Kenan Thompson And SNL’s Costume Designer Talk ‘The Big Pill’ You Have To Swallow Working On The Show

kenan thompson on saturday night live
(Image credit: NBC)

Saturday Night Live has been on for decades and, in some ways, the show has to be a well-oiled machine at this point. However, for those who have worked on the show, it’s more of an environment of “controlled chaos.” Recently, the historic sketch comedy show’s costume designer Tom Broecker sat down with Kenan Thompson to discuss the show during its hiatus from the 2023 TV schedule,  and they got real about “the big pill” you have to swallow if you want to sign on for the show. 

Broecker and Thompson clearly don’t do the same exact work, but in a lot of ways they have plenty in common. They know the ins and outs and behind-the-scenes chaos of working on the fly. They know the hustle of starting at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning and having just six days to creative a full show to air live on Saturday night. The know what it means to be at the whims of a celebrity guest. 

The two SNL creatives recently spoke over at Deadline where they explained in order to be able to do this job without it crushing your soul, the “big pill” to swallow is being able to detach. The costume designer noted:

The biggest thing is just like the need for flexibility in this job. That is sort of a – as you know – once you kind of learn that and learn, as I say, the art of detachment in that. You need to invest as much as you can as hard as you can, but you can’t hold it so precious that you can’t just throw it away and start at the beginning.

His comment was followed by Kenan Thompson, who clarified this personality trait you really need to be successful on the long-running show. 

It’s such a paradox, it’s such a conundrum for a lot of people to swallow. That’s the big pill.

It’s hard for some people to “kill their darlings” at all, much less on a weekly basis, and Tom Broecker also said that some people thrive in that environment much better than others. He cited Chris Parnell as one of the people who seemingly really struggled with this aspect while on the show. (Parnell famously was fired and then un-fired from the show in the early aughts.)

Actually I remember Parnell, because Parnell is someone who needed like –there are those people at SNL where SNL doesn’t work for everybody. Because it’s controlled chaos the whole time. So if you try and control that it really just throws your process off.

Kenan Thompson also agreed trying maintain control is like “hold[ing] sand in your hand." Instead, the people who thrive most, whether they be cast members, behind-the-scenes creatives, or even guest hosts on the show, are the ones who can figure out how to engage without stressing themselves out. The costume designer also revealed the piece of advice he always gives to the upcoming SNL hosts

As I tell the host all the time, ‘The only thing I can actually tell you is that is really gonna be beneficial to you is just like, engage. Engage as much as you can. Be present, but don’t hold onto anything. It’ll bite you. That is a lesson I learned early on as well, there was one time where we had spent three weeks working on like a goodnight thing, because Lorne wanted all this stuff [sic]. I was like, ‘OK let’s do it, let’s do it.’ … and then all of a sudden between dress and air the host was like, ‘Yeah, no, I don’t want to do it. Let’s do something else.’ And you’re like, ‘Wait, WHAT? We just spent three weeks, all this time, all this money, you can’t just like…’ then you’re like, ‘Yeah you can.

It's an art and it doesn't sound so easy. Which could help explain why the show is often a revolving door of talent, with exits nearly ever season (last spring there were eight people who left Saturday Night Live). Few people stick it out on the show over the longterm, though Thompson's impressive episode count keeps growing. Thompson has said the show is "always new" and that excitement has kept him on the show for 20 years.

Saturday Night Live is currently on hiatus as one of many shows to have shut down as part of the writers' strike. But even the unpredictable nature of the strike seems to tie in well with the general nature of the sketch series. Or as Kenan Thompson put it: “Flexibility and detachment. We should make that a t-shirt.” 

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.