'Weekend Update' Co-Anchors Dish On 'SNL' And Donald Trump
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week, we’re featuring some of our favorite interviews of the year. When we booked Colin Jost and Michael Che, the anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update, we had no idea that the date we'd scheduled in November would be just after a controversial edition “SNL,” guest hosted by Donald Trump. Jost and Che had some interesting things to say about that show and the protests surrounding it were like from their perspectives. Jost and Che started anchoring Update together in the fall of 2014. Jost had been the head writer of the show but stepped down last fall to focus on Update. Che joined SNL as a writer in 2013, then left the following year to become a correspondent on "The Daily Show." After three months, he returned to SNL to co-anchor Update. Let's start with a Weekend Update clip from the episode Donald Trump hosted on November 7. Jost speaks first.
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COLIN JOST: Well, Ben Carson had a real interesting week. First he said that the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by the biblical Joseph to store grain. Sure, makes sense.
JOST: Then he had to defend stories about his violent past after CNN couldn't find anyone to verify them, which is always great when you're running for president and you have to say, no, guys, I swear, I really did stab my friend.
MICHAEL CHE: Yeah, Ben Carson, what is going on with you? You are the first black man in American history to turn down an alibi. That would be like if...
CHE: That would be like if O.J. said, hey, give me that glove back again, man. I think I can make it fit. Let me try by stabbing at it.
JOST: And then last night, Dr. Carson lashed out at the media for digging into his past, saying, what's next, they're going to find my kindergarten teacher who said I peed my pants? But at this point, Dr. Carson, I think we're more worried it'll turn out you didn't graduate kindergarten or that you claimed to pee your friend's pants and then they find your friend and he's like, I never had pants.
CHE: And now Ben Carson is complaining that no one ever vetted President Obama like this. Are you serious, dude? Even after Obama was elected president twice, they still made him show ID just to get into the White House.
CHE: And I'm talking about the guy hosting the show.
GROSS: And in case you couldn't hear Michael Che's final aside there, he said, I'm talking about the guy hosting the show. Michael Che, Colin Jost, welcome to FRESH AIR. Well, you got in one of the genuine digs at Trump, Michael, by that last aside that you said – you know, I'm talking about the person hosting the show, meaning let's not forget that Trump was a birther and that he, you know, insisted that Obama show his birth certificate long after (laughter) Obama had shown his birth certificate. So did Trump have the opportunity of vetoing anything on Update? I know he had the opportunity of vetoing some things - at the very least in sketches that he was in.
JOST: No, he didn't have any - he had no say in what we did on Update. The interesting thing was, like, at dress rehearsal, even that - you know, that bit about - with Michael's observation about, you know, make America great again, like, when is again, was actually a lot longer. And we got into more, like, talking about, what era specifically did you want to go back to? Like, was it industrial revolution when, like, women couldn't vote and, like, toddlers had jobs or was it, like, the '50s or the '80s? And, you know, we kind of had - we went through each era. Like, Donald Trump didn't have any say in whether we did those things or not. But they just didn't play, like, in front of the audience at dress rehearsal.
CHE: It's a live show so you get to hear the audience enjoy it or not enjoy it when it's on TV. You know, so when it dies on air, you know, it's hard to relate it. Then it's just awkward. Then it's just tense. And then the next sketch has to follow that. So you can't kill a room for the rest of the show with something, you know, that might be a little chilling. So you got to - it's a very hard balance to confront something that's important but also make it fun.
GROSS: Yeah, and Michael, what you said that actually made it to air about that is, like, what era is he talking about? You want to say what you said about that?
CHE: Oh, I don't know that I remember it.
CHE: Yeah, like, what specifically because, yeah, when white - when old, rich white guys start bringing up the good old days, my Negro senses start tingling.
GROSS: Yeah, that...
CHE: Is that the part (laughter)?
GROSS: That is the - that is the part. So who is...
CHE: Negro senses start tingling.
