The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival made its debut Wednesday night with a documentary about another iconic New York institution: “Saturday Night Live.” The premiere of “Live From New York!” -- Bao Nguyen’s chronicle of the 40-year-old comedy show’s cultural impact -- opened the festival to give fans a rare peek behind the scenes of the historic show. Featuring interviews with creator Lorne Michaels, as well as dozens of cast members and pundits associated with every era of “SNL,” the film provided more than a few fun facts that longtime fans will enjoy learning.
Here are eight things we learned from the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Live From New York!”:
1. Lorne Lived In L.A.
“Saturday Night Live” and New York are synonymous at this point. When Lorne Michaels conceived the show, however, he was living not in New York but at the famous Chateau Mormont hotel in West Hollywood, California, where he was writing for various comics. It was NBC that chose to base the television series in New York.
2. The Original Set
One of the more iconic details of “Saturday Night Live” is the Grand Central facade that frames the show’s stage. During the series’ debut season, though, the stage looked very different. The set in Season 1 was made up to look like an underground comedy club, and it was notable around NBC studios for its use of real bricks. Like the show itself, the set was considered a gimmick, as few predicted “SNL” would last very long.
3. Political Comedy
When “Saturday Night Live” made its debut in 1975, the U.S. was still reeling from Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, and political comedy was almost nonexistent. Journalist Frank Rich says in “Live From New York!” that “political comedy was essentially dead on TV” before “SNL” brought it back. The series did not waste much time, taking shots at President Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon in its first episode. In later years, the show’s political comedy would become highly influential. Aides to Al Gore put some of the blame on the series for his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, because Darrell Hammond’s impression of Dubya became so famous.
4. Boys’ Club?
“Live From New York!” addresses the question of whether “Saturday Night Live” has been marked by a sexist working environment over the years. Unsurprisingly, cast members appeared divided on this issue in their interviews. Laraine Newman and Amy Poehler defended “SNL” as a meritocracy where whatever sketches played best in the writers’ room made it on air, regardless of gender issues. In contrast, Tina Fey contended the fact the writers’ room was largely populated by men affected the kind of sketches that were chosen for development, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus openly said there was a sexist atmosphere during her time on the series.
5. Garrett Morris
Garrett Morris had a tough time in the early years of “Saturday Night Live” as its first and only African-American cast member. In fact, the writers at the time had so much trouble writing for Morris that Michaels allegedly would personally visit the various writers to ask whether there was a way they could include him in their sketches.
6. ‘The Boxer’
The first episode of “Saturday Night Live” to be presented after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America was a landmark show. Rudy Giuliani, the outgoing mayor of New York, was on hand to invite “SNL” to make Americans laugh again, while Paul Simon appeared as the musical guest. “Live From New York!” reveals that Michaels was the one who chose the song Simon would perform: “The Boxer.” The selection was meant to signify the resilience of the city in the face of the tragedy.
7. USA Shorts
One of the most famous post-9/11 sketches was a gag where Will Ferrell plays a white-collar employee who comes to work wearing patriotic shorts cut to look like a thong. According to the documentary, Ferrell knew the censors would not allow him to bare that much skin on air. So, in rehearsals, he wore the shorts much lower on his thighs, but moved them higher before doing the live show.
8. Behind The Scenes
The film also gave fans a glimpse at the inner workings of “Saturday Night Live.” Ranging from the cast pitching jokes to host James Franco to Bobby Moynihan eating takeout food while writing sketches late at night to Jay Pharoah trying on costumes, the cameras caught fascinating looks at how much work goes into every episode.
Watch the trailer for “Live From New York!” here:
What did you think of “Live From New York!”? Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.