CLOSE

How to Get on Saturday Night Live

If comedy was like a run for president, then the hallowed halls of Saturday Night Live would be the White House. After all, there’s no better route to instantaneous nationwide visibility than to become an SNL cast member.

But even when a comedian makes the cut, it’s not all puppies and rainbows. Julia Sweeney once said that being on Saturday Night Live was like "having an Uncle you hate paying for all four years of Harvard." And getting in, it probably goes without saying, is tough.

In his book Gasping for Airtime: Digging through the Trenches of Saturday Night Live, SNL alum Jay Mohr summed it up like this: "Thousands of students show up every year at the doors of Harvard, but how many people walk through the turnstiles each year at SNL? A dozen? How many of that dozen, if any, are new performers? Three? Four? Zero?”

With some exceptions—like during years of high turnover, when the show has imported well-known talent like Billy Crystal and Janeane Garofalo—Saturday Night Live usually hires talented up-and-comers to show business with little to no television and film experience. Take, for example, Abby Elliot. Prior to Saturday Night Live, her entire IMDb listing was five episodes of voice work on two animated TV shows, and a role in a TV movie (starring her father, SNL alum Chris Elliott) that never aired. Jay Pharoah, who plays President Obama this season and joined the show in 2010, did not have a single IMDb credit. And the biggest star to come out of SNL in recent memory, Kristen Wiig, had just two guest appearance stints—on The Drew Carey Show and I’m with Her—on her resume (she also played a faux reality show contestant on the first season of Joe Schmo).

So where exactly do all these talented actors come from?
SNL’s talent scouts find comedians primarily from four comedy clubs: Second City, which started in Chicago and migrated to Toronto, Hollywood, and Amsterdam (there’s also a traveling show); Improv Olympic in Chicago and Los Angeles; the UCB Theater in New York and LA; and the Groundlings in Los Angeles. There’s logic in this method: Someone working with one of those companies will already have tons of training and be a seasoned performer who can better handle all the rigors of being on a live TV show.

Throughout the year, the scouts invite promising prospects to a showcase with a live, paying audience, and evaluate the contender over the course of a 10-minute set that consists either of straight stand-up or a mix of celebrity impressions and original characters. And sometimes if the performer is in another city, they ask him to send in an audition tape. Some of these audition tapes, like Will Greenberg’s and Susan Deming’s, find their way to YouTube. There are no open auditions.

Can you get on the show by putting your reel up on YouTube?
Probably not. Most audition tapes that appear online are from comedians who have established themselves as live performers or were contacted through formal channels. Even Pharoah, whose YouTube videos caught the attention of SNL’s scouts, had been performing stand-up since he was 15.

There is one other notable exception, though, from the days before YouTube. When drummer Fred Armisen’s band Trenchmouth broke up in 1996, he became frustrated with the alternative music scene. So for the 1998 South by Southwest Music Festival, he made a guerilla video, "Fred Armisen's Guide to Music and SXSW.” It became one of the most bootlegged videos among music aficionados (today we'd call this "going viral") and, just a few years later, Armisen ended up on SNL.

How tough are the auditions?
We’ll let actor Rob Huebel, who had to wait 7 hours and cut his material in half for his 2004 SNL audition, answer this one: "They really ice you out," he said. "They try to make it as scary as possible because it’s a live show, and in real life, I’m sure it is terrifying and things do go wrong, so they want you to be prepared." (Huebel wasn't selected for SNL, but he went on to a successful career in comedy on VH1's Best Week Ever, Comedy Central's The Human Giant, and the Oscar-winning film The Descendants.)

http://youtu.be/u1aKiolG2CA

From Jimmy Fallon’s audition tape, you can tell that the audience is a pretty tough crowd. SNL creator Lorne Michaels has said that there were only two people who auditioned well enough that he was comfortable putting them on the air right then and there: Kristen Wiig and Dana Carvey.

What are some audition strategies that worked for famous SNL alums?
Many SNL cast members have used unorthodox audition techniques. For callbacks, Mohr decided to get really drunk—so drunk that when Michaels and talent agent Marci Klein came to congratulate him after the act, Mohr was too inebriated to engage them in conversation.

After being told that she wasn’t strong enough, Victoria Jackson used an appearance on The Tonight Show to impress Michaels. With Johnny Carson's permission, she told the audience that she was auditioning for SNL; then she performed various character impressions and challenged Carson to guess who they were. Michaels hired her soon thereafter.

Eddie Murphy got in the door through the most unconventional means imaginable. According to talent coordinator Neil Levy, Murphy called him daily, pleading for the chance to audition because he had 18 siblings counting on him to get a job. After a week of calls, Levy agreed to use him as an extra (the cast had already been hired). But when Levy went through Murphy’s screen test, he was so impressed that he went to producer Jean Doumanian and demanded that Murphy be hired.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
entertainment
25 Amazing Netflix Hacks to Enhance Your Viewing Experience
iStock
iStock

We know you love watching the hottest movies and TV shows on Netflix, but are you getting the most out of the streaming service? If you want to binge-watch like a pro, any—or all—of these amazing hacks can help.

