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Marc Maron Demythologizes Lorne Michaels on an Anti-Climactic WTF Podcast

By Dustin Rowles | Podcasts | November 9, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Podcasts | November 9, 2015 |

Anyone who has listened to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast more than twice knows of Maron’s obsession with Lorne Michaels (and Saturday Night Live). Anytime an SNL cast member — past or present — is on the show, Maron will insist on hearing their audition story, and he will always ask what their relationship with Lorne Michaels is like (these audition and firing stories can often be enlightening or even poignant, as was the case especially with Michaela Watkins and the woman who replaced her on SNL, Jenny Slate).

These stories invariably lead to Maron returning to his own audition story, and for years, Maron has felt rejected by Michaels because he wasn’t selected. It’s been an obsession for Maron, and I think even more than the President Obama interview, sitting down with Lorne Michaels may have been the apex of his career.

As an episode of WTF, however, it was like the Obama episode: It was fine. It was not earth-shattering. It was more about who the guest was than what he said. Lorne Michaels was not revelatory. When he spoke, it wasn’t accompanied by hymns from heaven. He was Lorne: Dry, perfunctory, matter-of-fact.

He did, however, speak to what Maron has wanted to know for the last 20 years: Did he remember Maron auditioning? Sure, yes. Kind of. A little bit.

And why, Maron desperately wanted to know, was he rejected?

Basically, it was “bad timing.” It was the 90s. NBC was breathing down his neck. It was a transitional year. They were looking for a new generation of cast members, and Maron didn’t fit into the cast at the time. It wasn’t personal. There was nothing wrong with Maron’s audition. He just wasn’t what they needed. They didn’t have anything to do with him at the time.

How anticlimactic.

There were no fireworks during the rest of the podcast, either. It took place over two sessions, and the first session was largely spent on Michaels’ background in Canada and how he ended up at SNL. It wasn’t particularly interesting.

The second half of the show was far more compelling, as Michaels talked about his time at SNL. He said that he’s never witnessed a “perfect” show, but that the 40th Anniversary show was the closest he’d ever get, not necessarily because of the show itself but because of all the people he was able to get to attend. It was the last time that many SNL cast members will ever be in the same room; Michaels says he has no intention of doing another huge anniversary show like it ever again.

Neither did Michaels offer any insights into any of the individual cast members. He did add that he does have bosses to answer to, and that sometimes (especially during the Warren Littlefield era) he feels pressure from above. I don’t think he feels any such pressures at the moment. The number of people who watch the show now is about the same as the number of people who watched it in the 1970s (6 or 7 million people a week), and he thinks the existing cast has gotten over the hump, that they began to click last year (agree to disagree?)

He also answered why he thinks that everybody’s favorite cast was the one they were watching while they were in high school: It’s because they had no freedom, and nothing else to do on a Saturday night, so they got attached to those particular casts. He did, however, concede that new casts — like an ugly newborn baby — take some time to get used to.

The most interesting thing he told Maron, I thought, was about how SNL appeals most to middle America, and how he tailors the show toward that middle-American mentality. That may also explain why our favorite cast was the cast we were watching in high school: Our tastes were more broad. As we get older, we seek out more refined comedy narrowed to our particular sensibilities. Lorne Michaels doesn’t trade in that. He’s not trying to appeal to the critics; he’s trying to appeal to SNL viewers in Springfield, Illinois.

Finally, he gave no indication of when he might retire. It doesn’t seem to be something he gives much thought to; in fact, he thinks there’s a possibility that SNL may even out-survive NBC, although he still believes that the network model can still survive.

Source: WTF with Marc Maron

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.