'Saturday Night Live': Kristen Wiig's enchanting last dance
After seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, Kristen Wiig said goodbye on May 19. She’d co-written and starred in the surprise 2011 blockbuster Bridesmaids and the time had come, just as it had for stars like Chevy and Eddie and Will before her. SNL godfather Lorne Michaels called her one of the “top three or four” performers the show had ever produced, and during her reign, the show was dominated by sketches filled with the likes of the Target Lady, tiny-handed Dooneese, and compulsive one-upper Penelope.
Colin Jost started writing for Saturday Night Live in 2005, the same year that Wiig began as a featured player. They connected creatively and ultimately collaborated on several sketches, including some of her Björk bits and a commercial parody for Red Flag perfume. With Mick Jagger hosting the season finale, Jost assumed the responsibility of sending her off in style. The premise he came up with could not have been more simple — Jagger bidding farewell to an honored “graduate” with an impromptu dance — but when each cast member cut in to share one last moment while Arcade Fire played the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow,” the effect was magical.
As told by: Colin Jost
I don’t think I raised the bar in any way. I think people find different ways of saying goodbye or people find different ways of saying goodbye to them. I remember when Will Ferrell left, he had a really funny documentary where people talked about Will, and Tracy Morgan talks about how Will Ferrell stole from him and [says] really mean stuff. I remember that Tina [Fey] and Jimmy [Fallon] had done one that was like a “Summer Lovin” from Grease kind of farewell. So people have different ways of doing it, and I think this is just one of them.
I started [on SNL the same season as] Kristen, and she came in as the one new female cast member and was great from the beginning. But it’s surprisingly rare that you know that a cast member is leaving, and until they really say they are, you always hope that they’re going to come back. So you never want to write a farewell for someone who might come back.
I did a thing a couple of years ago for Will Ferrell that had a song at the end. It was like a Billy Joel “Goodnight Saigon” thing. That’s a very different kind of thing but it was at the end of the year. It was just something that I had in my mind.
Another sketch that I remembered as a viewer was the Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks filmed piece where they’re dancing. That’s probably late 80s? That was always a piece I remember being kind of beautiful.
“She’s a Rainbow” was a song I thought about months earlier. It’s one of my favorite Stones songs, and it brought back good memories of college for me. Once I heard that Mick was going to host — even before it was announced or anything — it was a song that I really wanted to use in something. And “Ruby Tuesday” is another one that I loved, and it felt like a nice goodbye song because Tuesday night is our writing night, so it sort of had resonance for me in that way, too.
We did it at the table read on Wednesday, and Kristen did not know it was coming. She knew that I was going to write something, but she didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know if it would even go past the table read, you know, so I did it as much for that day as for Saturday. Even if it hadn’t gone anywhere else, I think it would’ve been just nice for us internally. The week moves very fast, but you try to have little moments where you at least appreciate that this is the last week that you’re going to spend with Kristen, or maybe some other actors, too.
So much of it is choreography that you don’t fully do during the read-through, obviously. How the transitions would work, who would sing what part, all that we sort of figured out on the fly. As we were going through it, the cast and Kristen each sort of figured [their dances] out. I do think some of their moves reflect their relationships a little bit and just what kind of fun they wanted to have with one another.
The order wasn’t totally thought out that much. I just liked the idea — if he was up for doing it — of Lorne [Michaels] dancing at the end because I just thought that might be a nice moment for them to have together. I never really asked him. I just put it in the script, and then I sort of just waited to see whether he would do it. I think dress rehearsal was the first time Lorne did it.
I think Mick realized as the week was going that there was something to it. He seemed pretty cool about these songs; I don’t want to speak for him, but it seemed like he liked that I wanted to use “She’s Like a Rainbow” just because it’s one of their early songs. Obviously, it lives or dies on whether he is interested in doing those songs, and I was very lucky that he was into it.
That night, I was on the floor, right in front, watching. Probably like 10 feet away. I really wanted to see it, obviously, but it’s also the natural thing when you’re a writer of any piece that’s on the show — you’re half really excited, and you’re half really nervous that something’s going to go wrong. I was kind of crossing my fingers that the timing of the different dances would work out so that it kind of ended well at the end of the song.
It definitely had a nice end-of-the-season cast vibe at the end, that everyone was kind of out there singing together was fun, and the crowd really got into that. I think the audience stuck around a little longer because they were excited to be there and get to say goodbye. I was really happy with how it turned out.
Kristen and I talked about it a couple of times during the week, but it’s all moving so fast that you never really have a full conversation until after it’s done. At some point afterwards, she gave me a hug and she was very sweet about it.
Lorne seemed very positive about it, but I don’t remember if there was anything specific about it that he told me. I think he said something to the effect of, “That was nice,” which is about the nicest compliment you can hope for.
I’ve never rewatched it. I’m sure some day I’ll watch it again, but I bet on some level it’s intentional that I don’t want to go back — having been there and having a nice memory of it in my mind. I don’t think I’ve listened to either of those songs since either. [Laughs]