Photo: Lisa Ackerman
Did you think of trying out for SNL at all while coming up through the improv scene?
Jason Sudeikis: Only in the obnoxious way where I would never want to be on that show. I had never even thought about it. Maybe as a kid, but that's not why I moved to Chicago, that's not why I did anything. I had never aimed for that show; I can honest to god say that to you. I loved that show during the ages when most people loved that show. I loved Adam Sandler and Chris Farley during those years. Will Ferrell? I'd never watched. I knew about the cheerleaders, I knew about the Roxbury guys. I mean, I still watch Ferrell scenes that I had never seen before. The majority of his work on Saturday Night Live I know based on his "Best of" DVDs. I was just working on Saturdays, it was off my radar. And to quote Lorne, when I eventually had an interview with him, he asked me what era I grew up with. I knew the answer but I just froze for a sec, I sort of got quiet. He looked at me and said "Oh don't worry. I didn't watch the show when I didn't work here either" You know, he really let me off the hook.
By not watching the show, what did he mean?
There are probably two different types of people he meets with: people who've always loved SNL and feel like they know everything about it. And people who don't ever watch it or care. And then, I know about it but, it was mostly me getting stunned. My answer was the Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman days. I'm sort of getting ahead of myself but I didn't think he was going to ask me anything about the show. I kind of floundered for an answer, I was kind of like "Uhhh, ummm."
I heard he doesn't even allow re-runs of the shows during the five year span he wasn't with SNL, is that true?
Oh those five years? You see them every now and then. You don't see them on E! and stuff. But, yeah, he does.
So, the manager from Brillstein/Grey asks you if you would be interested in auditioning for SNL.
Right. I said I could put a tape together. So, I taped a show. I do a couple of other impressions, I do lots of things. I did a Punk'd thing, Ashton Kutcher punks Louis Farrakahn; I do a Jack Bauer, you know, because 24 had just hit then. I tried to make it nice and tight. And then Cheddy sends it in and said, "Yeah, they want you to audition. They're going to fly you to New York" I said "OK, all right." The first audition was at Stand Up New York. I'd never done stand up before in my life.
And you've been to New York before.
I'd been there with Blue Man. And in 1991, my Uncle George hosted the show with Elvis Costello as the musical guest; it was Dennis Miller's last show. So, I was there. And I had come to see my Uncle George in '98 do the play Art, our whole family came up. So, I had been to New York. I wasn't like "The Big Apple! Holy Moley!" It was mostly like "OK, all right. I'll be damned. What do I gotta do?" Now, I had already known Jeff Richmond, Tina Fey's husband. He's a producer and musical director. One of the great directors from Second City. He and I had worked together a little bit, so I felt comfortable enough... you know, and he had come out to see a show and direct us in Vegas for a week. And he was really, really nice about the work. He had asked me if I had ever thought about auditioning for SNL. I said, "Not really" the same type of thing and it was sort of done at that point. That was about a year earlier before it actually happened. I got Tina's email address and typed "Hey, it's Jason Sudeiks. We'd met a couple of times" and stuff like that, because of The Second City fraternity, I felt it was ok. I was merely asking, "Do I have to do stand up?" She's like "No, don't feel like you have to have connections, or make it a piece. You could literally say here's a character that does this, then do it, here's a character that does this, then do it. Here's an impression of blank, then do it. Don't feel you gotta like..."
Tina was the head writer at the time?
Yeah, head writer. Mean Girls hadn't happened yet, but she was Tina Fey. Who was one of my heroes at Second City, before any of this happened. She was a member of Paradigm Lost, which there's a great documentary out there called "Second to None" which I highly recommend. It's a great, great show and there's a documentary about the creation of a Second City show. You can see Mick, Tina and all of those guys back in the day. You can buy it on VHS, it's narrated by Jim Belushi. Anyway, so she sends me back that thing, ends it with "Have fun, see you when you get here, rock out with your cock out." So then I show up here and stay at the Paramount Hotel, which is no longer in existence, and I go to do this thing. It's twelve dudes. It was right after Tracy Morgan had quit, and Dean Edwards. Dean Edwards was let go and Tracy Morgan, you know, moved on.
