Behind the scenes of SNL’s Weekend Update Thursday

A fresh presidential debate and the first Weekend Update to get two commercial breaks easily filled Saturday Night Live‘s first live primetime edition of Weekend Update Thursday. They did not allow any photomographical operations inside the studio, and I resisted all temptations, so the best you get is this evidence to prove what shall follow.

Things you didn’t see:
Want to know how soon before broadcast they’re talking about what will make it to air? The final meeting in Lorne Michaels’ office broke up at 9:05 p.m., 25 minutes before the show went live, and after most of the audience had been seated.
Jason Sudeikis is great at loosening the pre-show tension and warming up the audience. "Welcome to Thursday Night Live, I guess?!" he opened, assuring us of some "nice surprises" before letting folks know that the debate sketch would open the show, and apologizing to the folks in the "left-field" balcony seats for having the worst view of said sketch.
We sat in "right-field" right above the presidential debate sketch, which meant we knew before the rest of the crowd and the viewers that Bill Murray would make a special appearance. Spoiler alert! Murray, already in NYC for a scheduled appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, only had a few blocks to travel after that taping to get to 30 Rock for SNL’s TNL.
But first, before the show, Kristen Wiig sang Blondie’s "One Way or Another" with Fred Armisen on guitar and the SNL band backing, and in case you’re curious, some early work for the cue card guys. Just taking precautions?
Bill Murray and the rest of the cast took their places in the last two minutes before airtime, and Murray had fun with the two extras seated next to him by pretending to panic about being on live TV as a guy from the side counted down the final minute in five-second intervals.
Speaking of Murray, the cameras missed another chance to catch his reaction shots to Darrell Hammond’s John McCain and Fred Armisen’s Barack Obama, as he had the aforementioned extras hold him back as he pretended to lunge at the candidates for failing to back his beloved Chicago Cubs. You hear the audience laughing as the camera zooms in instead on Chris Parnell, who admirably played moderator Tom Brokaw.
Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers played off the debate sketch and its timing joke right before the start of Weekend Update, as Poehler suggested she’d tell the live audience a great story, and then…
Later, while Hall and Oates sang, Poehler bopped and danced from her chair throughout the entire song. So did we. Good stuff.
One unused set still sat off to the side, suggesting an old-timey study with leather chairs. Wonder who that was meant for, and whether we’ll see it next Thursday, perhaps? The dress rehearsal audience knows part of that answer.

What you and I saw:
This live half-hour (22 minutes of airtime) edition of SNL opened with Tuesday night’s presidential town-hall debate offering so many jokes itself, yet the show managed to poke fun at two of the most obvious moments — McCain referring to Obama as "that one" turned into a recurring series of jocular references, as well as McCain wandering in front of the camera — while zeroing in on another odd moment (time-limit answers) and ramping up the comedy around that. Textbook sketch comedy writing, as the premise accelerated into hilarity as two cast members read questions simultaneously, followed by Hammond and Armisen answering simulatenously (which was quite remarkable, considering their lines also read side-by-side on cue cards).
In Weekend Update, Poehler and Meyers seemed to hold their post-punchline poses longer than usual, to great effect in eliciting additional laughs. Kenan Thompson’s financial expert, Oscar Rogers, also followed a textbook rule of comedy, which states that when you find a catchphrase that gets laughs, you keep returning to it, and returning to it. "Fix it!"
The other highlight of Weekend Update saw Will Forte rewarded from last weekend’s effective song about the bailout vote with a bigger singing platform this time around, playing Hall to Armisen’s Oates for a duet in which they differ on their presidential preferences. Having Armisen’s Oates support McCain made sense for multiple reasons, not just because it allows him to play both sides, but also because Oates often was seen as second fiddle to Hall.

But heck, you can watch the entire episode online, right here! Well, after the jump…

The presidential debate cold open, complete with Chris Parnell saying "Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!" even though it was Thursday night. OK.

First part of Weekend Update Thursday.

Second part of Weekend Update Thursday.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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