Roni on SNL

February 17, 2011

In some alternate universe, I’ve hosted Saturday Night Live.

Here are some of the photos used therein (as made by Sharon Burian).

Thanks again to @SharonBurian, who has been giving these to me as birthday presents the past few years.

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Roni Sees SNL

February 16, 2011

Part One: The Wait

I live and die by Saturday Night Live.

One of my few childhood memories is how exciting it was when Comedy Central (back when Penn Jillette was still the voice of the network) had 24 hours of SNL (apparently in 1991). Regardless as to the decade or any string of bad episodes, I not only stuck with it, but relished in it.

So, you can imagine, seeing the show live has always been a dream.

When I was in town in April 2010, Joe Geni and I stood on line for a few hours in the hopes of getting into the Tina Fey/Justin Bieber episode. With our standby tickets in the 100s, we never really had a shot. It seems like 30-50 people usually get in on standby.

This time, I was ready to wait all night, writing on the NYC CouchSurfing board to secure a sleeping bag (and a tent).

Delayed a bit, I got to the line at about 10 PM. I was told by the Rutgers students in front of me that I was number 46. With some people choosing dress rehearsal and some choosing the live show, I figured my chances were decent, given the normally even  breakdown of people requesting dress rehearsal vs. live.

A cop went by and I asked him if there would be a problem with my intended setup. He said I should be fine. I began to set up my tent.

Cozy, I went to sleep.

A couple hours later there was a knock at the tent, with someone yelling “No tents!”

By time I peeked my head out, there wasn’t anyone there, so I went back to ‘bed’.

Knock again. Ignored again.

Third knock was serious. I bluntly told the security guard that I had talked to a cop before and he told me it was fine. Since this guy represented no real authority to me and debased whatever respect I might have had for him by claiming that this sidewalk was private property, I told him that I would only take it down if a cop told me to.

Back into the tent.

I kept peeking out, but no security guard and no cops. Seemed safe. The dudes behind me on line agreed that the guy must have given up.

5-10 minutes later, the dudes behind me yelled through my tent that the guy was coming back with three cops. They sounded a bit scared.

I peeked my head out. Two chick cops and one fella. The fella was shorter than either chick. They all had slightly amused looks on their face, the kind of look a cop has when they realize something is stupid, but they don’t have anything better to do, so it’s worth the distraction.

“If I have to be cold, so do you,” said the guy, in what was meant to put us on the same level.

I argued my point that I was told prior that I’d be fine.

“No structures,” they responded. Obviously, this tent qualified as that. I asked them what the line was, considering that there were air mattresses further up. “No structures. You can have a sleeping bag or whatever else.”

I asked what it would take to make them happy.

“Well, untie it from the post…”

Reasonable.

I told them that it didn’t make any sense that the guy was claiming it was private property. They agreed. It’s the sidewalk, where you can’t have structures.

I asked if I just took the poles out, if that would work.

“Well, that’s just semantics,” one of them said.

“This whole thing is semantics,” I replied.

The people around seemed fairly spellbound that I was putting in so much of a fight.

I began to take the poles out. My tent looked like a giant popped balloon.

They seemed content with this. They moved on, and I went back into my Flatland tent.

A truck came by around 5:30 AM, offering free hot chocolate or coffee or tea, with paid snacks available as well. (No free bagel this time, though, which was a disappointment.)

I got my standby ticket. #33 for dress rehearsal. I went back to my grandmother’s wayyyy uptown apartment to go to sleep.

Part Two: The Show

I got to Rockefeller Center about half an hour before the 7:15 PM arrival time. You have to line up in order of your standby ticket. Since it doesn’t matter how early you show up for this line, people don’t get there hours before. This caused undue optimism on the part of some people on the line who hoped that the 90+ people in front of them just wouldn’t show. I tried to temper their expectations.

The main problem with this line of people is that it is some of the worst energy you’ll find. Almost everyone is panicked and saying things like “Well, I won’t kill myself if I don’t get in, but…”

Eventually, the line started moving. I got further than the time before, up to the line to go through the metal detector. The 30 first people went through and got on the elevator to go upstairs. They were safe.

4 more people were allowed to go up, which split the couple behind me. “Just go,” the woman told the guy. “Save yourself,” was what I heard, in the style of a cliched war flick.

I never do well with metal detectors, because I always have so much crap in my pockets. The guy at the metal detector told me to slow down, that I’d be fine. I started to slow down, went through, was told I was OK and began to put the stuff back in my pockets.

Then, I was yelled at to hurry up, because I might miss the magical elevator.

Into the elevator, we went upstairs, the Rutgers kids ecstatic. I was still trying to sort out all of my crap that was formerly in my pockets, so I ended up being the absolute last person in. Along the hall were pictures of various hosts and skits and the like. I wanted so badly to take pictures but knew that wasn’t in the cards.

