"Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
Saturday Night Live is currently celebrating its 40th season, and the show has faced its fair share of positive and negative reception since Lorne Michaels first created the show in 1975. The Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special aired on February 15, 2015, and as I watched, I couldn’t help but think about the creativity that flowed from every performer stepping onto the stage. SNL has welcomed some of the greats of comedy from Chevy Chase to Steve Martin to Kristin Wiig, and the list could go on and on. So why is this creative, particularly in the context of our class?
|Will Ferrell in a sketch from SNL40|
Stand-up comedy is known to have one major rule: performers always accept what the person before them said and then continue to build from that, the “yes and” rule. Most SNL cast members start out in improv, at places such as The Groundlings or The Second City, where they are trained to create instantaneously. Improvisation is all about taking one idea and building a connection from that root concept to create an entire story. Entire shows can be centered around one word or phrase, often called out from the audience to begin the show. This reminds me of Andreasen’s remark in the article Secrets of the Creative Brain that “creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way – seeing things that others cannot see.” This is true not only for improv but also for the scripted comedy we see play out live on Saturday nights. The SNL writers encounter many of the same things each of us encounters in our daily lives like politics or strange public transit interactions. Yet the writers have the creative brains that Andreasen refers to, and they are able to make associations with those daily activities, see the connection their individual life could have with the greater American population, and then create a script that will resonate with their audience.
I think many would agree that comedians are in fact creatives. As to SNL in particular, the program has won 45 Emmy Awards and is the most nominated show in Emmy history. Public reception throughout SNL history has varied drastically. The show was almost cancelled a few times and has gone through many phases of casting choices. Lorne Michaels has been at the helm of the show throughout its entire run, except for a short hiatus in the 80’s. It has almost always starred new talent from improv theaters rather than well-known comedic actors. The much stronger reception resulting from such casting choices further suggests that improvisation is in fact a more creative – and thus more entertaining – type of performance. Lorne Michaels saw the opportunity to create a space where comedians could change the culture of comedy and America forever. His creativity produced an arena for many more creatives to continue to build a legacy of comedy that will always be a part of television history.