Inside the writers' room with the duo behind your favorite sketches
If you don’t know Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider by name, you know their work. Best recognized for musical digital shorts like “(Do It On My) Twin Bed,” “Back Home Ballers,” and, most recently, “First Got Horny 2 U,” the Saturday Night Live writing duo also head up the political debate sketches vital to the show’s cultural relevance during election season.
If their shared credits are any indication, Kelly and Schneider are nearly inseparable in the writers’ room, their similar professional backgrounds making for a natural — though not immediate — partnership when they joined the writing staff full-time in 2011. Kelly was fresh from Funny or Die, and before that, he ascended the ranks at The Onion News Network at a rate he admits is unusual; similarly, Schneider began working for CollegeHumor in 2005, and she quickly became one of the site’s most prominent writer-performers. (They first met on the set of a CollegeHumor short, below.)
Schneider and Kelly’s partnership “came out of the necessity of being hired together and needing someone to work with,” she tells EW. Adds Kelly, “In your first year, you’re just frantically trying to figure out who to write with, who you mesh with. We started working together in our second year.”
Once they began working together in earnest, they clicked instantly. “[SNL] is such a big, fast-paced environment that when something tends to work once, you want it to work again,” Kelly says. That something was “(Do It On My) Twin Bed,” the 2013 musical sketch that became the pair’s first big hit. “That [sketch] seemed to blow up in a way that we had never experienced before,” says Schneider. More faux music videos and digital shorts followed, racking up millions of YouTube views, not to mention Emmy nods alongside the rest of the writing staff. The sketch’s spiritual successors would go on to define SNL’s digital shorts following the 2012 departure of Andy Samberg, and with him, The Lonely Island.
We caught up with Kelly and Schneider to talk all things SNL, including the all-too-real first crush that didn’t make the final cut of “First Got Horny 2 U,” how the ladies of SNL are “killing it,” and how not to approach Beyoncé.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there pressure to replicate that formula following the success of “(Do It On My) Twin Bed”? Did you feel like you had to do a song again right away?
CHRIS KELLY: It was just fun to do because Kate [McKinnon] and Aidy [Bryant] really wanted to do an all-girls music video. It was Christmastime and it was just a cool show in general. Jimmy Fallon was there and he can do a lot of things, so we were just excited to do it, but we didn’t really think about it much past that point. When it became a cool thing that people liked, that was really fun.
SARAH SCHNEIDER: We did reject a lot of things afterwards because we didn’t want the one we did after “Twin Bed” to be a letdown.
What’s it like to write for a host whose ideologies might differ from your own? There have been a couple, surely. Perhaps recently …
SCHNEIDER: Who could you be talking about? [Laughs.]
KELLY: What are you getting at? [Laughs.] I think in general, as long as we just write what we like and write what we can stand by and what we think is our point of view, we don’t really change that for a host.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we wouldn’t write something we wouldn’t write otherwise. It’s just a little bit of a puzzle sometimes where you have to be like, “What can we write that would fit within the show that this person is willing to do?”
You both write closely, primarily, with the ladies of SNL, and it’s great to see the show shining a light on them. How does it feel to work from that perspective, and how does it come together?
KELLY: It’s fun. It’s sort of … I don’t want to say “accidental,” but everyone at the show has their couple of people that they write with. People tend to have their groups of friends, and in general it’s me, Sarah, Kate, and Aidy. Every day we shoot the s— until we come up with something that makes us laugh.
SCHNEIDER: Because we like to write for women and the cast of women that we currently have is incredible, it feels fortuitous for us that we get to be here at a time when the people we like to write for are really killing it on the show.
KELLY: Yeah. And also, with the music videos, it’s fun because we’ll start writing jokes, and then Kate will be like, “Well, let me go get a keyboard and start playing,” or we’ll get a guitar and start to figure out the melody. They’re good actors and they’re funny, but they’re also good songwriters.