This was 2003, right?
2003, right. So, they're mostly looking for black cast members. It was seven black dudes and around five white dudes. Myself, Rob Riggle, who I met right outside. We talked about Kansas City; he was like "You're from Kansas City? Where?" "Overland Park" and we sort of realized we grew up five minutes from each other. And we bonded. We're standing outside, there's a crowd in there, and fifty percent know what's going on. Lorne and the whatnots, Marci Klein, Higgins, Shoemaker and Tina are standing and sitting in the back. The rest were probably people who worked at SNL I didn't know at the time. And the rest were just paying public coming to see stand-up.
So, this wasn't announced at all?
No, I mean, it was announced at SNL I'm sure, but no, not at the show itself, not that I remember. So, I'm fifth out of twelve, I'm right in the middle. And they're going up there and it sounds like things are going well. We're not watching each other's things. Then, as I'm standing out there I see Jeffrey Ross, the stand-up comedian, walk in. I'm like "Oh no way! How about this!" and then behind him Chris Rock walks in. I'm thinking, "What is going on? They must be coming in to see the new talent; they must know what's going on. They're going to sit here and watch." So then, I'm up next and the emcee says "All right ladies and gentleman, we have a special guest for you, please welcome the one, the only... Chris Rock!" So I look at Chris Rock and say "I was supposed to go next" and he said, "Ohhh, I'm sorry about this. Is this your big shot?" I say, "Yeah, kind of." He goes "Sorry about that" and I say, jokingly of course, "That's all right! Set 'em up for me, Chris!" then he walks on and luckily goes for 10-15 minutes. And kills. They were working on material for the MTV Video Awards, or whatever he was hosting that year. He was just sort of riffing about things, like "What do you want to hear about? Kobe?" So he's riffing on that and then he finishes up, steps off stage and comes by me and says to me, "They love original thought" that's all he said to me. Then, I'm introduced. The emcee says "Ladies and gentleman, give it up for Jason Soo-dick-is!" I go up there and make the joke "It's actually pronounced Sudeikis, but I don't think anybody cares about that besides me. So who wants to hear some social-political satire?!" and I got into this character called "The Senator" that I had been doing at Second City. It was right after... who's that asshole?--Rick Santorum--saying some shit about bestiality. Saying homosexuality is exactly like bestiality. The Senator was based on him. It was a guy who, during his apology for saying something wrong, offends some other group of people. And just goes back and forth. And it played in this room, like...and I had done it in Vegas, and people aren't really ready for political comedy like that out there, they'd rather see a little bit broader stuff. So, it played in New York in a way where they got every joke I had ever wanted to get across.
Did you go into that mode we're you kind of just shut off, go into autopilot and see yourself performing?
Yeah, to a certain degree. Like the mushroom thing? I mean, I'm usually in it. All I know is they were laughing and I had to hold for laughs where I never had to hold in Vegas. Because I'd done that scene probably fifty times, I had it so down. I had to re-work it so it was a monologue for one person because, there were spots where the cast were supposed to ask questions so I eliminated all of that. So, that started it off and I did like, seven impressions and a couple of other characters. It went well. Afterwards, I was like, "Wow! That was something!" Then I go outside, have a couple Jack and Cokes and sort of wait for the whole thing to end. Then I go back to the hotel and call Kay and said, "We'll see, we'll see," then I get a call that night saying "Come in tomorrow, you have to do the exact same audition on home base." You know, right where the host does the monologues. So, I do the exact same thing. After I did my audition at home base, Lorne got up, shook my hand and said "Really nice job." I thanked him. I then fly back to Vegas, one week goes by, two weeks and the rumbling starts to happen. I hear, "They really liked you but, they sort of have your type." They eventually hire Kenan Thompson and Finesse Mitchell. "They really liked your writing, they want to hire you as a writer." Which is kind of a weird thing to hear. It's flattering but it's like "Auuuw!" What I always say it's like is, getting a gold medal in the event you didn't train for. It's like your passion's the long jump and you just do the triple jump because, why not? You jump anyway. I'm like "Should I take this?" So, Cheddy, and this is early in our relationship says, "Yeah, you should take it!" And he starts listing all of the people who have done, you know, it's not typical for people to get hired as a writer and then move on to performer. This sounds obnoxious but, everybody that's ever done it, you've heard of. Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Sandler, Tina and Spade. Smigel was a writer then became a performer for a little bit. It's a handful of people. So, I was a little bit nervous. I asked, "If I come in as a writer, then won't they just view me as a writer?" Geoff assured me, "No."
