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As you may have heard by now, Jason Segel has a new movie coming out this Thanksgiving weekend starring the Muppets, appropriately titled 'The Muppets.' What you may not realize is that Jason Segel's three lifelong dreams were to (a) work with the Muppets, (b) be a guest with David Letterman and (c) host 'Saturday Night Live.' This past week, Segel finally achieved that elusive third dream. Ahead, Jason Segel gives Moviefone an extensive behind-the-scenes tour, if you will, of his experiences last week as the host of 'Saturday Night Live.'
Before we get into your experience, what's your take on the infamous "Land of Gorch" Muppets sketches from the first season of 'SNL'?
Well, what's interesting is that's what gave birth to the Muppets. Jim Henson was a maverick at that time. And the Muppets are famous now, in that era, I sort of equate it to the computer -- Steve Jobs was in a basement dreaming about the computer. So Jim Henson and these guys were these dudes that had an idea about puppetry. So they went to Lorne and they said that they would like to be a part of the first season of 'Saturday Night Live.' And it didn't quite work.
The 'SNL' writers did not care for them.
Yeah, it's hard to think of how to fit them into sketches. And they had created a new world of sort of adult, darker Muppets to fit in with SNL and it didn't quite work. But it did give birth to 'The Muppet Show.' They said to Lorne, "We'd like to do our own variety show, do you mind if we copy your format in a half hour -- and that's how 'The Muppet Show' was born.
You mentioned them in your monologue. Was there any thought of bringing them back? Or would that reference be lost?
I think that that is a reference that is probably lost to time. You know what I mean? They weren't even famous then [laughs].
OK, so we've known for months that 'The Muppets' is coming out over Thanksgiving weekend. How does a hosting gig at 'SNL' get set up? Who goes to whom?
They are always trying to figure out who the host is going to be. You know, it's not a long lead time; I found out like three weeks ago that I was chosen to do it. And Lorne said something to me this week, he said, "We've been bouncing around the idea of having you several times, like with 'Sarah Marshall' or 'I Love You, Man,'" things like that. But he said, "It was never quite the right time. If you do 'Saturday Night Live' before you're established, it feels more like an audition." Like you're trying to show that you're good. And once you've reached a certain point, it's much more fun for the audience. Because they're watching someone that they know do fun skits. So he said that this was the perfect time: "People know you enough now that you've earned hosting the show."
That's interesting. Because, of all people, I remember when Dane Cook hosted the first time and nobody knew who Dane Cook was, at that time. And I remember he was trying really hard.
It feels like an audition, right?
But with you, people can say, "I know this guy, so I can just watch him do his thing."
Yeah, they're anticipating songs and fun and they have a sense of what you do. Whereas when you watch someone that you don't quite know who they are, there's a lot more judgment put on it.
What was your pitch meeting like?
The pitch meeting is intense, man. You show up on Tuesday and they sit you in a room and you're handed fifty scripts. Literally fifty.
Just for you to read?
Yeah, just to read through. For mine, they knew that I played piano and sang, so I'd say 15 of them had songs in them. So then you're reading them and you're also working with this musical guy to sing the songs -- in an hour! Fifteen songs! Not that you have to have them perfect, but so that you can do them adequately. And then you go into this room for a table read, where there are probably 100 people watching -- the entire cast. And you sit and you literally do all 50 sketches sitting at a table.
Could you reject one if you wanted?
Not at the table read. You read all of them. Yeah, because you don't know what's going to work. That's one of the things that I've learned about comedy is that you really don't know before you do it.
There was a joke in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' that was pitched by one of the producers while we were shooting the scene. It's where I arrive at the hotel and I first see Sarah Marshall and Russell Brand. And she says, "What are you doing here?" And I had written that scene to be a guy really trying to put on a façade and keep it together. My response is, "I just needed a little vacation." And one of the producers pitched, "How about instead you say, 'I'm here to murder you'?" I literally was, "No! That is wrong! That is not his attitude during this scene." And he's like, "Just shoot it, you don't have to use it. Just see if it works." It's my favorite joke in the movie. And I lobbied super hard against it. I've learned that until you try something, you have no idea if it's going to work or not.
That's a healthy attitude for 'SNL.' I have read of hosts worried if a sketch will make them look bad.
Yeah, I think you have to give over to the process of 'SNL.' They are a well-oiled machine and they know what they are doing. And I'm sure they'd be the first to admit some shows are better than others. Some sketches are better than others. But there's something about that show that is a very, very controlled chaos that ends up, no matter what, feeling like you're watching something fun and exciting and dangerous.
What's your favorite script you read that didn't make the show?