CHE: I think every - I think every minority - even not even minority 'cause I hate that word minority - but there's always something - I think there's something about everybody that feels like the - a lot of the world can't relate. And whether it's black or whether it's woman or whether it's sexual orientation or whatever it is, everybody kind of has something except for Colin. And...
CHE: No, but, you know, like, everybody - literally everybody on the planet has something that they say, well, people don't talk about how hard it is for this. And I feel like there's a lot of times where, you know, Donald Trump is kind of like the poster child of ignoring people that may not have it as good as him. You know, he's, like, this rich, billionaire privileged dude. And I think it would be weird to not address it at some point.
GROSS: So you were talking about how some of the things didn't play during dress rehearsal. They didn't play to the audience. Was the audience selected differently than it typically is?
JOST: I don't think so really. I don't know - I know there were definitely - there was additional security. But there also was last - the last show we did 'cause Hillary Clinton was on. And so it's similar - I think there was a similar process of just making sure, you know, there was just a little extra security.
JOST: So that adds to it also. But there wasn't anything – any weird selection process.
CHE: It was more than Hillary but less than Prince…
CHE: …If that makes sense.
GROSS: So can you tell us a joke that you liked but you took out because it wasn't playing with the audience?
CHE: Well, they - I had a joke where I said the N-word 11 times, as usual, and (laughter)...
JOST: And it ended up just sounding like a bunch of bleeps…
JOST: …And no one knew what it was.
CHE: It ended up sounding so bad. But also, I had a - we had a couple that might've been mean toward Trump, but we don't want to burn it hear because we might still be able to do it.
CHE: I'd like another crack at it, to be honest with you.
GROSS: So one more question about this. What was the experience like for you of going to work and having to cross all of these protesters who were really angry that "Saturday Night Live" had invited Trump to host?
CHE: I was just glad they wasn't there for me.
JOST: That they had turned their Michael Che signs around to say Donald Trump?
CHE: Finally, yeah, spread the wealth. But (laughter)...
JOST: I think it's a - it's also - like, remember the other side of it - you know, like, it's before our time, too. But when Lorne had Rev. Al Sharpton host, there were a bunch of, you know, channels that didn't carry the broadcast out of protest on the other side. And so I think there's a history of certain hosts make people upset for different reasons. And, you know, you - it's not our - you know, it's not Michael's and I decision. And our - in politics - your personal politics don't come into the show in general. You know, what goes into the show are different takes on what's happening in the news and what Lorne likes is that the show is balanced. And that it's really...
JOST: What he says, it's the idea of speaking truth to power. So whoever is in a position of power, you're going to take shots at.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Colin Jost and Michael Che, the co-anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Michael Che and Colin Jost, the anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. Let's get to an example of what you do on a regular week when Donald Trump isn't hosting. So there's a clip I want to play of you both from something you did on Weekend Update about gun control this season. And do you want to say a little bit about what was happening in the news that inspired this?
JOST: Well, there was - it was after the Oregon shooting. It was probably a week or two after that. But it was really - it started because there was constant media coverage of it and just constant debates about what to do about gun control.
GROSS: OK, so here's an excerpt of Weekend Update with my guests, Michael Che and Colin Jost.
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CHE: Look, here's a list of things that are harder to get than a gun - a driver's license, a purple belt in karate, Kevin Hart tickets, a GED, spray paint.
JOST: All right, well, here are things that are easier to get than a gun - herpes.
CHE: All right, why do you say that all the time?
JOST: I didn't prepare a list. Look, you know how hard it is to limit guns? Think about how hard it was in New York to limit sodas. Bloomberg was like, uh, maybe just don't drink soda out of a bucket? And people were like, he's trying to take our soda buckets.
CHE: Which brings me to my next point - you can't have whatever you want, all right? I know the forefathers said you have the right to own a gun. But they also said you could own people, which, by the way, if I owned a whole field of jacked Africans, I'd probably want a dozen or so guns, too.
