When ‘SNL’ Stars Get Famous, Lorne Michaels Knows They’re ‘Going to Turn Into Assholes’

‘No one can handle the fame’
When ‘SNL’ Stars Get Famous, Lorne Michaels Knows They’re ‘Going to Turn Into Assholes’

It ain’t easy being a new kid on Saturday Night Live, said Lorne Michaels in a New York Times profile this weekend. “If you were the funniest kid in the class, or your school, and then you’re working professionally and everyone else in the room is that,” he said. “It can be upsetting or can be really stimulating.”

In either direction, newfound attention can be difficult to manage. “No one can handle the fame,” according to Michaels. “Generally, we’re more tolerant of it, but you know people are going to turn into assholes. Because it’s just part of that process, because no one grew up that way.”

Turn into assholes? A read of SNL oral history Live From New York proves Michaels right. A few examples from the comics themselves:

  • Garrett Morris: I’ve always been an asshole with any cast I’ve been with.
  • Chevy Chase: “I realized when I left that maybe I hadn’t been such a great guy. Maybe I’d been somewhat of an asshole.”
  • Jim Belushi: “I might have been an asshole, really.”

Okay, then! Bill Murray says it’s inevitable. “When you become famous, you’ve got a year or two where you act like a real asshole,” he once said. “You can’t help yourself. It happens to everybody. You’ve got like two years to pull it together — or it’s permanent.”

That’s why a show like SNL needs a benevolent dictator like Michaels to keep the a-holes in line, at least in the opinion of Paul McCartney. “He’s got a lot of craziness he has to pull together and select from,” explained Sir Paul. “And he’s got to instill in everyone the feeling that this is going to work.”

“He’s listening — he’s in dialogue with all of these people about what’s funny, what’s working,” said five-time host Emma Stone. “There’s like a brain trust over there that he cultivates.”

But the guy can’t keep going forever. The show that mocks the ages of presidential candidates is itself led by a man who’s nearly 80 himself. As the show nears its 50th anniversary, rumors abound that Michaels is finally preparing to step away. “I’m going to do it as long as I feel I can do it,” he said. “But I rely on other people and always have.”

All of this begs the question: Does it take an asshole to lead all of the assholes? For the most part, former cast members rarely speak ill of their old boss — with good reason. “I met Lorne in ’91 or ’90,” said Chris Rock. “I’ve never been broke since.”


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