There are 11 and a half hours to go until showtime on this gray New York afternoon, and the staff of Saturday Night Live‘s ”Weekend Update” is getting down to the business of being ridiculous. The sound of bagpipes from the St. Patrick’s Day parade wafts through the windows of the Rockefeller Center writers’ room, where 40 pages of jokes are spread out across a large conference table.
Update cohosts Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon survey the patchwork of hilarity looking for stuff to cut, while simultaneously facing pressing challenges: How best to lampoon Liza Minnelli’s nuptials, happening across town that very day? Will the NBC censors allow them to say ”balls” in a punchline? Is the joke about the postal worker who threw porcupine feces at his coworkers too dated? And then there is the Captain Morgan problem.
As Fallon eats a green St. Paddy’s bagel, he picks up a joke assigned to him and reads it aloud: ”A new study reveals that eyedrops work as well as eye patches to correct lazy eye. A skeptical Captain Morgan said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.”’ Although it’s not every day a person gets to work the swashbuckling mascot of a rum brand into a joke, an Update staffer has some bad news for Fallon: ”The thing is,” he says matter-of-factly, ”Captain Morgan doesn’t have an eye patch.” In a room full of comedy writers, that’s all it takes to provoke a riffing frenzy. ”Ahh-haa!” shouts Fallon, playfully indignant. ”What kind of f — -ed-up joke is this? You guys want me to go out there and eat it?” Fey quickly joins in. ”Flip this whole table,” she advises Fallon, grabbing the edges and pretending to upend it in a fit of rage. Fallon rushes at the window and mimes diving through the glass in despair, while SNL coproducer Mike Shoemaker dictates a letter from the peeved pirate: ”Dear Jimmy Fallon, I do NOT have an eye patch. Do your research, young man. Love, Captain Morgan.”
There’s a moment of quiet, and then Fallon thoughtfully asks the room, ”Does Cap’n Crunch have an eye patch?”
If only all headlines were this easy to laugh at. Though watching the news nowadays can be a hide-under-the-bed experience, ”Weekend Update” manages to make keeping up with current events a hoot thanks to the controlled lunacy of Fallon and Fey—two attractive opposites who skewer the top stories with a ferocity matched only by their silliness. You give them 10 minutes, they’ll give you a world of absurdist theater featuring political satire, pie-in-the-face gags, and out-of-left-field offerings like a mini-morality play about moose hunting. Update is not necessarily the news, but it’s always the highlight of SNL’s erratically amusing comedy cornucopia.
”Not since Chevy has anybody been as playful with [Update] as they have,” says SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels. ”It’s something you really look forward to in the show now.” (Indeed, SNL’s ratings typically spike between midnight and 12:15, when Update traditionally airs.) ”They’ve made it into a mini-event in the middle of the show,” says Colin Quinn, Fallon and Fey’s predecessor. ”They’re like Sonny and Cher with content.” Update producer Michael Schur sums up the duo’s appeal like this: ”It always looks like they’re having fun. And it’s really hard to look like you’re having fun when you’re doing news jokes—especially these days, when the news is constantly horrifying.”