The wonder of Saturday Night Live players has always been the ability to think quick on their feet, and the 46th season was a true testament to that.
While SNL writers and actors are used to camping out at 30 Rock in their work week stretches where days easily bleed into night, their brave return to work under safety protocols during the pandemic required them to work Monday and Tuesday from home hammering out the scripts before arriving into the studio on Wednesday for a grand table read followed by rehearsals.
Kenan Thompson, an Emmy nominee this year in the Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category, recalled during the NBC show’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees awards-season event that writers “passed messages on the phones” when it came to giving notes versus the standard banging on the door of a castmember’s dressing room when it came to making on-the-fly changes.
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Another big change during Covid: “Our parties were non-existent the first 95% of the season,” Thompson said.
“We were fastidious about following the protocols and yet we still had to put on a live show every week,” added Bowen Yang, who is also up for a Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series prize.
Last-minute changes to the live broadcasted show is de rigueur for SNL, but this past year nothing more was last minute the Saturday when the 2020 presidential election was called in favor of Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris. This entailed wardrobe creating Harris’ white suit “perfectly,” says Thompson, for Rudolph to wear in the cold open that night.
“That was just a great show with (Dave) Chappelle coming back to host; there was this electricity in the city on your way to work,” Yang said. “It was like magic was coming out of the sidewalk.”
“They were writing for both outcomes,” Thompson remembered about the Biden victory show. “We lean a little left over there. A lot of people were riding down the celebration trail of getting out from under the current regime at the time. It was all so crazy: When Trump won, it was a Tuesday night. We knew from Wednesday on the show was set. This count went all the way to Saturday morning.”
So, for this season can we expect a reprise of Thompson’s famed Diondre Cole, the singing host of BET talk series What Up With That? during which he ignores his guests?
“I would love it, but I need [Jason] Sudeikis, [Fred] Armisen, I need Bill [Hader]. I need those components. To me, the brotherhood of building something like that; it would be full circle of respect for me to do it one more time with those people,” said Thompson, who is also up for a Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy for the NBC sitcom Kenan. He previously won an Emmy in 2018 for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for the SNL song “Come Back, Barack.”
Saturday Night Live counts 21 Emmy nominations this season with Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant also nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series; Alec Baldwin, Chappelle, Daniel Kaluuya and Dan Levy up for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for hosting; and SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Rudolph nominated in the Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category.
Check back Monday for the panel video.