JOST: It's not supposed to cut to me after that.
CHE: Oh, no, it isn't. I told them to do that. Look, the Constitution - I was making a point.
CHE: The Constitution is a lot like our grandfather. He's wise. We love him, and he means well. But he's getting really, really old. And every once in a while he says something crazy and we’ve got to go to the other room and discuss what we’re going do about him.
JOST: And, look, you know, as New Yorkers, I don't think that we should be telling the rest of the country how to deal with guns, OK? I don't have a gun. You don't have a gun.
JOST: Wait, you have a gun?
CHE: I mean...
JOST: Why do you have a gun?
CHE: I got a lot of sneakers, Colin. I mean, what you want me to do?
CHE: I walk home by myself, man.
GROSS: (Laughter) That's Colin Jost and Michael Che on Weekend Update. So Michael, do you have a gun?
CHE: (Laughter) I do have a lot of sneakers, though.
CHE: I don't have a gun.
JOST: That was a fun - that was a fun one to do because I think it was the first time that we kind of just tried doing a back and forth almost debate kind of between ourselves that came out of a very real just us talking through like, well, what do we think about this? And that was kind of a nice...
GROSS: Yeah, tell us more about that process.
JOST: Well, I think what - for us the more we want to do is make Weekend Update as much ours and in our voices as it can be. And so one thing that we did was start just getting in a room and talking through how we feel about different things, and that was the big issue that week. And that's just been helpful week to week for Michael and I just talk, like, kind of basically the way we would in normal life if we were trying to figure out jokes as comedians about a subject.
GROSS: So, you know, I'm thinking, like, I asked Michael Che if he had a gun. Is - Colin was everybody asking you if you have herpes (laughter)?
JOST: No one asked, but thank you, Terry.
JOST: I think people just know I don't. They just instinctively know I don't.
GROSS: So on Weekend Update, do you still use cue cards?
JOST: Yeah, the whole show.
GROSS: The whole show?
JOST: Every part of "SNL."
GROSS: Why is that? How come (laughter)? It seems so antiquated.
JOST: I don't know exactly what Lorne's reasoning is. I feel like everything's changing so much at our show all the time that I actually think you'd rather trust human error of getting the cards ready than computer error that if something messed up that it would be kind of a nightmare in a way that is - I don't know, I guess it's almost like a faith in humanity that they can get it better than a computer 'cause - under pressure, I think.
GROSS: What are some of the things that can go wrong with cue cards that wouldn't be going wrong with a teleprompter?
CHE: I could answer that.
CHE: I remember one time - a guy - one of the cue card holders had their thumb on the last word of a joke. And I couldn't read it until he moved it.
CHE: That's one thing that could absolutely happen. That's a lot of fun.
JOST: Someone - one time at the top - right at the beginning of Weekend Update, I turned to see my first joke and someone - like, in the audience dropped something and it, like, rolled at the cue card guy who then moved the card because, like, some object was going at him.
CHE: Yeah (laughter).
JOST: And so like I turned to the camera and there was basically, like, nothing there for a second, which is pretty terrifying when you're like, OK, wait, I think I know what the first joke was. Like, you do know - we could probably almost do the entire thing without cue cards.
JOST: But you're just so trained to be - also it just helps focus you, like, where - literally where you're looking at the camera. So, you know, when it's suddenly not there, it's like a director not yelling action or something, you know?
CHE: Or like Brian Fellows - remember Tracy on Brian Bellows? The camel - there was like a camel on Brian Fellows, and he walked in front of the cue card and Tracy had to yell I can't see camel. Like, he couldn't see the last line.
CHE: So, you know, it's just - that happens.
JOST: That's one of many potential downsides of having a camel on a live set.
GROSS: Let’s take a short break here. My guests are Colin Jost and Michael Che, the co-anchors of “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update. We’ll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us my guests are the co-anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update, Colin Jost and Michael Che. I'd like to talk to you each a bit biographically. Colin, let me start with you. You grew up in Staten Island. Your mother…
GROSS: …Is, or was, the doctor for the head for the New York City Fire Department or for the whole New York City Fire Department.