We had an amazing moment during the table reads. Kristen Wiig wrote a hilarious sketch about a married couple that goes door to door and sings like carols on Thanksgiving. And the song was probably ten pages long. And the joke of the song is that it changed tune every two verses. So, throughout the sketch it kept randomly changing tunes to varying styles of music. Like, completely random. But because of the time constraints, we didn't get to learn the songs... and you still have to go perform it at the table readings. [Laughing] So we walked in and we looked at each other and I'm like, "What are we going to do?" She said, "We're just going to make it up and do our best, that's how it goes sometimes." We start the song, and we both realize that we have no fucking idea what to do. At all. You can't stop! It's like, you have to do the sketch. And I wish they had filmed it because it's probably ten minutes of us singing with no idea or context whatsoever. [Still laughing] And we're laughing so hard that we're crying. And it is a train wreck. And what is terrible is that the train left the station, and you can't get off until the next stop. Everyone is watching and everyone is laughing so hard, crying. We are bombing harder than I've ever bombed in my whole career. I mean, it was embarrassing how badly we bombed this sketch.
It sounds like a real life Garth and Kat.
It was called Lisa and Coy and it was the same concept, except the song was supposed to be learned.
But at the read-through, it became Garth and Kat.
Right! Except that we weren't able to even pull that level of mastery off.
Was there anything that made it all the way to dress rehearsal that you were disappointed it got cut from the live show?
Yeah. There was one sketch called "Balcony Songs" that I really, really loved and I'm really disappointed it got cut. It was a sketch that Andy Samberg wrote. It was a Broadway musical number that degenerated into becoming just really, really, really weird. But it was sung in full Broadway voice and there were twelve of us. It was kind of the equivalent of 'One Day More' from 'Les Miserables.' And that got cut after dress and we were all totally bummed. It literally just got cut for time.
As host do you have much say between dress and the live show on what makes it or not?
You know what? Lorne is obviously the big boss, but the host is called into every meeting and he's very conscious about, "What don't you feel comfortable with? Is there anything that you care so much about that you don't want us to cut?" He's very respectful of the idea that, at the end of the day, you're the one who is going to walk out there. You're the one who is going to have to do this stuff. So a lot of it is about the host feeling confident and comfortable with the sketches.
During the live show when you did the monologue with the Muppets, you appeared to be glowing.
I have a list of childhood goals. There are only three things on it: Be on David Letterman, work with the Muppets, and host 'SNL.' I had done Letterman before and I, obviously, did the Muppet movie last year. But, I did all three last week. In one week! That's not hyperbole, that's an actual list I had. If I could have, as a kid, seen this week, I would have freaked the fuck out [laughs]. You know what I mean?
I didn't know that you could do an Antonio Banderas impression
I can't! But I tried [laughs]. It wasn't a terrible impression. It was no Andre the Giant, but it was pretty close? Right?
It was good. But the thing is, you had to follow Jay Pharoah's Denzel Washington, which is tough.
That is the best impression I've ever seen.
The only impression that rivals it is my Andre the Giant [laughs].
OK, so you did Andre the Giant in 'I Love You, Man.'
I did, yeah.
So did you go to them and ask to have it in the show?
The first thing they ask you is, "Do you do any impressions?" And the only impression I do is Andre the Giant. I'm not an impression guy. That's not my area of comedy. So that was, literally, the only one I had in my pocket. When it came to the 'Regis' sketch, they were like, "What celebrities do you do?" "I don't know, I can do the Nasonex voice?"
So then they wanted that?
That was more of a case of them wanting you do be involved in all of the sketches. I just don't do impressions, it's not what I do. Yeah, it was certainly fun.
How early in the process did you know that Paul Rudd was around for "Kissing Family Thanksgiving."
You know what happened? Everyone knew that I really wanted to do SNL. And it's, by a standard, a marker in your career. And our little group is very close and very supportive of each other. Jonah [Hill] flew out and watched the show. And Rudd came to watch the show. And as soon as we heard that Paul is there, we were already doing the "Kissing" sketch. And he originated "Kissing" sketch. And we thought, oh, this is perfect, let's have Rudd come in at the end. And Rudd and I have been on the collision course for a make-out for a long time [laughs].
I've seen every incarnation of "The Kissing Family" and have never seen the intensity between you and Rudd. That was new.
It was much, much, much more intense in dress rehearsal.
They should put that online
We were told to tone it down. I 'Fatal Attraction-ed' him in dress rehearsal. I threw him up against the wall to the point that I almost destroyed the set. I yanked his hair back so violently, and I basically, like, I can't say the word, I mean, I hate-kissed him. [laughs] So hard!