So, I write for the first year. In my first year, I only get three scenes on. The first two right off the bat, this scene that I wrote for Jack Black and a scene for Justin Timberlake, doing a Punk'd thing, based on my audition. And this other scene for the Christina Aguilera show. But, I'm in there. I enjoy the re-writing process. You know, sitting at Tina's table. Dennis McNicholas was the other head writer at that point. People would give you set ups and you come up with jokes. Talking in other people's characters was kind of fun for me. It was kind of like performing. It was great. So the summer goes by and I'm told, "Hey, they want you to audition again." I'm like, "Great!" So I come up with a completely different audition again.
Were you performing elsewhere?
I was just doing ASSSSCAT.
If I remember correctly, the first ASSSSCAT I'd gone to, in 2003. I think you were doing the monologues.
Ok, yeah. Probably. Do you remember who was on it?
Tina Fey was on it, Horatio Sanz. And I think in between scenes, you sat down right next to me. And Horatio Sanz found a beer can underneath one of the seats and yelled at you.
Yeah, he thought I was drinking?
Yeah, mock-yelled at you. I think it was you.
Yeah, I had much longer hair then.
You definitely looked like a young guy, not saying you're old now, but you had a young aura about you, and the performers seemed to have treated you that way too.
Well, those were my senior leaders. These guys were my heroes. Horatio is one of the funniest dudes I'd ever seen at Second City. I was now rubbing elbows with these guys, it was crazy. Even being a huge Fred Armisen fan--sitting at a diner with Jeff Richmond, one of my favorite directors, Tina Fey, one of my favorite performers, and Fred Armisen, one of my favorite comedians working. It was insane; it was like being in The Ten after loving Wet Hot American Summer. I don't take anyone for granted. I never thought it would happen, I never looked at these guys and was like, "One day! One fucking day!" It was always like, "No way!" And when it happened, I was like, "I'll be damned!" And then when one of these people calls you on your cell phone, you're like, "What?!" (Laughter)
You never really pictured yourself sitting down and having an actual conversation.
Yeah! Well maybe in an interview process, sort of, "So, how did you get your start?" Never, like, "What did you do today?"
So not having that specific kind of goal made it easier when it did happen.
Once it became possible, then it became a goal. Yeah. Once it did happen, it was back in lock-down mode. Then, audition again - don't get it. It goes well, but don't get it. Rob Riggle gets hired, which is great because basically, I don't get the job and yet, someone I really, really like and think is great gets it. So then, I'm not mad. People are like "I can't believe that man, you got screwed!" I mean, people love Rob, don't get me wrong, but people were like "It went well last time, you should have gotten it this time." Having written for that show, I know we needed someone like Rob. As a writer, I was happy to write for him. Which indirectly made me look like the nicest guy in the world, but it's sincere.
It was sincere; you weren't trying to score some points.
