Why Saturday Night Live Really Needs A Studio Audience, According To Lorne Michaels

Saturday Night Live Pete Davidson Colin Jost Michael Che NBC
(Image credit: Will Heath / NBC)

Saturday Night Live is back in action for its 46th season and the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, believes it really needs an audience -- as in a live studio audience – to make an impact. Early into the pandemic, shows were forced to rid themselves of their studio audiences. Fast forward to October, and Michaels believes they are essential to Saturday Night Live.

Lorne Michaels does not want to have Saturday Night Live follow shows like Dancing with the Stars and America's Got Talent that ditched studio audiences altogether for the latest seasons. SNL found a clever way to succeed in having an audience for its season premiere by paying audience members, so the dedication is there. After all, Michaels thinks the show needs them as he told The Today Show:

I think it was all I talked about all summer. And leading up to it, it was, 'I need an audience.' Because, we're taking big swings, and they're hard jokes. When you don't hear any sound, it throws the timing off. The thing that the audience does is it is the plug that makes the circuit work.

I do not know who could argue that Saturday Night Live does not benefit from having a live audience. You need people to laugh at the jokes and respond to the live comedy! The show managed to get its audience for the season premiere while also abiding by COVID restrictions. Protocols included nasal tests, temperature checks, and more.

If you have been to the doctor’s office lately, you have a good idea of the drill used to bring them in safely. Saturday Night Live thrives on the energy of the audience, which provides real-time insight into how a joke is playing with spectators. That said, the long-running sketch comedy is still taking COVID seriously, having replaced musical guest Morgan Wallen because he broke quarantine protocols.

Jack White ended up replacing him. Saturday Night Live dealing with musical guest drama is one thing. Having to move forward without a live audience is another. The comedy show relies on its audiences’ reactions or that of the cast to boost its quality more than Jeopardy! per se. Kate McKinnon recently broke character to viral results. The audience’s laughter helped make the moment all the more memorable to me.

Saturday Night Live had previously done remote episodes to keep itself going. For Season 46, the show was ready to get back to a new sort of normal. Or at least attempt it. As Lorne Michaels points out, the series is going all-in. It has recruited Jim Carrey to play Joe Biden. Woody Harrelson had taken on playing the role during the previous season.

With the U.S. presidential election now at full speed, SNL is going there too, and a live audience can only help the series. Saturday Night Live airs live starting at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The sketch comedy is not the only show airing new episodes. You can check out this fall’s schedule for more viewing options.

Britt Lawrence

Like a contented Hallmark movie character, Britt happily lives in the same city she grew up in. Along with movies and television, she is passionate about competitive figure skating. She has been writing about entertainment for 5 years, and as you may suspect, still finds it as entertaining to do as when she began.