Thursday, September 11, 2008

Swimming the Channels

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps set a new world record by winning 8 gold medals at this summer's Beijing games. With such newfound fame, he's a natural choice of host for Saturday Night Live, which opens its 34th season this coming Saturday, September 13 at 11:30 PM Eastern/Pacific.

But -- is he funny? After a day spent yesterday in run-throughs of this weekend's sketches, Lorne Michaels says yes. "Michael’s been great," Lorne told a conference call of TV critics this afternoon. "And no matter what happens, they can’t take those medals away. You can tell right away by the way people laugh at the material. There’s no question about Michael getting it, about being funny and knowing what to do in the piece. He’s not suddenly going to be a professional sketch player, but he’ll do just fine."

For his part, Michael admits to having a sarcastic side that only his closest circle of friends normally gets to see. And so, which does he find more nervewracking, we wanted to know: the thought of performing comedy live in front of millions, or as he did in Beijing, swimming live in front of billions? "I was nervous coming in here [to SNL], and had no idea what to expect," Michael admitted on the phone this afternoon. "But after the first few read-throughs yesterday, I started getting into it and warming up a little bit. I felt completely confident yesterday, and I'm feeling good today. We'll run through things in the next few days before Saturday, and so I’m confident with what’s coming up. But I’m probably more nervous doing this than I was swimming in Beijing, I’ll tell you that."

A devotee of the movie Tommy Boy and its SNL-born star Chris Farley, as well as Adam Sandler, Phelps says he's long been a fan of the show -- that is, on the rare occasion where he's been able to stay up to see it. When he learned of his SNL gig, Michael reached out for advice, to fellow Tonight Show guest J.B. Smoove, and to Ashton Kutcher, whom he met through Demi Moore in Los Angeles and who offered his help. Thus prepared, this weekend, he says, he'll be honored to step out on that famous stage, following so many iconic performers who have gone before him.

When he does, we learned today, he may be playing Aquaman (Lorne confirms that this is indeed a sketch in the works, but that like anything mentioned today, it could be cut by Saturday for lack of time). He will very likely be parodying his own life and Olympic persona, complete with high-calorie diet, clingy swimsuits and Amy Poehler in a dark wig as his mom. And, if cast member Kristen Wiig is able to follow through on her "threat," he can expect costumes with lots of wigs of his own -- and very few shirts. So, is Michael game, one reporter asked, to give the girls [and the boys!] a thrill? "It's all in good fun, and if it happens, it happens," he answered laughing. "I'm just along for the ride."

In other SNL news revealed on today's call:

  • The format of the upcoming Thursday night primetime SNL specials will be based on Weekend Update -- but don't rule out seeing any sketches, too. "They'll start with an Update base and work out from there," Lorne revealed. Regarding sketches, "I think there'll be something. If we're directly following the debate, we'll do the debate. Whatever the best half hour to put on, we'll put on. We won't save anything for Saturday that will play better on Thursday."

  • With all the obvious reports of Sarah Palin's uncanny resemblance to former SNL cast member, and now 30 Rock star/showrunner, Tina Fey, will Tina be returning for any surprise appearances as the Republican VP candidate? Lorne at first cagily dodged the question. "There are discussions," he finally admitted on follow up. "They are ongoing."

  • Traditionally almost each year, new cast members and featured players are added to SNL -- and this year is no exception. Bobby Moynihan, whom Lorne called "really talented," will join as a featured player at the beginning of this season, and there very well may be more additions by the end -- particularly of women. With Amy Poehler leaving to have her baby this fall -- a departure Lorne calls "a devastation" and seems to be in denial about, because he says he hasn't yet planned how to replace her on Update or elsewhere -- the show will soon be in need of some new ladies.

  • Speaking of the ladies, it's very likely SNL is soon going to be needing a Michelle Obama -- if not in the White House, then at least in the latter weeks of the election. Lorne has revealed that he's hoping to lure back former cast member Maya Rudolph to play the part.

Saturday Night Live
Season 34 premiere
Saturday, September 13
11:30 PM Eastern/Pacific

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