The last sketch I really want to bring up -- I think might've been my favorite of the night --- "The Blue Jean Committee."
I loved that sketch! What I love about it, it isn't really a joke. It's just like, really pleasant.
And everyone is so great in that. Even when Moynihan has two seconds of screen time, and he gets one of the biggest laughs with his intensity -- he's so into the song.
Yeah. That's one of my favorites. I like weird humor. For example, the Andre the Giant sketch: It would've been very easy to do an Andre the Giant in context. You know, like a 'Princess Bride' sketch, or whatever. But when you do it out of context, Andre the Giant ordering ice cream, I love that kind of humor. Where there's no context as to why it's funny, it just is.
I had trouble explaining that one to my girlfriend.
So, overall, the episode's not a groaner, right? It was pretty funny?
I thought it was the best show of the season so far.
I have no context, because I haven't even watched it yet. It feels super good while you're doing it, but I have no idea how it came across. It came across alright?
Yeah. People on Twitter were responding very positively to the show. The reaction was very good. The only one that didn't quite seem to play was "Retirement Party."
Yeah, that's a weird sketch.
That's the only one that I think people were like, "Huh." But the rest of the show, especially ending on "Blue Jean Committee," went well. In my humble opinion.
It was so cool to see the guys behind the Muppets in the "Good Nights." You don't often see those guys standing there, with the Muppets.
I have this thing, just so you know, it's like, contrary to what they want. But I have a big issue with that people don't know who these puppeteers are. They are the unsung heroes of this whole movie. The one I keep thinking about is this guy named Eric Dickinson. He plays Miss Piggy, but he also plays Fozzie Bear and Animal...
Right, because you guys did our Unscripted and, as Miss Piggy, she did "her Fozzie impression."
It's amazing. And all I think about is, in any other context, that's like a Peter Sellers-esque feat. He's playing three fully realized characters that are completely different, you know what I mean?
And they sound completely different.
His job is to be invisible, and so you never get to see who these guys are, and they're so fucking talented. And so yeah, it was important for me that they got up there and had their faces seen.
So, obviously you're an 'SNL' guy, what's your favorite sketch of all time?
It's an obscure sketch, it's when Steve Martin did Medieval Barber.
Okay, that is a bit obscure.
You remember that sketch?
I do know it, I don't know it by heart.
Steve Martin is playing a medieval barber, you know, a doctor, and he's so confident because it's modern medicine. But he says things like, someone comes in with a stomach ache and he'll be like, "You know, it's lucky that we've reached this modern age of medicine. People used to think that a stomach ache was caused by some sort of spirit haunting your stomach, ha ha ha, but now we know it's caused by a small toad living inside you!" [laughs] He's so confident that they have it all figured out.
To take you off the hook, you can't pick someone in the current cast. Who's your favorite cast member ever?
Wow. That's a great question. I mean, I gotta say Belushi.
OK, that's interesting.
Belushi? Well, because I'll tell you what Belushi did. Well, Phil Hartman is really up there for me as well, but Belushi did something really particular, and it's what the Muppets do so I guess it relates. He felt like things might bubble over at any minute, you know what I mean? It was a contained chaos but it could bubble over. You always felt a little sense of danger.
Well, if you read 'Live from New York,' I think there was a little bit of danger actually, sometimes.
Yeah, exactly. What would you have done if I had said something like, Piscopo [laughs]?
I would have been shocked.
Would you have thought less of me? [laughs]
Let's say I would have been surprised if you picked someone like Denny Dillon or someone like the guy who played Sweetchuck in Police Academy, Tim Kazurinsky. I mean, he's funny, but...
Were those the years -- I'm not 100% well-versed -- Lorne was gone for a little bit...
Lorne left for five years. Lorne left in the Spring of '80. Jean Doumanian took over for about three-fourths of a season and then she got fired. Dick Ebersol took over until '85, and then Lorne came back in fall of '85.
Although, I will say, "Ebony and Ivory" is one of the funnier moments ever.
I mean, let's be honest, Piscopo was really good on that show. I think he's been downgraded since he's left.
But he and Eddie Murphy were so good together.
"Ebony and Ivory" was so fucking funny.
My one non-SNL question: Are you still going to be using Twitter after 'The Muppets'?
It's not going to end after Muppets. I don't love the technology, you know? Just in general, it's not really my thing. I do really like being able to communicate -- that sounds so fucking cheesy -- that's not what I mean. I was going to say, "Communicate with my fans," but I hate that phrase. It is cool to be able to talk to dudes. [Laughs] Put it that way.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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