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‘Comedy Is a Safety Valve’: Why SNL Is Returning to Live TV Right Now

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After six months away, Saturday Night Live is returning to 30 Rockefeller Plaza this Saturday, with Chris Rock set to host.

The show suspended its live broadcasts in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but now it’s ready to come back. And while other comedy shows have returned to the studio—alums Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers have been taping from 30 Rock for weeks now—stakes are higher with a cast as big as SNL’s.

So why take the risk? Creator and Executive Producer Lorne Michaels says that while there are serious concerns over the pandemic, they can’t just stand by during an election year.

“Obviously, I take my responsibility for people’s health and lives very seriously, Michaels told the New York Times. “But we did a show with anthrax in the building. We did a show after 9/11. That’s what we’ve always done. To our audience, it’s really important we show up.”

Safety Precautions

Things are operating very differently right now, according to Michaels. For one, there are heat censors at the revolving doors, and anyone entering the building gets a rapid COVID test. After waiting 15 minutes they’re allowed in.

There are capacity limits in all areas. The Monday evening meetings that are held in Michaels’ office, typically crammed full with 40 people, most sitting on the floor, can now only hold three. There’s a strict cap on the people who can be on the studio floor at once. And cast meetings are held in huge areas with everyone standing six feet apart, wearing masks.

Cast members won’t have to wear masks during their sketches, but they’ll keep them on until the second the red “on air” light goes on.

And if anyone in the cast or crew tests positive, the whole operation will go into quarantine for two weeks.

They’ve also made the risky decision to bring in a live audience, though the ticket holders will have to answer a detailed COVID screening questionnaire, undergo the same testing before being let in the building, and wear a mask at all times.

Election Coverage

It was important to Michaels to get back to work in time to cover the presidential debates. Leading up to the election, they’ll do five shows in a row, something that they’ve never done.

“Fortunately, October has a blue moon, and that tends to be lucky,” Michaels said. “We’ll come on with the full moon and we’ll leave with the blue moon. And then, if the election goes into extra innings, then we’ll keep staying on the air. Whatever’s left of us.”

Election years have typically been huge for SNL, with rating hikes due to past fan-favorite performances like Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, and Dana Carvey as George Bush Sr.

Michaels has tapped Jim Carrey to portray Joe Biden, something that is sure to bring in viewers.

When asked if the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would mean the last of Kate McKinnon’s popular impression, Michaels cryptically replied, “I doubt it.” So, hopefully we’ll be able to look forward to Notorious RBG blessing us with pearls of wisdom from the afterlife.

Chris Rock Will Host

The show returns with alum Chris Rock as host and Megan Thee Stallion as the musical guest.

Rock was dragged into the spotlight this summer after a 20-year-old video resurfaced of Jimmy Fallon satirizing the performer in blackface. The topic is sure to come up in Rock’s monologue on Saturday.

“I think someone gave him bad advice,” Michaels said when asked about the incident. “He was trying to do an impression, and there’s nothing mean in what Jimmy does. It was of the time. I know we’re in a granular period now where every decision you’ve made in your life is up for reassessment. But there was no malice in it, I can tell you that.”

He continued, “That criteria is not the greatest soil for comedy to thrive on. I’m not saying comedy should be the dominant thing in our lives. I’m just saying it’s important it exists because, in addition to everything, it’s a safety valve.”

SNL airs Saturday, October 3, at 11:30 pm EST on NBC.