Not at all, it was one hundred percent sincere. I'm a huge fan of that dude, man. You've seen him at UCB. He's genuinely one of the funniest, most masculine comedic personas today. That guy is phenomenal, his wife's terrific. He's got a new baby and everything. So, my buddy Joe Kelly, who I worked with in Las Vegas, eventually gets hired at the end of my first year. He wrote the Lindsay Lohan scene with Harry Potter, the lower back tattoo remover, Snoop Dogg, the rap battle where he's in the wheel chair, a bunch of scenes, the Sean Penn celebrity roast. He was hired as a writer; he handed in a packet and had the best one, eventually getting him hired. John Lutz got hired and Liz Cackowski, these were all Second City people that sort of came into the fold a few shows after me.
They were all hired as writers?
Yeah, even though Liz and John are performers. They saw them as performers first and eventually hired them as writers. So then, Jimmy had left Update and I had tested for Update with Tina and that went well. Amy ended up getting it. Then I wrote for 17 more shows and then around the 16th show, Tom Brady's hosting, Joe and I get a scene on I really liked where Tom Brady's playing a carnival game, a football game where he's trying to throw a ball into a hole. Everybody's doing it, his wife’s doing it, a couple of gay guys do it and he can't do it. He's getting really, really mad. But that show we also did, my friend Rich Talarico, who's also a Chicago guy, who wrote at Mad TV, wrote a scene called "Behind The Music of The Superbowl Shuffle" He asked me to play Kevin Butler, the kicker. I had a hat on, some sunglasses, I'm wearing the jersey. So, we're all up there and we're all Chicago guys so this is like a dream come true in a lot of ways. It was a really funny piece too. A lot of people didn't get it because it was 20 years old at this point. But, it was like an anniversary of. Tom Brady played Jim McMahon, looked just like him and everything, and there was a moment when the heightening of it was, eventually Jim McMahon went solo, you know? And he kept me, and I was his sidekick. I had a cowbell and I was dancing, doing the running man around him. And it went really, really well. I wasn't in the cast, I was just a writer. People were laughing and to use the language, "I scored."
By people were laughing, do you mean not just audience members?
Audience members, people in the cast, we had all of these extras; you know all of these extras playing the Bears. They're all sitting on the sides during rehearsal dying, rolling.
And you weren't upstaging the scene?
No, not at all, I was just doing exactly what the writer asked. I was supposed to be in the background, kind of, you remember the guy who used to dance for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones? The only reason I danced like that, and danced so outrageously was because Beck was the musical guest that week and if you watch that show, he had a guy that would stand next to him and just dance like crazy. He still tours with him, I forget his name, but he's always there, playing a big, pie tin or something like that. He's just doing the running man, just dancing. So, I'm just mimicking that as kind of a joke and people really enjoyed it. It was a nice little moment, my parents happen to come to that show, I get a scene on and I get a laugh. And I had done question in the audience and stuff like that.
That's one of the typical roles for the writers?
Yeah, a lot of writers do it.
Do you get to write your own question in the piece?
No, a lot of times it's just written for you. They just write me as a smartass and away I go (laughter). Then, after the Tom Brady show, we have two weeks off, we go home. Lutz, Joe Kelly, Rich and I, we did a show called "The SNL Writers" at the Chicago Improv Festival. We do 2 shows. They go great. But a Chicago critic there blasts us. Not just us though. Everyone who performed that night.
A positive blast?
No, no. Blast like in the hip-hop term. Shut us down, called us a bunch of lily, white, mop-headed.
Was this critic a person who aspired to be a comedian but was unsuccessful?