JOST: Yeah, she still is. She's the chief medical officer for the whole New York City Fire Department. So she...
JOST: She oversees all the - yeah, it's a cool job. She oversees all the - the entire medical office, all the medical staff. And she's done it...
GROSS: Was she that when you were growing up?
JOST: She - I don't remember - she was the first female medical officer for the Fire Department in history and then became the first chief - first female chief medical officer, I want to say in the early '90s. But so - she's definitely been doing that job - she's been running it for, you know, 25 years, something like that. And she - it was really important for her. My grandfather was a fireman. My great-grandfather was a fireman, both Staten Island. All my cousins, who, like, live on my block growing up, were firemen. My uncle works with the Fire Department dispatch. It's like a - that was my whole Staten Island world. And so, for my mom, that was like the job she most wanted to do because it was - it felt like she was keeping it in the family, but also she was a doctor, which was something she loved. You know, she loves working with people.
GROSS: You must have also been exposed to some pretty terrifying stories as a child about burn victims, and, you know, firemen or just individuals who were killed by a fire or by falling debris.
JOST: Yeah, yeah, and well, she - you know, my mom is - a part of her job is she has to tell the families of any firefighter that dies in the line of duty. So she was - you know, I think there's a lot of days she came home that were rough because she was going through that, and is still close with a lot of the families that she went through with that. And that's just - I think part of why I'm in comedy today is because of the Fire Department because that's - that was my mom - my mom always had an outlook on life that was trying to see the best parts of it and trying to make light of things as much as possible because she was dealing with so much heartache. And so I think that's why naturally I gravitate towards people who like joking about things. Like, I can't imagine - I can't imagine dating someone that doesn't have a good sense of humor because you're going to go through so much stuff in life, and with having a family, like, it's so hard to imagine not - not having that to get you through it.
GROSS: And Michael, let me ask you about your childhood. And it strikes me you're from very different backgrounds. Michael, you grew up in a housing project in New York City.
CHE: Yeah, lot of fires.
JOST: Also a lot of fires.
CHE: Also a lot of fires.
GROSS: So I read when you were 14 your mother basically told you to leave home.
CHE: (Laughter) Yeah.
CHE: She was cool, too.
CHE: I mean, I was a strong choice for a woman. No, I'm kidding.
GROSS: What was that about?
CHE: I had a little rebellious streak, you know? I was just a man-child, you know? I say man-child meaning I thought I was grown, and a lot of the choices I was making were for adults. And, you know, she was, like, well, you can't do that here. So we didn't really get along that well for the teenage years of my life. But I lived with my dad - I moved in with my dad and went to art school and figured out a little bit more about myself then.
GROSS: So initially, like, in the art school period, you were thinking you'd be, like, a painter or a graphic designer?
CHE: No, I wanted to go to art school because they had - there was like 7-1 girl-to-guy ratio.
CHE: This is the - I'm just going to tell you the truth. I was 14, 15 years old - that's what I was thinking. And I went to LaGuardia High School, and they had a dance department and a drama department. And I was, like, yeah man, that's going to be fun. And, to be honest, it wasn't. No, it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. It was, like, actually, as a New York City kid, it was the first time I actually felt like a New York City kid because I got to meet people from all over the city from all different backgrounds. When you grow up in the city, New York is so big that you can kind of stay in your own little corner of the city and think that that's it because you don't need anything. You don't have to venture out; you don't have to touch the boroughs. You can kind of stay in your neighborhood and there's everything there.
CHE: And I felt like when I was in high school - (laughter) when I was in high school, that's where I started to meet kids from Long Island and from Queens and from Brooklyn and, you know, kind of - I kind of learned about - from different classes from the Upper West Side from, you know, poorer than me, richer than me, famous. So it was kind of - that was kind of a cool place to learn that oh, there's other things I could be instead of a rapper or a basketball player or a vodka connoisseur.
