Emmy Watch: 'SNL' star Taran Killam on Justin Bieber skit, cast exits
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.
Since joining the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2010, Taran Killam has established himself as a versatile breakout for his commitment to everything from late-night Robyn music video re-recations to bizarre, dance craze-inspiring digital shorts, even Romney son impersonations. But Killam particularly enjoyed seeing a character he developed four years ago at Los Angeles’ comedy troupe The Groundlings making it to air this season. “[It’s] been affectionately referred to as ‘The Glice Sketch,'” he says, “I play sort of an overbearing, protective brother. He doesn’t feel great about himself, so he does everything in his power to humiliate his sister’s new boyfriend” — played by Justin Bieber.
Killam’s character’s humiliation tactics included plenty of mocking wordplay and outright yelling in Bieber’s face for a no less than five minutes in front of an audience of millions — causing the pop superstar to barely contain his laughter mid-sketch. Killam tells EW how “The Glice Sketch” gave him new opportunities at SNL, discusses the show’s recent cast shake-ups, and shares a few memories from the show’s storied after parties.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what about “Glice” was special?
TARAN KILLAM: That sketch was a lot of fun to do because I had yet to find a character that gave me the performance freedom to really control the pace and go big knowing I could really take it to Justin. I basically was screaming in the poor kid’s face the whole time but also would pull it back. There was a looseness in the sketch, and SNL for the most part is all about precision — you’re starting promptly at 11:28, and the show ends at one o’clock, and there’s somebody off-camera with a stopwatch. You want to hit the jokes, and you want to hit your mark, and you want to do it as cleanly as possible. That one I was able to be a little looser with, which was a really fun opportunity and a rare one on the show.
How did the sketch come about?
I wrote that sketch with a writer named Rob Klein, who I write a lot of my stuff with, but it was a character I had done at The Groundlings Theater, which is where I came from and where Lorne found me. It’s nice when you have the confidence in a character, and it’s something that you’ve performed before, and you can feel like you have a really strong take. I was so lucky to have Rob’s input. I brought him a fun, big character, and he made it into a real sketch and made it funny.
That episode was Justin Bieber’s first time stepping into the dual role of host and musical guest — and there you are, screaming in his face. What was that like?
I give credit to anybody who shows up and is willing to poke fun at themselves. There was a sketch where we all played Justin Bieber doppelgangers, and we were pretty much making fun of him to his face. He didn’t complain about it once. I give him a lot of credit for that. It’s always interesting when someone is not either an actor or comedian by trade. His specialty is music but good for him for showing up and letting us take our shots.
Did he know what was going to come at him? How do you prep someone for that?
I would amp it up a little bit throughout the week, but what was shown on air was definitely at least 30 percent more than what I had been doing in the build-up to it. [Laughs] You want that element of surprise. You want to keep it fresh because it’s live, and that’s the best part of the show. As much as people are tuning into see what’s funny and what’s entertaining, they’re also, in the back of their minds, kind of secretly hoping that something will go wrong. I think that’s why people really get a kick out of it when cast members break or they laugh — you’re seeing that we’re enjoying it, and it reminds you that this is happening right now, there are no redos, and there are no edits.
You’ve started at SNL nearly three years ago, and I can imagine that sort of pace is daunting.
It’s amazing. I am so surprised that our crew [doesn’t] win Emmy after Emmy. Because really what they’re doing every week is amazing — they’re creating an entire new show. It’s rare that we use any set twice. It’s rare that we use any costume twice, and they start from scratch. And they don’t really start their jobs until Wednesday night, so they’ve basically got three days to put together whatever crazy, odd, random, wild thing the cast and the writers have thought of Monday and Tuesday. That’s my favorite part of the job. That’s what makes it like no other show on television still. I’ve been in sketches at the end of the night where Lorne will come up and say, “All right, we’ve got to cut 35 seconds on air,” and the writer’s standing off-camera pulling cue cards and rewriting the sketch as you’re performing it, and sometimes it’ll just cut out because commercials have to be aired and credits have to roll. It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had on the show.
Beyond parts of sketches being cut, there are a lot of entire sketches that get cut the night before or even night-of. What sketch of yours was cut and burned the most?
I’ve been pretty lucky. One that I was disappointed that got cut actually had a second coming. This season, I did a sketch with a hypnotist where a guy gets pulled from the audience. We actually tried that first with Russell Brand a season or two ago, and it got cut because there was some technical stuff that didn’t work out. I was able to retool it, restructure it, and bring it back for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was so fantastic as the hypnotist. Sometimes these things seem to happen for a reason. A lot of the time it’s just really heartbreaking, and you think, “Why is the show against me?” But every now and again you get a second shot.
NEXT: Killam on saying goodbye to Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudeikis, whether he’s eying Seth Meyers’ “Weekend Update” chair, and what went down after the season finale wrapped
Looking forward a bit: Now that that Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are out, and with talk of Jason Sudeikis leaving, how do you see things at SNL changing?
It’ll definitely be a shake-up. There’s a lot of shoe space to fill, so to speak. I’m just trying to be optimistic about it. It’s certainly on my mind, and I’m taking the summer to work and develop new material because there’s so much opportunity now. At the same time, there’s a sense of mourning. We had some really great senior cast members as role models and people to look up to. They’re really going to be missed. Now we have to step up. I’m just excited to go have fun because I’m very close to a lot of the cast members who are left like Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer. Because there’s a little bit more real estate, for lack of a better term, hopefully we’ll get to try some stuff that’s fun and new.
What about the old characters? Can we expect any more music video re-creations? More Mokiki? More Michael Cera?
For sure. I definitely hope so. I’ve been watching Arrested Development all summer, so I’ve been able to kind of re-break open my Michael Cera impression in mid-conversation. I would definitely love to do some more pre-taped stuff in the new season and try some moves that people haven’t even seen yet. I like to think that I’ve just scratched the surface, just barely cracked open my bag of tricks.
Seth Meyers only has another year left before he goes to Late Night. Would you be game for taking on Weekend Update if Lorne gave you the nod?
Sure. If that’s a nod that I were given, it’d be a pretty difficult thing to turn down. It’s such an exalted position. But I’m sure Lorne’s thought about that way more than I have, so… in Lorne I trust. I will miss Seth, though.
Tell me about the season finale after party like.
It was definitely emotional but also very celebratory. It was kind of a magical night. The season finale wrap party is always at 30 Rock where the ice rink is. They block that off and open it up for us. Last year we had the Foo Fighters play live-band karaoke. Mick Jagger got up and sang some songs for the cast. This year was excellent as well. The Killers were doing a concert at the Barclays Center, and they rushed over and did a full set for us, which was amazing. It started to rain toward the end of their set, so there we were, at 30 Rock, dancing in the rain to The Killers. It was just, like, arms in the air, soaking wet, dancing to “Are we human?”
You were dancers in that moment.
Exactly. We were not human. We were strictly dancers.
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