For two years, Adam McKay served as the “coordinator of falconry” for “Saturday Night Live.”
“After four years as a writer on SNL, I had had enough,” McKay said. “But I wanted to make it good, so I told Lorne Michaels, the producer, that I wanted to quit. But I said I’d stay on if he let me put on whatever scenes I wanted and let me name my title. He agreed.”
McKay, the head writer at “Saturday Night Live” from 1996 to 2000, spoke at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Tuesday afternoon about his fateful rise from bar comedy to SNL.
Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, McKay began doing stand-up comedy in local bars and restaurants when he was 19. But he soon discovered that his passions lay elsewhere.
“Long form improvisation is a form you can literally do whatever you want,” McKay said. “Improv offers immediate gratification. Some people are addicted to it.”
Prior to starting a career at SNL, McKay worked with Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade, sketch comedy troupes that have produced the likes of Dan Akroyd, John Belushi and Bill Murray.
McKay’s big break came in 1994. “Saturday Night Live’s” ratings had dropped precipitously and most of the staff and crew had been fired. He auditioned as a performer and was cut, but on his way out, he provided four scripts he had written and was eventually brought on as a writer.
During his six-year tenure at SNL, McKay wrote over 600 sketches — three or four a week.
“There were times I literally did not leave the office for a week,” he said. “After I got into the hang of things, I worked 60 or 70 hour weeks.”
At the tea, McKay showed four sketches he wrote for “Saturday Night Live,” two of which never aired.
Since leaving SNL two years ago, he has written several screenplays and is looking to direct his first feature film. He recently teamed up with former SNL performer Will Ferrell and is in the process of financing a script they co-wrote.
“Eight years ago, I would have said my favorite thing to do was sketch,” McKay said. “Now, it’s screenplay writing. It is a more solitary endeavor and takes some getting used to, but I like it.”
After his talk, McKay fielded questions about a number of topics — from the writing process to the best current comedy.
“‘The Daily Show’ is the best thing out there right now,” McKay said. “I’m so impressed by Jon Stewart. Then, there’s The Onion, which is as funny as anything.”
Guests said they found McKay, who kept everyone laughing, engaging and entertaining.
“I thought [McKay] was really funny,” Samantha Langevin ’06 said. “He was very personable and charismatic.”
Nick Brown ’03 agreed.
“[McKay] was very good,” he said. “It was interesting to see someone who has actually worked in comedy and has been successful. He is one of the best at what he does.”
McKay offered some parting words of advice to all aspiring comedians.
“Do your own stuff,” he said. “Get out there as much as you can. Every chance you get to perform — do it, do it, do it.”