1. USE CATEGORY CODES TO FIND WHAT YOU REALLY WANT.

Watching Netflix on a smartphone
iStock

If you feel like you’re seeing the same movies and TV shows on your Netflix homepage again and again, that's because the streaming company caters its recommendations to your taste through a highly specific algorithm. But if you’re in the mood for something different, Netflix breaks down each movie and TV show into more than 76,000 hidden categories, which are as broad as "Action & Adventure” or as detailed as “Critically-Acclaimed Witty Movies from the 1930s."

You can find category codes within the Netflix URL itself: The last four numbers in the web address correspond to each category code. It looks something like this: http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/1365. So if you want “Exciting B-Horror Movies,” type in “2852” at the end of the URL (replacing the 1365 in the example). Do you want to find something in “Feel-Good Sports Movies For Ages 8 to 10”? That’s “855.” “Visually-Striking Movies For Ages 5 to 7”? Type in “2851” to unlock the category.

Check out a very extensive list of Netflix category codes here.

2. GET THE SUPER NETFLIX EXTENSION FOR BETTER VIDEO QUALITY.

If you’re watching Netflix via the Google Chrome browser, there’s a free extension called Super Netflix that can enhance your viewing experience. Once installed, the extension allows you to pick your video streaming quality instead of Netflix automatically doing it for you. This is ideal if you want the best video quality at home on your Wi-Fi connection, or if you want to reduce it on the go to save your data.

Super Netflix can also automatically skip TV show intros, blur plot descriptions and image thumbnails to prevent spoilers, enhance video brightness and color contrast, and speed up the video (just in case you want to binge-watch Stranger Things as quickly as you can).

3. MAKE EXTRA ROOM ON YOUR HOME SCREEN.

From American Vandal to Wormwood, Netflix Originals are highly entertaining and definitely worth watching. But sometimes you want to watch something that isn't produced by the streaming service. No Netflix Originals is a Google Chrome extension that does exactly what its name suggests: removes all Netflix Originals from your home screen, so you can see everything else Netflix has to offer.

4. DISABLE THE DREADED "ARE YOU STILL WATCHING?" PROMPT.

Are you tired of hitting that “Next Episode” button when you’re binge-watching a new TV show? The Never Ending Netflix Chrome extension puts an end to that inconvenience. After you install it, the extension allows you to skip titles sequences, automatically play the next episode, and disables the dreaded “Are You Still Watching?” prompt that pops up every couple of hours. The extension even lets you search Netflix by genre.

5. ADD NOTES TO YOUR FAVORITE TITLES.

Created by the good people at Lifehacker, Flix Plus is a Chrome extension that allows you to completely customize your Netflix viewing experience. It comes with 18 built-in customization settings, such as hiding spoiler descriptions and images, disabling a shrinking screen during end credits, and pinning your “My List” page to the top of the home screen. But the best feature is the ability to add notes to titles. Now you can add the reason why you added Wild Wild Country to your list or add a note about when Disney’s The Jungle Book will expire from the streaming service.

6. SEARCH HIDDEN CATEGORIES RIGHT FROM THE HOME SCREEN.

FindFlix: Netflix Secret Category Finder is a Google Chrome extension or Firefox add-on that allows you to search through all of the hidden category codes without leaving Netflix itself, instead of scrolling through a never-ending list on a separate website. Once installed, just search for a genre or whatever you’re in the mood to watch, like “movies starring Sean Connery” or “movies for children between ages 2 and 4 years old.”

7. HOST A NETFLIX PARTY FOR ALL YOUR FRIENDS.

Do you want to watch BoJack Horseman with your significant other, but they are on the other side of the country? Don’t worry, Netflix Party has got your back! It's a handy Chrome extension that allows you to watch Netflix with anyone, even if they’re not in the same room, city, or even state.

After you install the extension, you can create a shareable link of what’s on Netflix. The link opens to the exact movie or TV show you’re watching at that moment, so you can watch together at the same time and perfectly synced. It even comes with a group chat feature, so you can comment on the action on the screen. Netflix Party is perfect for people in long-distance relationships, so you’ll never be accused of “Netflix Cheating” again.

In addition, if you’d like to take the party on the road, use Rabbit for Android and iOS. It’s a platform that allows you to watch Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, YouTube, or just about any video streaming platform with your friends via mobile app or Chrome extension. You can even message or video chat with each other while you’re watching an episode of Ozark on the go!