Inside Studio 8H, Jason Sudeikis was doing the warmup. It surprised me that it was done by a member of the cast. While I had missed a chunk of it, he never gave the sort of spiel that the Daily Show and Colbert warmup people give about the audience being important. I wasn’t sure if this was just because it was dress or because it was just a different environment. Sudeikis was exactly as he is in every sketch, smug and funny enough.

After the warmup, Kenan Thompson came out with some of the female cast as backup dancers singing Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”.

Then the show started. Armisen as Obama, which seemed drier than when I usually see it. Paul Rudd’s monologue felt like it was watching it on TV. And so on.

The problem is, as anyone will tell you, it’s a relatively small space, packed to the gills with set pieces. A good portion of the time, you can’t see the actual performance, or at least not everyone in the skit, and have to look to the monitors. And for whatever reason, it just felt lackluster. I don’t know if it was just because it was dress rehearsal, because ever since I’ve watched after being there live, there have been a lot of points where I just don’t see the cast invested in their roles.

In some ways, after the fact, I felt like I watched a magician revealing their secrets. While I’m still watching SNL as dutifully as ever, some of the lustre is gone. At the very least, I have it confirmed that I would never want to be a cast member. Watching the face of Bill Hader after he beat himself up after his Julian Assange bit and feeling the general energy of the crew rushing around to set stuff up between commercials, it just seemed like a lot of stress to be around week in and out. I never felt camaraderie between the performers or the crew. The performers seemed like they were in their individual worlds and the crew felt like they were just doing a job. No love, no magic. It was work.

Maybe that’s camera work. It’s part of why I lost interest in acting overall, once I got involved in it to the extent that I did.

Plus, there are few things that I’ve found more depressing than Paul McCartney trying to still be Paul McCartney. Arthritic kicks and plastic surgeried skin are no way to be remembered.

Be warned: while it may seem like it’s worth the wait, be prepared for your dreams to get crushed. I walked into Studio 8H giddy; I walked out disconnected from former lifelong ambitions.


Holding Your Ground (AKA Conan and Google)

January 12, 2010

Two big pieces of news:

Conan and Google.

Hats off to both of them.

  1. Conan. As always, I like to stay out of the taste argument.  Whether you prefer Jay or Conan is inconsequential.  Conan’s letter is done classily, making a firm point without lashing out.  Obviously, he hasn’t gotten to where he has without knowing how to handle a crowd.  And the citizens of the internet seem to be firmly in his camp.

It’s a gamble, telling NBC that he won’t get in line to make up for their failed roll of the dice (putting Jay at 10).  But Conan’s risk is an educated one.  FOX doesn’t have a proper late-night show and they’ve wanted one for a while, with many failed attempts.  Nothing has stuck since The Arsenio Hall Show (which wasn’t officially part of the network, but aired on many FOX affiliates).  In the end, my money’s on Conan going to FOX.  It seems like a good fit, anyway.  Either way, Jay or Conan is leaving NBC in this most recent late-night pissing contest.

2.  Google.  “Don’t be evil.” – Google corporate motto

The Google story is a bit more frightening, when you read their account of what has transpired.  A subdued headline of “A new approach to China” shadows the fact that two very serious things have happened.

  • There were cyber attacks on “large [American] companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors”
  • There was an attempt to hack the e-mails of Chinese human rights activists, which was a primary goal of the attacks.

This is such a complicated issue that I’m honestly not even sure how to approach it beyond the point of my headline:  I am assuming that Google could have chosen to continue operations in China as per usual, with censorship and the like, but have decided to make an offer (unrestricted searches) that will ultimately be rejected.  Google will have to leave a significant market.  And it seems like at least part of that decision is being done on principle.


Roni’s Review of NBC’s Thursday Comedy Line-up

September 18, 2009

I went into the night sorting through old papers, ready to stop if something caught my attention.  Took a while.

Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday:  While I’m always happy to have new SNL, I felt perfectly content just listening to it in the background.  A good, shallow concept for the “You lie” skit, nothing particularly memorable from the Weekend Update portion.
Parks and Recreation:  They lost me from the beginning, with the lengthy “Parents Just Don’t Understand”.  Didn’t really show that they had much to go off of.  The documentary style works well for “The Office”, but didn’t seem to add anything to P&R.  Amy Poehler was lackluster and there weren’t any breakout people in the cast.
The Office:  A solid episode.  I have watched every episode, after working with obsessives this spring.  This makes it difficult for me to see the episode through the eyes of someone that doesn’t have investment in the characters.  That being said, this was a particularly good episode, breezing by with a bit of funny for the different characters.
Community:  I went in with low expectations.  I like Joel McHale (and have a connection to him.  Go to the bottom of the blog for further explanation.)  I also went to community college and definitely see the potential for comedy therein.  Regardless, I wasn’t sold on concept alone.
All in all, a great show and one that I hope will get better.  It had a great mix of heart and humor.  Chevy Chase wasn’t fantastic, but perhaps his character will develop.  The chemistry between John Oliver and Joel McHale was great.  Even the romantic relationship between Joel McHale and the main chick didn’t annoy me.  I definitely will watch again.
My two cents on Leno:  Didn’t watch this episode, but watched part of the one from the night before.  Here’s my confusion:  Why was it pitched as being different from The Tonight Show w/ Jay Leno?  Wouldn’t the attraction be Jay Leno himself and what he was doing before?  Isn’t that what he does well?  Who would buy that the show would be that different or that anyone would really want it to be?  I still don’t understand why any critics or demographics were potentially misled by ads.  Any other situation seems fairly implausible.
My connection to Joel McHale:
Joel McHale was finishing his last year in the UW PATP (graduate acting) program during my first year as an undergrad.  I never met him (that I’m aware of).  It would have been fairly impossible for me to not have passed him in the halls at some point.  I have friends that had him as a TA in their acting classes.
In any case…  During that year, there was a stage show called “Trippin'”.  It was billed as a “live-action stage sitcom parody.”  In said show, Joel McHale played a character in what was the pilot episode.  Later on, Shad Willingham played the character in the middle of the series.  I was aware of Trippin’, seeing ads for it in the Drama building, but never went.  When I successfully auditioned for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, I began to develop friendships with people involved in Trippin’.  I was invited to be in one of their parody commercials, ‘Pirates’, a parody of ‘Aliens’.  Finally, for the Series Finale, I was asked to play Phlebotomy, the character that Joel McHale had played at the beginning.
Years later, I heard Joel McHale on Loveline and tried calling in.  They wouldn’t accept my call based on the ‘Trippin’ story, so I called again to say I was a fan of him on Almost Live!.  They let me on and I said I was a fan, then proceeded to bring up Trippin’.  Briefly, he showed recognition, but seemed a bit thrown off and not really sure.  At the end of the call, he jokingly (?) said “I have no idea what that guy was talking about.

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I went into the night sorting through old papers, ready to stop if something caught my attention.  Took a while.

Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday:  While I’m always happy to have new SNL, I felt perfectly content just listening to it in the background.  A good, shallow concept for the “You lie” skit, nothing particularly memorable from the Weekend Update portion.  Hopefully Megan Fox will pull of the season premiere.

Parks and Recreation:  They lost me from the beginning, with the lengthy Parents Just Don’t Understand.  Didn’t really show that they had much to go off of.  The documentary style works well for “The Office”, but didn’t seem to add anything to P&R.  Amy Poehler was lackluster and there weren’t any breakout people in the cast.  Don’t think I laughed out loud once.

The Office:  Solid all around.  I have watched every episode, after working with obsessives this spring.  This makes it difficult for me to see the episode through the eyes of someone that doesn’t have investment in the characters.  That being said, this was particularly good, breezing by with a bit of funny for many different characters.

Community:  I went in with low expectations.  I like Joel McHale (and have a connection to him.  Go to the bottom of the blog for further explanation.)  I also went to community college and definitely see the potential for comedy therein.  Regardless, I wasn’t sold on concept alone.

All in all, a great show and one that I hope will get better.  It had a great mix of heart and humor.  Chevy Chase wasn’t fantastic, but perhaps his character will develop.  The chemistry between John Oliver and Joel McHale was great.  Even the romantic relationship between Joel McHale and the main chick didn’t annoy me.  I don’t always like pop culture references, but I felt like all of the John Hughes stuff was done well.  I definitely will watch again.  In fact, as it’s DVRed, I’ll put it on again.

The Jay Leno Show:  Didn’t watch this episode, but watched part of the one from the night before.  Here’s my confusion:  Why was it pitched as being different from The Tonight Show w/ Jay Leno?  Wouldn’t the attraction be Jay Leno himself and what he was doing before?  Isn’t that what he does well?  Who would buy that the show would be that different or that anyone would really want it to be?  I still don’t understand why any critics or demographics were potentially misled by ads.  Any other situation seems fairly implausible.

My connection to Joel McHale:

Read the rest of this entry »


TV in the USA

January 13, 2009

I am an avid watcher of TV.  I enjoy it thoroughly.  I believe that the venue of serialized drama is one that cannot be replicated in even the best of films.  TV offers the chance to go through many layers and seasons of character arcs and to explore a variety of themes through an established format.

The amount of TV shows that I keep up with has significantly decreased.   Read the rest of this entry »


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