Colin Jost on how SNL's Diner Lobster sketch avoided disaster, twice
Before the debut of his upcoming memoir A Very Punchable Face, the SNL writer and Weekend Update anchor spoke to EW about bombing on live TV and his favorite Scarlett Johannsson performance.
By simply browsing through Saturday Night Live co-head writer and Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost's new memoir, you'll quickly realize the 38-year-old comedian excels at two things: embarrassing himself by accidentally pooping in public (Seriously. In just one page, he says the word five times.), and nearly embarrassing himself for an almost completely unnecessary reason. Somehow those are two very different things, especially when talking about the time Jost avoided a crisis leading up to SNL's now-famous Diner Lobster sketch starring John Mulaney. The following story is defecation-free, guaranteed.
"In the dress rehearsal for Diner Lobster, the tank was getting pushed out to reveal Kenan [Thompson], but the tank got stuck and began rotating," Jost tells EW. "Here's Kenan with a French revolutionary costume on. The tank is rotating, and he's still maintaining the majesty of that part."
The lore of that sketch is described in further detail in A Very Punchable Face, out July 14, in a chapter where Jost takes a walk down memory lane of some of his notable sketches and moments on SNL. Famously, the first version of the Les Mis-spoofing Diner Lobster which aired in 2018 bombed during a table read back in 2010.
"The read-through is usually around 40 sketches," Jost explains of the initial sketch co-written by him and Mulaney, who was a writer on the show at the time . "You can sometimes have a sketch and it's just in a weird place in the read-through, where maybe the sketch before had something strange in it that threw the room off. Or it's late in the read-through and people are tired. [Diner Lobster] never ignited people. It just didn't work as a sketch at the table read." For all they knew, the sketch was dead. Comedy gold, lost.
Years later, after the success of Mulaney's stand-up specials, he returned to host the show in 2018. Mulaney and Jost pitched a revised version of the sketch, still with Thompson as the lobster singing while in a rolling water tank. Luckily, nothing happened in the live version, but the near-disaster is indicative of a theme in Jost's life: rolling with the punches, even when they're aimed (or literally rolling) straight toward you.
Throughout the rest of A Very Punchable Face, Jost looks back not only at his 15-year tenure on Saturday Night Live, but the many times he's been the butt of a joke at the expense of his family, friends, and, well, all of social media. He's fallen asleep in a cemetery. He's broken his hand playing an arcade game. He was pelted by fruit while on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Scarlett Johansson.
Before the book's debut, EW spoke with Jost about his streak of embarrassing moments, and what his SNL future looks like given the current quarantine. We also put Jost in the hot seat to answer what his all-time favorite Johansson performance really is.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What's most embarrassing, being caught with poop in your pants on a golf course or bombing on SNL?
COLIN JOST: For me now at this point, anything with SNL like a joke not working is so much more embarrassing to me than pooping my pants. Just because at this point I've been there, done that. I've let go of all the shame related to [the pooping].
Speaking of embarrassing, in the book you talk about you being one of the first people to be on Facebook since you were at Harvard when Zuckerberg created it. Back in the day, do you remember having those typical embarrassing posts?
No, almost never. Ever since it started I truly thought that it was a gigantic waste of time. I just never went on it because I was like, I could really throw away my entire day doing this. No one's ever looked back and said "Wow, I'm so glad I did put that on Facebook." You never see a book that's like "My Best Facebook Posts" and think that's a real accomplishment.
You have a little bit of a connection to Conan O'Brien in the fact that he's an SNL alum who also worked at the satire magazine Harvard Lampoon when he was at Harvard. Was that something you guys ever talked about?
I actually only met Conan very briefly when he came to SNL and stopped in the writers' room maybe 10 years ago. I always looked up to him. I remember he spoke at a graduation, a Harvard graduation one year. I read the script. It was before I was there. I thought it was one of the funniest graduation speeches I've ever heard. I actually sent him the book and wrote him a letter. I wanted to send it to him because he was someone that was very inspiring to me. He sent me back such a really, really funny and sweet letter typed up on a typewriter. It's something I will always treasure.
Speaking of SNL, do you expect them to start in the fall in-studio given what's happening with the quarantine?
I have no idea. I would love to go back to the studio. It's hard to do it remotely. You also miss the production value. We'd much rather be in a studio if it's at all possible. So we might be in the studio [next season], but in a modified way. You know, or we might have to do it from home. It's hard to say.
Whether you return to SNL or not, what do you plan to keep yourself busy with beside the show?
There's definitely movies I want to work on. There are also television projects that are exciting. And I think in the future, other kinds of books would be really fun to work on, too. I'm always someone who tries to focus on whatever is ahead of me, immediately. Focus on one thing at a time.
That's a very NBA press conference answer
I base all my answers off NBA press conferences. I try to dress the same. I try to answer the same. Whatever [Houston Rockets point guard] Russell Westbrook's doing, I try to do in my own life.
Back to your book. You have a chapter that details your meet-cute with your fiancèe Scarlett when she hosted SNL in 2010. You even say you wrote that Super Sweet Sixteen spoof she was in. We have to ask, what's your favorite Scarlett performance of all-time? No pressure.
She's made a lot of great movies, but I would say Lost in Translation. When I saw it, I guess in the theater, I just thought her and Bill [Murray] together was such a great performance. It was a beautiful movie. It's funny now looking back, because I obviously never watched those movies thinking, someday I might marry someone in this movie. [Laughs]
Don't you mention in the book you actually went to Murray's Christmas Party once? Give us a tidbit.
I couldn't possibly divulge any secrets.
Maybe in your memoir sequel, a follow-up to Everybody Poops?
Absolutely. That's book number two.