“Saturday Night Live” writer John Mulaney confessed that he and his fellow writers, Simon Rich and Marika Sawyer, led social lives that did not merit an event during Sex Week (“maybe if it was asexual week,” he said), but students did not seem to mind.
Laughter filled the Branford common room on Tuesday as Mulaney, Rich and Sawyer, all in their 20s, shared their experiences as writers on “SNL” at a Branford Master’s Tea (which was not affiliated with Sex Week at Yale). They enlightened an audience of about 100 students about their hectic weekly schedules, and they counseled that writers can best improve their writing by churning out as much material as possible.
When asked what advice he would give to aspiring writers, Rich, who graduated from Harvard in 2007 and published a compilation of short stories called “Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations” in the same year, joked, “transfer to Harvard.” After enduring some light-hearted “boos,” he went on to stress the necessity of balancing “confidence and humility” in order to write prolifically and passionately.
“You have to care about it more than anything in the world, but let it be disposable,” he said.
Sawyer, who began working with “SNL” as an intern and later as a receptionist, added, “the most important thing is to always be writing.”
The three young writers explained that they share similar sensibilities, so while they have the option to team up with any of the other writers on the staff, they write most of their sketches together.
The trio spent most of the talk explaining the intricacies of the week leading up to a show.
“Mondays are the most terrifying,” Rich began.
That’s when the writers meet to pitch ideas, and in the evening they often begin writing, but Tuesday is the “traditional writing day,” Rich said. They explained that most writers spend most of Tuesday night writing in preparation for the read-through on at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I sleep there because once I almost slept through the read through [at home],” said Mulaney, who started out as a stand-up comedian.
Of roughly 40 sketches performed at the read through, 10 or fewer make it to a live test audience.
“We feel a ton of pressure to get stuff in the show,” Rich admitted.
But Mulaney added, “It is competitive in a healthy way,” explaining that in the past “SNL” has housed a highly competitive environment, but he thinks that this spirit has mellowed.
On Thursday, writers work together to rewrite sketches that have made the cut, and they work closely with producers on their sketches to make them television-ready. They said that writers of a sketch take complete responsibility for everything, from camera angles to costumes.
“You’re in charge of things you have no business being in charge of,” Mulaney said. Rich added that this makes for a “big learning curve.”
On Saturday, there is a quick run through of the sketches, and “panic mode” sets in, according to Rich.
“Variables you never considered are incredibly exposed,” Rich said.
The writers and producers then iron out the details in time for a dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. before the show at 11:30 p.m.
The writers incited much laughter during the 90-minute talk, and five students interviewed agreed the talk was entertaining.
“They were really excited and energetic about comedy,” Zoe Greenberg ’13 said.
While all three writers seemed comfortable with the college-aged crowd, their youth struck Paul Doyle ’13 in a different light.
“It was kind of intimidating because they were so young and successful,” he said.