GROSS: Can I ask you each to share one of the first jokes you ever told at the microphone?
CHE: Do you remember?
JOST: I remember. I remember the first one I wrote.
CHE: I don't remember the first one, but I do remember one that I was using, like, a lot, and it was bad. But go ahead (laughter). You can go.
JOST: Well, one - the first one I wrote was - it's basically the whitest origin story for a joke, but I was playing golf.
JOST: And it was - there was, like - it was, like - I was out in Arizona, and I was like...
CHE: And you're what - 20?
JOST: Something like that - 21 – 21 and - maybe 20. And I played golf, and it was like a - the golf course was built on an Indian burial ground. And...
CHE: That's the whitest thing you could ever say.
JOST: Right. And there was a sign. There was, like, one section where if you hit a golf ball into it, there was a section that said, if you hit a golf ball in here, please leave the golf ball as a sign of respect (laughter). And I remember thinking, like, oh, I'm sure that there's a native - a dead Native American chief who's thinking, wow, he left his golf ball on my grave. White people finally respect us.
JOST: And then it was - the rule was, basically, like, if you hit a minority group with a golf ball, like, at least let them keep the golf ball…
JOST: …Like the whitest rule.
CHE: That's actually good.
JOST: And then, I was - like, that got me through the first 10 horrible open mics. I was like, there's something there, right? I don't know.
GROSS: And Michael, what about you?
CHE: Oh, mine was nowhere near that. Mine was something about how Jehovah's Witnesses don't answer the door for - they don't celebrate Halloween, which is weird because that's the one time people open the door for you, and they give you candy.
CHE: It was a real social satire.
JOST: And you fit in the most. You're like, oh yeah, there's a...
CHE: Yeah. I would think that would be their greatest holiday, is Halloween.
JOST: Yeah, that's like their - that's like their Christmas.
CHE: That's their Christmas.
JOST: Everyone - look at everyone being so friendly.
GROSS: So one more question. As the anchors of Weekend Update, what is now the best, and what is now the worst day of the week on a typical week?
CHE: Oh, that's a good question.
JOST: Well, I think - well, there - to me, like, Saturday - Friday and Saturday for Update anchors I think is the most exciting because that's when you're really getting the segment together. Like, early in the week, you can kind of brainstorm stuff, but the news changes so much over the course of the week that...
JOST: ...You're kind of not fully into it till at least Thursday, just because you don't - you don't know how stories are going to change.
CHE: One a.m. Sunday morning is pretty cool.
CHE: One a.m. Sunday - because it's just such a release. I always like it. And doing SNL is like - feels like planning a wedding every week, you know? It's, like, very special, and you get one real shot at it. And you just want it to go - you just want it to be done, you know? Like, not - even whether it goes well or doesn't go well, you just want to say, ah, we did it. We put it all together. We put a lot of work into it and we made it to air, and we finished the show. And that feels like an accomplishment in itself, you know, because it's just so much to put a show like that together. And it's so exciting, and it's so much tension that at 1 a.m. you feel a big release, like, we did it.
GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us today. Thank you, Colin Jost and Michael Che.
CHE: Thank you. It was a lot of fun.
JOST: Thanks for having us.
GROSS: Michael Che and Colin Jost are the anchors of “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update. Our interview was recorded in November. Tomorrow, we’ll continue our week-long series featuring some of our favorite interviews of the year. We’ll hear Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose new book “Between The World And Me” won this year’s National Book Award for Nonfiction. Part history, part memoir, it’s about the dangers facing black men. And we’ll hear from memoirist Mary Karr, whose new book is about writing and reading memoirs. And looking ahead to New Year’s Eve, we’ll feature our interview with Mark Ronson, whose recording “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars was one of the biggest hits of the year. We’ll close today’s show with it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.