We all knew it wouldn’t last.
Saturday Night Live enjoyed its largest cast in more than two decades for season 39, but with the coming plans for a big 40th anniversary celebration — and an interview with creator/executive producer Lorne Michaels saying just last month: “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re still in the middle of rebuilding. So, there will be changes this year” — you just knew firings were happening.
Michaels gave that interview to Deadline in June. Late today, Deadline reported first that SNL had axed first-year featured players Noël Wells and John Milhiser from the cast. Yesterday, Brooks Wheelan scooped everyone on his own firing, announcing it via Twitter. And everyone confirmed what I’d already told you months ago — that Nasim Pedrad would leave SNL this year after five seasons for her primetime gig on FOX’s new sitcom, Mulaney, which also is executive-produced by Michaels. Deadline also suggested that negotiations are ongoing with Mike O’Brien, who’d received a promotion last season from writer to featured player.
Nevertheless, this is all rather early — relatively — to hear all of this cast reshuffling. When cast members leave on their own choosing, they bow out gracefully over the summer, or if longtime stars, even make the announcement during the season finale. But firings and hirings usually don’t happen until the last minute before everyone reconvenes in the fall. Perhaps credit/blame the 40th anniversary for that. Or the fact that this really is a rebuilding transition, still in progress, for the legendary live sketch television show.
The Comic’s Comic interviewed Wells a couple of months ago, after her homecoming performances at the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin. She drew the short straw in her rookie year, even more so when SNL hired Sasheer Zamata over the winter in response to criticism about diversity. One less chance for her to play a supporting role in sketches. I thought her impersonation abilities would keep her around another season, if only to give her a chance to showcase them. Not to be.
Milhiser earned even less on-air time, it seemed, than anyone else. Sometimes, his sketches made it to dress rehearsal but not the actual live show — leaving him with an online consolation prize. The Comic’s Comic caught up with Milhiser just a few weeks ago at the start of the Del Close Marathon, the improv comedy celebration staged by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where Milhiser performed before landing his SNL gig last summer.
Milhiser and Wheelan both were New Faces at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival last July — Wheelan as a stand-up, and Milhiser in the “Characters” showcase, where he performed a scene of an overzealous parent at a fifth-grader’s musical performance, a sketch he’d duplicate on SNL joined by Lady Gaga.
Milhiser told The Comic’s Comic that Seth Meyers — then still SNL’s head writer, and also in Montreal to host a Gala for the fest — scouted him at that New Faces showcase.
“Yeah. I did the show, and I was talking to my friends, and I said, ‘Oh my God, there’s Seth Meyers!’ And then Seth walks up to me and like, ‘Oh, hey,’ and ‘Good job!’ ‘Thanks, man.’ And then I ran into an elevator and started screaming!”
How he felt in late June this year compared to same time last year?
“Last year, end of June, there were a lot of fun things going on,” he said. “I was working on a one-man show…I did “Clap It Up!” which was a Step Up parody.” That was for Above Average, the YouTube channel run by Broadway Video (and in turn, Lorne Michaels).
When I asked how this summer’s tension compared to last summer’s wondering if he’d get SNL, he laughed nervously. Any advice from the veteran cast members? “No. Not on how to handle the summer,” Milhiser told The Comic’s Comic. “I just assume that you have to keep writing and keep performing characters and testing them out. But, uh, no. I should have asked that.”
I pointed out Bobby Moynihan, standing across the room. “I’ll ask Bobby later,” Milhiser said.
Were any of the cast members good to lean on during the season for advice or morale? “Seth, definitely. He was like the father of the show. Extremely nice. I got to write with him a couple of times. It was him and I writing, which was just a dream come true. And you could go to him with any problems. Now Colin (Jost)’s the head writer there, and he’s also very warm and accessible. You can talk to him about anything. And Bobby. Bobby is a great shoulder to cry on or talk to.”
What were his best words of consolation?
“This show is fucking crazy!”
“Kristen Wiig told me, she’s like, ‘Just enjoy every moment there. Just have fun.’ Because that’s what everybody wants to see, is that you’re having fun. So it’s pretty weird having a job where your sole purpose is to have fun and make other people laugh.”