I don't know what he is. I do know when I meet him, my opening line when we're re-introduced is "Hey, we both have something in common. We both think each other sucks at their job." Now understand my anger, this festival, it's a week that celebrates this great art form that's being done really, really well and being, everything I said for the first tape about Chicago improv. That's the way I feel about it and this guy kind of shit all over it for a while; he was really mean to us. But the last thing he says in our review--we were performing sketches that didn't make it onto the show--he shot us down, saying, "Yeah, yeah, we all wanted to be actors too." Kind of saying, "You're not actors, you're writers, stick with it." Like that type of thing. Cut to the Friday after that, I didn't even know that was happening. After we had done the whole week, it's a great homecoming trip--the shows went great, we had a blast doing it, the four of us performing and getting to do these sketches. I show up Monday to LaGuardia, my friend Steve Traxler, who's a producer, called me and said "Hey man, how was the trip? Sorry about the Tribune thing." I'm like "What are you talking about?" I bee-line home, go on the internet, read it and I say, "Are you fucking kidding me?" This guy really nailed everybody. And they had a whole week left of the festival. It's a festival! It's not a show, it's a god damned festival, as in being festive and he really pissed on it.
And he attended only one of the shows during the entire festival?
One night but you know, he lives in Chicago and goes to all of the shows, yadda yadda. You know, critics, sometimes if they say nice things, they're brilliant; if they say bad things, they're what I feel about this guy. And he had written a mediocre review about us in Las Vegas too a few years earlier. That review had an opening I'll always remember: "If there's an improvisers hell, it surely is Las Vegas."
And he works for The Tribune, which is ironic.
Yeah, tell me about it.
Perhaps this was karma coming back to haunt you.
Yeah, that's probably what it is, right? Well, I think we're even now, hopefully. So hopefully he'll like The Ten (laughter) So, this review comes and it's a bummer after a nice high of the Tom Brady show. Then cut to the Friday before the Monday we're supposed to come back to work, I get a call, I'm laying in bed at noon, as I'd told you, 4am-12pm type sleeper. And I had an old school answering machine, and it's one of Lorne's assistant, Katie, saying, "Hey Sudeikis, it's Katie, I've got Lorne for you." And I sort of pop up in my bed and say "What the hell?" And literally, the call came in at twelve, I'm hearing it live as she is leaving it. And so, I get up, I take a shower, because I want to be on my game, I want to be awake. I call Kay, she doesn't answer but I leave a message saying "I'm gonna call you back here in a few minutes, cause it may be, I don't know what it's going to be, it might be bad news. It could be good news or it could be innocuous news." Regardless, I needed her at that moment. So I call Lorne, and he's like (spot-on Lorne impression) "So, Jason, we want to move you into the cast." I was like "Awesome." He goes "Yeah, so just, you know, write anything you feel you could score on," and I say, "Can do" and he says, "OK. That's it."
Did you think he might have wanted you to audition again?
No, no. He meant I was on. I was on the cast
Was this towards the end of the season?
This was the last three episodes. This was a Friday before the last three episodes, which was Johnny Knoxville my first show, Will Ferrell my second show, and then Lindsay Lohan the finale. I hung up the phone, called Kay. I can't remember if the answered then, but I called Lutz, I called Joe Kelly, he and I went to, I think Rich was out of town still, so the three of us went to Heartland Brewery in the middle of the day, got a bunch of beers, then went to go hit balls at Chelsea Piers. And, you know, just sort of made a few phone calls here and there. I told Charna, because I thought from very early on she's been a huge supporter of mine, from my very first class on, so I called her. And last three shows, did one thing that went really well the Johnny Knoxville show, then did nothing on the Will Ferrell show, I tossed to Robert Goulet but, I got to sit and watch that dude work and hang out with him, read scenes with him at the table. Then Lindsay Lohan, I had a scene that went to dress that did not play at dress rehearsal, that did well at the table. And then cut to the next year, I'm in the cast still and it's me, Bill, and Andy came in. Then Kristen came in five shows later. That was last season, and I auditioned for Update again this last year, with Amy. I didn't get it; Seth got it. And that brings us up to this last season.
Jason Sudeikis: The Ultimate Interview | Part 1 - On Strike
Jason Sudeikis: The Ultimate Interview | Part 2 - The Beginning Before The Beginning
Jason Sudeikis: The Ultimate Interview | Part 3 - Out In Vegas They're Killing Time (aka Improv, In Love, En Route)