8. AUTOMATICALLY SKIP OVER EVERY SHOW'S INTRO.

Are you sick of clicking the “Skip Intro” button when you’re watching a TV show on Netflix? SkipFlix is a handy Chrome extension that skips all intros automatically, so you don’t have to. Now you can spend more time binge-watching The Crown instead of fiddling with a mouse.

9. WATCH IN THE HIGHEST QUALITY HD POSSIBLE.

While web browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have a lot of useful extensions and add-ons, respectively, they're not the best browsers for streaming Netflix in the highest quality HD possible. Chrome (on Mac and Windows), Firefox, and Opera tap out streaming resolution at 720 pixels, while browsers like Apple’s Safari and Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Edge browsers deliver Netflix in full 1080 pixels.

It’s also important to consider your Wi-Fi connection. Netflix recommends at least 5.0 megabits per second download speed for HD quality. (For more helpful tips, here are some simple ways to boost your home Wi-Fi network.)

10. SEE A MOVIE'S DROP-OFF RATE BEFORE YOU START IT.

Enhancer by Simkl is a wonderful Google Chrome extension that works over multiple streaming platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. Once you install it and register an account, you can hover your computer’s cursor over any title to reveal its IMDb score, TV rank, and even its drop-off rate—which means you can now see how many others stopped watching midway through a movie or TV show. And since it syncs with other streaming services, you can track your viewing habits across multiple services.

11. SORT MOVIES BY YEAR.

While Netflix features the ability to sort movies and TV shows by genre, there’s a simple hack that can also sort chronologically by year (at least in a web browser). Just go to a category page like horror, drama, or comedy and look for a small box with four dots inside on the upper right hand side of the page. It will then expand the “Suggestions for You” dropdown menu, which gives you the option to sort by year of release with the most recent titles at the top of the page and the older ones at the bottom. It can even sort in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order.  

12. SAVE ON YOUR SUBSCRIPTION FEE WITH DISCOUNT GIFT CARDS.

Did you know you could pay your monthly bill with a Netflix gift card? Raise.com is a service where you can buy or sell gift cards for retailers like Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid at a deep discount. If you buy one for, let’s say, Rite Aid at a 12 percent discount, you could then buy a Netflix gift card in-store to save money on your monthly bill. So if you buy a $100 Netflix gift card from Rite Aid, it would only cost you $88, which you could turn around to save 12 percent on your Netflix bill, too.

In addition, you can even buy Netflix gift cards directly from Raise.com at a discount, but the savings won’t be as deep as ones from a retailer.

13. GET EASY ACCESS TO NON-NETFLIX REVIEWS.

While Netflix has its own user-generated rating system (thumbs up/thumbs down), you can use a trusty Google Chrome extension called RateFlix to add ratings from other rating aggregates. Once installed, IMDb ratings, “Rotten” or “Fresh” percentages, and Metacritic scores will appear in the movie's description.

14. BROWSE BY MICRO-GENRE, OR WHAT'S EXPIRING SOON.

So now that you know all about Netflix’s secret categories and codes, you have to admit that more than 76,000 micro-genres is far too many to remember. Luckily, Super Browse takes the most popular categories and makes it easy to navigate and scroll through the Netflix interface itself. Just click the genre you’d like to browse and the handy Google Chrome extension will do the rest. You can even browse by what’s new to Netflix and what’s expiring soon.

15. ROTATE THE VIDEO SO THAT BINGE-WATCHING IN BED ISN'T A LITERAL PAIN IN THE NECK.

This one is a game-changer! Instead of craning your neck to binge-watch Marvel’s Daredevil while lying down, Netflix Flip is a Chrome extension that will flip the video 90 degrees on your computer screen, so you can comfortably watch Netflix in bed. No more turning your laptop on its side to get a better viewing angle—Netflix Flip will do it for you.

16. BINGE-WATCH WHILE YOU WORK.

Sometimes you just want something playing in the background while you’re working on a spreadsheet, but it’s tough to always have video playing when there are other windows taking up space on your desktop. However, there’s a way to always have Netflix running in its own window that’s floating above everything else, if you watch it in a Helium web browser on a Mac.

Helium is a browser that keeps media playing in a transparent “floating” window that will never get lost behind other windows, even during task-switching. You can still click, double-click, drag, and scroll behind Helium and never interact with the micro-browser itself. It’s ideal for watching Netflix while working ... not that you would ever do that, of course.

17. FOCUS ON "WHAT'S NEW."

When it comes to new and old titles, Netflix is always adding to and subtracting from its catalog. To stay updated, you should take advantage of services like JustWatch or WhatsNewonNetflix.com to see all the great movies and TV shows that will appear or go away on Netflix.

