Earlier this year, Colin Jost learned his recent promotion to head writer of “Saturday Night Live” would get an even more high-profile boost.
Late last season, “SNL” godfather Lorne Michaels installed the 32-year-old Jost as host of the show’s esteemed “Weekend Update” segment — a chair vacated by the likes of Chevy Chase, Dennis Miller, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon and, most recently, Seth Meyers.
Partnered on the desk this season with newcomer Michael Che, Jost is starting to hone the jokey patter and snarky delivery necessary for parodying the news.
The former president of the Harvard Lampoon started writing for “SNL” immediately after graduating from college. He has since gone on to win a Peabody Award and earn seven Emmy Award nominations.
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The boyishly handsome performer will spend some of his off-week traveling to Lawrence for an evening of “strictly standup.” Viewers who have seen the Staten Island native only as a rookie “Update” anchor may be shocked at what a seasoned comedian he is onstage.
Calling live from New York, Jost spoke with The Star about comedy, the realities of fake news and the awful nickname given to him by the show’s most famous Kansas City area alumnus, Jason Sudeikis.
Q. First off: How did you find time to talk to us on a Friday before a live show?
A. It’s difficult. But anything for you — within reason.
What’s the biggest misconception about working on “Saturday Night Live”?
The biggest misconception that I’ve heard is that a lot of the show is improvised. I hear that a lot, like, “Is any of it scripted?” It’s probably one of the least improvised shows.
The thing is, the cast is involved the whole time. It’s not like they’re handed a script by a writer and have to improvise to make it better. They’re working on it all week. They may improvise, but that’s part of the writing process.
When you’re actually on air, it’s locked down because it has to be for cutting around the cameras. Otherwise, it would visually be nonsense.
You’ll be performing at KU. How did that come together? Do you have any connection to Kansas?
I don’t have a personal connection. Jason Sudeikis, who I started with, is a huge KU fan. I’ve watched NCAA runs with him at bars in the city. Whenever I go to Kansas City, he tells me where to go for barbecue. I’ve enjoyed my time there, but I don’t have a personal connection beyond that.
Have any good stories about working with Sudeikis?
My first season at the show, we went to an afterparty and maybe another one after that, so it was like 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. We went to get food, a whole group of us. I ordered a cheeseburger. I was so exhausted from the week that I fell asleep on it like a pillow — right to sleep on a full, pristine cheeseburger. Everyone let me sleep until they were finished with their meals and we all went home. After that, Sudeikis gave me the nickname of Burger Jost. It was not widely picked up, but it got around a little bit.
Now that you’re doing “Update” every week, does it make watching the real news more funny or less funny?
It makes it more funny but also more impressive. Being a newscaster is a real skill beyond the journalism part. That camerawork skill is tough.
Like when I go on the “Today” show or even regional morning shows, I’m so impressed by the fact the show is happening all around them, and they’ll be in a slightly different part of the studio talking to me, “How are you? What’s going on?” Then they’ll snap into, “Today, 1,000 were trapped in a flood.” That ability to always be ready when the camera is on is impressive.”
You seemed way more loose and comfortable on the second week of “Update” than the first. Is it getting easier?
Yes, definitely. It’s getting more fun. I’m getting past the technical side of it and getting used to the space of being out there. It’s such a different room than standup when there are cameras surrounding you instead of people.
You’ve cited Norm Macdonald as your favorite “Update” host. Who was your least favorite?
I really do not have a least favorite. I don’t know enough about the early ones except from clips. Like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain, I only know their most famous bits. Once I have an awareness of anchors, I don’t have a least favorite. There are things about all of them I think of using for myself, and I liked in the moment, too.
Is it a coincidence that Jost rhymes with host?
It can’t be.
What’s the best sketch you’ve written that made it on the air?
It’s weird because there are so many through the years that even when you really like one, you quickly move on because there’s a whole other host coming in and a new week. Doing Drunk Uncle with Bobby (Moynihan) was something I was really proud of. It’s hard to have a character that can live a while on the show.
There are also certain political things. There was a Miley Cyrus video last year based on her song “We Can’t Stop” about the government shutdown that I liked because it was a style parody of her video but was right at the moment when Republicans were shutting down Congress. I felt like that captured some of the frustration: The fact they could do it didn’t mean it was something they should do.
You were only 22 when you got hired at “SNL.” That’s fairly unusual, right?
There are other people — like Pete Davidson, who just started — he is 20. Eddie Murphy was 19, I think. Anthony Michael Hall was like 17. It’s a place where people will occasionally start young. At the time I didn’t think about age. I was just really lucky to have a job.
What type of comedy annoys you?
A kind of comedy I liked a lot when I was younger was anti-comedy. Now it’s harder for me to like things that are bad. Life is so short, I want people to be trying. It’s so hard to do anything good, I want people who can do good things to do good work.
Did you know Jan Hooks?
I don’t think I ever met her. I don’t think she came back when I was here. Mike Myers was here last night. I was so excited to see him, then I suddenly remembered, “Oh yeah, she’s a person he was in a cast with for four or five years.”
It’s weird because she seemed so young. It’s a bummer for everyone. Also, the 40th anniversary is coming up, and she’s someone we would be so excited to see here.
According to the book “Live From New York,” creator Lorne Michaels is often a really hard guy to interact with. How did he tell you that you got “Update”?
He asked me at some point if I thought I could do it — probably two summers ago. He floated the idea, and I still didn’t know if that was a real possibility or not. Once we knew Seth (Meyers) was leaving to take over for Jimmy (Fallon), I knew someone was going to have to do it. He started floating the idea of Cecily (Strong) and I doing it.
But I’m someone who doesn’t count on something happening until it’s 100 percent physically happening. It was a process, and at some point he had a dinner with us where he said, “This is really going to be it. Start mentally preparing for it.” At that point, I thought it was 60 percent true.
If I wanted to get hired on “Saturday Night Live,” what would I do?
When people ask me that, what I usually tell them is the best way to get here is to be working at comedy as much as you can. There’s a reason a lot of people have come from Upright Citizens Brigade or Groundlings or Second City. The reason is you’re around other people who are doing this semi-professionally or professionally. The more you’re around them, the better you get. That’s the biggest thing developmentally.
There’s also being in a place where someone might see you. You might have a friend who gets hired at a show, and they know you’re funny because you were on a team with them doing improv. When they’re asked if they know anyone who’s funny we could hire, they’ll say your name. Being in a community where comedy is happening is not the only way, but it’s the main way.”
Colin Jost performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive in Lawrence. Tickets are $12; $7 for KU students. More info at SUAEvents.com.