Directing an episode of “Saturday Night Live” is like operating a well-oiled machine, according to SNL director Don Roy King, who talked to a public audience May 20 at Drexel University’s URBN Annex Screening Room.
King, who wore a dark grey patterned sport coat and a purple tie, divulged to the curious audience how an “SNL” episode is made, which is a smoother process than people think.
“We meet the host on Monday night for the first time in a half-hour meeting, each writer throws out an idea. The writers come in on Tuesday to write the sketches. Then, I come to work on Wednesday with a pile of sketches on my desk,” he said.
King and other crew members then read through as many as 45 sketches. Afterwards, “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels goes into his office in the evening to narrow it down to 10 or 12 sketches for the show, King said.
After choosing the final sketches, King then meets with the actors, costume designers, cameramen and stage managers. They work on making the sketches for the show, he said.
On the Thursday before going live, the musical guests rehearse their numbers, and the sketches are rehearsed as well. It is also the day where the promos are recorded, said King.
Then on Friday, the cast and crew rehearse non-stop until 8 p.m. that evening for dress rehearsal, where they perform as much as 20 minutes of extra material in front of a live audience, King said.
Finally, the cast rehearses their roles on Saturday for hours before going live. As last-minute changes usually occur, however, Saturdays end up becoming the most pressured day, King said.
“Lorne would throw out two or three sketches entirely, reorder the show, sometimes he would re-cast some sketches, and I would get my script back with a 150 post-it notes on it,” he said.
In fact, King displayed to the full screening room a PDF file of some of the corrections and notes he’s received from producers. The corrections included changes in stage directions and punch-line modifications. More interestingly, he would receive those types of corrections minutes, even seconds, before going live, he said.
The “SNL” director then went on to talk about some of his memorable experiences working on the sketch-comedy show. While his story about bolstering Ludacris’s shaky confidence as host was well received from the crowd, his experience with Kanye West during the “SNL 40” rehearsal elicited laughter and applause.
“It was one of the most bizarre music productions I’ve ever been a part of. We rented a big monitor wall for $25,000. And he came in the day before and said, ‘I changed my mind. I don’t want the monitor anymore,’” King said.
In addition, audience members had the opportunity to ask King questions. When asked about his reaction to his first Emmy win in 1976, which he won for directing “The Mike Douglas Show,” King confessed to letting success increase his ego.
“Almost overnight I became so full of myself. I said to myself, ‘I think God invented television so I can show off.’ And I treated people differently; I was selfish, and it was not healthy. Fame is the worst drug we have in this world,” King, the five-time Emmy winner, said.
Nonetheless, King credits his following four Emmy wins, which he won for directing “SNL,” to Lorne Michaels, the ”brilliant” writers and the cast and crew for putting up a “wonderful” show.
The TV veteran, who has worked in television for over 25 years, also acknowledged the steady decline in television viewership over the years, specifically in “Saturday Night Live.”
“Overall, the viewership is certainly down because people watch television in different ways. However, one way that they do watch television is online in little snippets, so our three-five minute sketches are perfect for our online viewership,” he said.
During the reception that followed, attendees expressed their excitement for Don Roy King’s visit to Drexel.
“This is a big deal for me because ‘SNL’ and sketch comedy is definitely something I see myself doing, and just to hear from someone who’s involved in it is a learning experience for me,” Drexel junior film and video production major Jack McCaffery said.