18. VOLUNTEER TO TEST NEW FEATURES BEFORE THEY BECOME PUBLIC.

Do you want to be the first to try out new features from Netflix? The streaming service allows you to opt-in with “test participation,” which is where new features—such as new interfaces, new rating systems, and pre-roll trailers—are first rolled out. If you want to give it a shot, go to “Accounts,” then “Settings,” and look for the “Test Participation” toggle. Turn it on if you want to try the latest and greatest features from Netflix before everyone else.

19. ENABLE AUDIO DESCRIPTIONS SO THAT YOU DON'T MISS A THING.

If you can’t keep your eyes on a TV screen or mobile device, but still want to enjoy Netflix, there’s a handy little category hidden deep inside of the streaming service called “Audio Description” that offers narration explaining what the characters are doing on the screen. This hidden feature essentially turns your favorite movies and TV shows into an audiobook or a podcast.

It's chiefly seen on Netflix originals, but it’s perfect for anyone who wants to follow along with the latest episode of 13 Reasons Why or Grace and Frankie while taking a walk in the park.

20. CLEAR OUT YOUR “CONTINUE WATCHING” QUEUE.

Laptop open to Netflix in a cafe
iStock

Over time, your “Continue Watching” queue can get overrun with half-watched Adam Sandler movies and episodes of The Ranch. (We're not judging.) You know you’re never going to finish Bright, so clear out your queue to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.

Go to “Account,” and then under “My Profiles” you’ll see an option for “Viewing Activity.” This is where Netflix stores everything you’ve ever watched on the streaming service. Simply click the “X” on anything you’d like to leave behind and Netflix will adjust your queue accordingly. And now you have more time for the things you actually want to watch.

This is also the method to use if you want to delete your Saturday afternoon binge-watching session of Fuller House before the other people on your Netflix account find out. (Again, we're not judging.)

21. STREAM IN 4K.

Streaming video in 1080p is so 2017; Netflix makes it possible to stream in full 4K resolution (2160p) with the streaming service adding new titles available in Ultra HD. If you meet all the requirements, like owning an Ultra HD TV, high-speed Internet (about 25 megabits per second downloads), and Premium subscription ($13.99 a month), you can access all of Netflix’s 4K content. Just type 4K or UltraHD into the search box to see all the titles available.

Please note, not every title on Netflix is presented in 4K, but it does offer more than 200 popular titles, including Alias Grace, Ugly Delicious, Chef’s Table, Okja, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Just be aware that this can eat through your data plan: Netflix estimates that UltraHD uses 7 GB an hour.

22. CREATE DIFFERENT PROFILES FOR YOUR MANY CONTENT-CONSUMING PERSONALITIES.

Every Netflix account comes with five profiles for your friends and family to use, but if you don’t want to give out your password, you could always use those spare profiles for any occasion. Since Netflix recommends things you might like based on each specific profile's viewing habits, you can “train” it for your mood or special event.

For example: You can create a profile that’s entirely filled with horror movies and TV shows for a Halloween party, and another with rom-coms for date night for some real “Netflix and Chill.”

23. SET PARENTAL CONTROLS.

If you have children and want them to enjoy Netflix, but not its mature content, you can set up a special four-digit PIN code that will restrict what they can and cannot access. Go to “Account” (which should open up a web browser) and under “Setting,” you’ll find “Parental Controls.” Once you click the link, you’ll be prompted to enter the account's password and then be asked to create a special PIN code.

Afterwards, you’ll be asked to set the age restriction for “Little Kids” all the way up to “Adults.” If your child tries to access something that’s too mature, a prompt will appear on the screen asking for the PIN code. And since the child wouldn’t know the code, he or she won't be able to watch Disjointed or Hot Girls Wanted.

24. DOWNLOAD TITLES FOR OFFLINE VIEWING.

If you want to watch Netflix, but know that you'll be offline for a good period of time—like on a cross-country flight—you can simply download the title to your Android, iOS, or Windows 10 device and watch it offline with the download feature. You can even download movies and TV shows in standard or high definition.

However, not every title available on the streaming service is available for download. Netflix has a category called “Available for Download,” which is located under the menu option, where you can see all of the titles that are available to watch offline. Just look for the download icon and remember to download the desired titles before you lose your internet connection. Also, if you have an Android device, you can download more titles with the extra space provided on an SD card.

25. REQUEST THAT YOUR FAVORITE (CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE) TITLES BE ADDED.

Friends watching a movie together on a laptop
iStock

Netflix doesn’t have every title ever produced, and the titles they do have can leave on short notice as licensing deals expire. But if there’s something you want to watch and it never seems to be part of the streaming service’s ever-changing lineup, just ask Netflix directly for a movie or TV show and they might add it.

It might be a long shot, but you can actually request a new title for streaming. You can even call or start a live chat with Netflix to make a request. It just goes to show that the company is always on the lookout for more streaming content.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios