I wanted to be Bill Hicks or Sam Kinison.”

Still, Attell said that he values how SNL introduced him to the heavy hitters of 1990s comedy, explaining, “I got to meet Mike Myers, and the late, great, Phil Hartman, and (Adam) Sandler, another guy, very cool to me. I got to meet a lot of people who have gone on to great success and I was glad to know them, but it was never my thing.”

Years later, Attell learned to truly appreciate his peers while attending the funeral of Macdonald, who joined SNL at the same time as Attell, where he watched his former co-workers kill in their tributes. “Let’s face it, Kevin Nealon crushed that,” Attell said of the nine-season SNL veteran who preceded Macdonald on “Weekend Update,” adding of Nealon, “He is another guy who I was a fan of before I met him.”

Attell said of Macdonald himself, “He was really cool to me, I brought him out to the clubs before he got so busy.” 

Imagine a double bill of Dave Attell and Norm Macdonald — now that’s a real Saturday night.


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