Colin Jost is a busy man. The Harvard graduate joined “Saturday Night Live” as a writer in 2005, became head writer in 2012 and took on the role of co-anchor on the show’s Weekend Update segment earlier this year. On Oct. 16, Jost will bring his comedic prowess to the University with a performance at the Lied Center at 7:30 p.m. Recently, Jost spoke with the Kansan about everything from breakfast cereal to Tina Fey and all things SNL.
UDK: First things first, how did you get your first writing job at SNL?
Jost: I wrote for this magazine called the (National) Lampoon in college, so I wrote and trained a lot there. Then I worked on an animated show in New York called “Kappa Mikey,” which was on Nickelodeon. (I worked there) for about halfway through one episode. Then I submitted some sketches to SNL. I was very fortunate that there was a spot available at the time. I was lucky that Tina Fey and Andrew Steele, who were the head writers, liked something in that packet. They brought me in for an interview. Then I interviewed with (SNL’s Executive Producer) Lorne (Michaels) which was very intimidating. I was lucky that I got a chance, and once I got hired, I just tried to work as hard as I could to stay there.
UDK: Who did you write with most frequently?
Jost: I kind of wrote with everyone who was there. I ended up writing a decent amount with Andy Samberg because we started at the same time. Jason (Sudeikis), Bill (Hader), we all started together. I kind of liked bouncing around and writing with a lot of different people. That’s kind of the fun part of the job. You can write with Kristen (Wiig) one week and write with Bobby (Moynihan) the next week. It was fun. And there were also writers that I liked working with too. Rob Klein, who’s now the other head writer, he and I wrote together a lot. John Solomon who is a great writer, we ended up writing a lot together.
UDK: You started writing at SNL at age 22. Was it intimidating to start at such a young age?
Jost: Yeah, but the nice thing is, when you’re that age, you don’t know any better. You’re a little bit young to be overly worried. So, there’s nothing else to do except try to do things that you think are funny and try not to worry about it, because worrying about it doesn’t really help you. You have enough anxiety with just the day-to-day without getting into an existential crisis out of the gate.
UDK: Do you remember the first sketch you wrote or helped write that made it on the air?
Jost:Yeah, for my first episode I wrote a sketch with Eric Kenward, who’s another writer, and Bill Hader. It was an idea I pitched. We wrote it, and it was the first sketch of the night after the monologue. It was Steve Carell and Amy Poehler. They were on a Jet Blue flight and they were watching their own crash happen on their Jet Blue TVs. Kenward helped me a lot with that, and it made it on which was cool to have a sketch on your first show.
UDK:Speaking of sketches, is there a sketch that you had a hand in or a character that you would say you’re the most proud of?
Jost:Yeah, it’s very satisfying to write something for a cast member that works as a character. For example, writing Drunk Uncle with Bobby or even Justin Bieber for Kate (McKinnon). Cecily (Strong) too, doing “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party.” It’s cool that those were something that a cast member scored with. It’s fun to see.
UDK: Switching over, how did you make the transition to head writer?
Jost: It was kind of a gradual thing. A few years after I was there, I was promoted to supervising writer. In retrospect, I was probably being groomed a little bit to keep moving up. As a supervising writer, I started being in different meetings with Lorne and having very minor input on the show (as to) what would make it or what wouldn’t. So when I eventually became head writer with Seth (Meyers), it was a natural process because I had already been doing the things that a head writer does. I just didn’t have the full anxiety of that job.
UDK: As the head writer, did you find it hard to learn to say, “This is what I think and I’m standing by it?”
Jost: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s about both trusting yourself and it’s also important to start trusting people around you. There’s a balance there. I think you really need to believe in what you’re doing, but if everyone’s telling you, “Hey, this isn’t a good idea,” there’s probably a reason for it. Sometimes you say, “You know what, I really have a clear vision for this and I think it’s really funny and I want to push for it,” and it may never get made, but you pick your battles in that way.
UDK:Who did you grow up watching on Weekend Update?
Jost: I saw a decent range of anchors, but the sweet spot for me was Norm Macdonald. He was there exactly when I was watching the show the most. So he was sort of my idea of Weekend Update when I was younger.
UDK: Do you cite him as an influence comedically?
Jost: Yeah, definitely. I feel like with SNL there’s people from a bunch of different generations that really influenced me.There were people who didn’t do Update too, like Chris Farley or Adam Sandler or people who were on SNL who I later discovered in a whole other way, like Chris Rock. It’s a range of people who, when I was a kid, were just the funniest people I’d ever seen.
UDK: As far as standup goes, do you see a difference between performing at colleges and a comedy club?
Jost: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, colleges are interesting because people at college usually have less life experience to draw on. They have very full lives, but, for example, they haven’t had years at a job where you can make jokes about “how an office is.” And people are just starting to have more meaningful relationships, so they haven’t been doing that for years either. So it’s harder to make a joke like, “Oh, dating’s so tough” because everyone in college is like, “What do you mean? It’s the greatest thing ever. Why would something be wrong with it?” So it’s just a slightly different set of material that I’ll do at a college versus a club. But it’s also really fun because college students are really smart. You can do things that are sillier but hopefully still smart, and college students like it.
Five final questions
1. Favorite and least favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?
“Favorite is Wolverine. It was a bright yellow, very unflattering Wolverine costume that I definitely wore for like a couple of years in college. Which is just an unacceptable costume, but I did it. Least favorite … I think I was dressed up as an apple juice box when I was young. Like a box of Mott’s apple juice made out of a weird cardboard box.
2. What is your favorite aquatic animal?
"I’ve got to go shark. Shark all the way. If the shark stops swimming forward it dies. That’s a really nice way to think about our lives.
3. Favorite breakfast cereal?
“I would say Frosted Mini-Wheats.
4. First concert you ever went to?
“I saw Meat Loaf in Cincinnati, Ohio, with my aunt.
5. Favorite TV show at the moment?
“At the moment … I really enjoy ‘Comedy Bang Bang.’ I don’t know what else I’m caught up on right now. I’m pretty excited for the season ending of ‘Mad Men,’ excited slash preemptively sad.”
— Edited by Kelsey Phillips