SCHNEIDER: We’ll come to Aidy with an idea for something generic, character-wise, and she will come into it with a full voice and improv on it for hours, so that makes it so much easier.
KELLY: It’s not just us writing a sketch and delivering it to them. We all just stay up all night or work on it together.
SCHNEIDER: The whole cast, basically, are co-writers. They should be billed as writers. They all co-write their pieces, which helps a lot.
KELLY: Make that the headline. “Sarah Schneider says actors should be billed as writers.” [Laughs.] Please don’t, please don’t!
Are you guys musical at all outside of the sketches?
KELLY: I’m one of the most musical people there is!
KELLY: No, I can write jokes and I can write songs, but I’m not a singer or anything like that. But Sarah is, and we all combine [our efforts], like, “I’ll do this part that I know,” or, “I can come up with a rhyme,” and then Kate will play on the guitar.
SCHNEIDER: I did minor in music in college, so, I really appreciate you asking that question so I can answer it in this manner.
Speaking of the ladies of SNL, it was just announced that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will co-host, which is super exciting. I’m sure you’ve worked with them in the past, but how do you guys feel about writing a full episode for the both of them?
KELLY: It’s just nice when a host comes and they know what’s up and they’re funny. Plus, it’s a Christmas show. It’ll be good.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, and there’s always a nice air around Christmastime. Everyone’s in good spirits.
Were there any guys that didn’t make the cut in the “First Got Horny 2 U” sketch? Who were the first guys to do it for you?
SCHNEIDER: Mine didn’t make the cut ’cause it was too similar to Aidy’s.
KELLY: Yours was good!
SCHNEIDER: Mine is the specific moment in The Lion King when Simba turns from a young lion to a full-grown lion. It’s the moment when he sings, “It meeeans no worries.” The specific moment where I was like, “Doink!”
KELLY: But it was too similar to Dinosaurs.
I swear that was one of mine, too. [3:07 in the clip above.] And what about you, Chris?
KELLY: I did have the real, normal ones, but I also did remember thinking, “The Menendez brothers are not not handsome,” so that was one of my pitches, ’cause I was like, “They’re pretty cute!”
So, the other ones in the sketch, were those everybody else’s choices, or were they written?
KELLY: It was a combination.
SCHNEIDER: Kate’s was definitely Taylor Hanson. Aidy’s was the cool teen son from Dinosaurs, but she also liked Carson Daly and we thought that was funny, too, so we used that as well.
KELLY: It was a combination of [fake] and real ones. It was just a group brainstorming session, basically.
What’s the sketch you’re most proud of?
SCHNEIDER: Probably The Beygency, because we got to meet Beyoncé. When she Facebooked or tweeted it out, I truly danced around my apartment in joy. That was a really cool moment.
KELLY: I got so embarrassed. We did The Beygency, and then we were at the 40th anniversary party for SNL a year later and Beyoncé was there, and my boyfriend was like, “Let’s just go stand by her, and if someone mentions The Beygency, we should say that you wrote that.” And I’m not very into, like, “Let me meet a celeb,” and also, The Beygency was not going to just come up naturally at this party. So he says, “Let’s just go stand by her in case.” And as soon as we stood by her he tapped Beyoncé on the shoulder and he pointed to me, like, “My boyfriend wrote The Beygency!” And it was humiliating but she was very nice and very sweet.
SCHNEIDER: I did that basically for myself, so …
You kind of have to take advantage of that opportunity when you can.
SCHNEIDER: I would also say that we got really excited about sketches like High School Theatre Show, these kind of niche sketches that are special to us and feel like something from our childhood. Dance of the Snowflake was really fun for us ’cause it had a small, hometown-y vibe. We really like getting stuff like that on [the air].
KELLY: And recently, the stuff with Kate, where she plays Hillary [Clinton], and Larry David playing Bernie Sanders, that’s been really cool. I remember when I was little just loving SNL, but also, these political seasons were so exciting for me to watch. It’s cool to be here now and to be doing those types of sketches. It’s very surreal.