Remember the good old days of the Blues Brothers, Roseanne Roseannadana, and the Coneheads? Prepare to feel really, really old: ”Saturday Night Live” is celebrating its 25th anniversary this Sunday (NBC, 9 p.m.) with a prime-time special featuring the show’s memorable moments. But for some SNL alums, reliving the past isn’t always such a pleasant nostalgia trip. ”When you work on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it’s a combination of ‘Das Boot’ and ‘The Fantastic Voyage,”’ sighs Mike Myers (1989-1994). ”You work all the time, and you miss two nights of sleep a week. It’s a 24-7 occupation.”
The daily grind can rob cast members of more than their beauty rest. ”Gilda Radner used to call it an underrehearsed Broadway opening once a week,” says Meyers. ”You never get a sense of anything in the real world.” And woe to those who can’t and won’t come up with the goods on a regular basis. ”If you don’t have your own characters, you will be eaten alive,” says current cast member Molly Shannon. ”And if you don’t know how to write, you’ll cry every night because it’s hard and because people won’t help you.”
And finding the right material isn’t easy. For every breakout star like John Belushi, there have been countless Anthony Michael Halls who quietly disappear. ”For two or three years I wasn’t getting anywhere,” says David Spade (1991-1995). ”Sandler had the goofy guy, and Farley had the loud, fall-down guy, and everyone else had an angle. I didn’t, and if you don’t have an angle, you’re dead.” Luckily his ”Hollywood Minute” sketch helped Spade emerge from the pack: ”But once you do a little bit and you get an angle, then you spend the rest of your time on the show trying to get away from it.”
Despite her misgivings, Shannon says that the complaints from former cast members Julia Sweeney and Janeane Garofalo about the show’s boys’ club atmosphere are off the mark. ”It’s a hard place for men AND women,” she says. ”If you write something and it’s funny, they’ll put it on. Period. That accusation makes me so angry, because I feel women set themselves up before they come here. If you make yourself the victim, you’re the one who’s going to lose out.”
And just when the show is beginning to sound like all work and no play, Spade says there’s something he misses about his SNL days: ”I have to do all the backstabbing at ‘Just Shoot Me,’ because I’m the only one who’s any good at it. I’ve had years of practice.” Meow.