SNL’s Che and Jost are back for more Trump jokes
NEW YORK» The “Weekend Update: Summer Edition” publicity tour is barely started when Michael Che, in a Detroit Tigers cap and “Undefeated” sweatshirt, starts grumbling about Donald Trump. It’s not that he’s a bad president, though the “Saturday Night Live” comedian will later describe POTUS 45 as “a psychopath.” It’s that Trump, as a comic premise, has become too easy.
Che reads through a tease he and Colin Jost, his partner on “SNL’s” fake news, were handed to deliver before a commercial break a few minutes before they appear with Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar and Sara Haines on “The View.”
Jost: “Hey guys, Colin Jost and Michael Che here to tell the ladies about our special, and we’d like to thank the man who made it possible.”
Che: “You mean, Lorne Michaels?”
Jost: “No I was thinking of Donald Trump.”
Che mumbles through the script. He speaks clearly when he’s done.
“Nothing frustrates me more than it feels like we’re the Donald Trump show.”
Jost, sitting across the room, waits a beat.
“What frustrates me,” he cheerfully responds, “is that they assume ladies watch ‘The View.’ ”
It’s been almost three years since Jost, 35, the Harvard kid who skipped from graduation to the “SNL” writer’s room, and Che, 34, a late-blooming standup who is the comedy institution’s first black anchor, succeeded Seth Meyers. The transition was bumpy. Meyers, with eight years behind the desk, was “SNL’s” longestrunning newsjoker and good enough to inherit NBC’s “Late Night” slot from Jimmy Fallon. Critics attacked Che for flubbing lines and Jost for his schoolboy smirk. But “SNL” boss Michaels stuck with them and it’s paid off.
Starting Thursday, Che and Jost will host the first of three prime-time “Weekend Update” specials meant to capitalize on “SNL’s” post-Trump ratings boost while the show is on summer hiatus. The duo that delivers these summer updates is vastly different from the awkward pair who premiered in September 2014.
Some of the change is structural. They’ve abandoned Meyers’ relentless pace for a looser, more conversational approach. That allows them to react to each other and the studio audience. Some of the change is about experience. They’re more comfortable after 63 episodes behind the desk. Meyers, who says he watches “SNL” every week, said he has noticed the change.
“They really broke out of what had been the style of what ‘Update’ was,” says Meyers. “Certainly, this last year there was no part of it that felt like a shadow of what we were doing before I left.”
Jost followed a well-traveled road to 30 Rock, spending “90 hours a week” at the Harvard Lampoon, writing a spec script for “Arrested Development” as a senior and applying to not only “SNL” but also the shows of Conan O’Brien and David Letterman. He started at “SNL” in 2005 at just 22 and eventually became co-head writer. Less conventionally, Jost has maintained a steady stand-up career, which is where he met Michael Che.
Che did not spend his college years punching up his résumé. In fact, he didn’t go to college. He attended LaGuardia High School, which is near Lincoln Center and specializes in the arts. Che focused on learning how to paint. After that, he worked a series of menial jobs (barback, gopher at a Toyota dealership) and scraped by. He didn’t even step onto a stage until his mid-20s.
“It was always a fantasy but I never did public speech or public performance,” says Che. “There’s a big ego hit of, ‘I’m going to get on stage and perform and be bad at it until I get decent.’ That in itself is terrifying.”
But one night in 2009, he saw a club on MacDougal Street had an open mic night. Che threw down $5 for his spot, got good and drunk on E& J Brandy and took the stage.
“And I did it like every day,” he says.
In 2013, Jost brought Che in as a guest writer, usually just a two-week gig, but he immediately made an impression on Meyers, who was then co-head writer.
“Che kind of came in comfortable,” says Meyers. “That was the first thing I was taken with. He was just a confident guy.”
Jost has been at “SNL” so long, it’s pointless to list the sketches he’s contributed to. But his comic sensibility is not hard to pin down. He loves the unexpected, quirky and offbeat. He trusts his impulses.
Consider the finale of “SNL’s” 2016 season when Mikey Day, a writer and performer, suggested a take-off on the 1997 film “Dead Poets Society.” There’s a point where cast member Pete Davidson hops onto his desk to make a short speech.
“And my mind was like immediately, it’d be really funny if he stood up and his head went into a fan,” Jost says.
It was a simple idea but did not come cheap. “Farewell Mr. Bunting” featured a 2½-minute build before the fan worked its magic, sparking an unforgettable, comic bloodbath.
The big breakthrough may have come last July, when Che and Jost were brought in to do segments on MSNBC after the speeches at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. In the broadcasts, they’re still wearing ties and sitting behind a desk but when you watch those presentations, Che and Jost are comfortable slipping into off-the-cuff remarks.
“It was very by the seat of our pants,” says McNicholas. “It was like they were telling jokes to one another. It had a real looseness to it but also it allowed us to treat the current events and the news stories.”
Colin Jost and Michael Che on the set of “Weekend Update.”