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Funny Business on an Iconic Set

Behind the scenes of the SNL documentary Live from New York

In the 40 years that Saturday Night Live has been on the air, the show has tackled almost every issue that’s been part of the national discussion. From pop-culture punching bags to political players, the subjects of the show’s gimlet eye haven’t just made us laugh, they’ve earned a place in history. 

Now, SNL costume designer Tom Broecker and JL Pomeroy are looking back at the last four decades of American history with Live From New York, a smart, touching, funny look at how one late-night comedy show has portrayed the world around it. 

Saturday Night Live has been pretty closely watched and well documented. What made two otherwise sane people decide to attempt making a film about it? 

JL Pomeroy: We thought we were sane until we started this project, so that’s fair. Tom and I are friends and worked together in the past, and he and were sitting together one day having a bit of lunch, and talking about how the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live was coming up. Tom has been the costume designer on SNL for 20 years, and he’s our inside man.  We were talking about a way in which we could potentially approach the subject matter differently. Tom said, ‘You know, I’d love to see something kind of anthropological,’ and that kicked off our conversation. Ultimately, we landed on the thesis of for the film, which is taking a look at 40 years of American history and pop culture through the lens of Saturday Night Live

Photographs courtesy of Edie Baskin

Photographs courtesy of Edie Baskin

And the once you decided to go forth and do this, what was your first step?

JL Pomeroy: It’s daunting, as you can imagine. [Lorne Michaels] gave us a green light, and then we thought, the only way to start is to just start shooting. We had a limited time to do this project, so from the day we started shooting to the day we finished editing was 11 months. So, we cranked this thing out at record speed considering the breadth of material we had to cover.

Was there anything that jumped out at you with being unexpected?

JL Pomeroy: We probably have two different perspectives on that, being that I was the outsider and Tom was the insider. I don’t think I found anything terribly surprising, I think it was more sort of overwhelmed. 

Tom Broecker: The thing that I found most interesting about it was during the interviews, how intelligent people were, and how they really enjoyed thinking about the questions, and discussing the questions. I think partially because they had never been asked these questions before. We really tried to think abut questions that they had never answered, or that they had never been asked of them. 

Tom, does your life change a little bit working on the show day to day when people know you’re making a film about it? 

Tom Broecker: A lot of people didn’t even know what we were doing. That’s how under the radar we were trying to make it.

The first season’s cast gets a lot of credit for being innovative and brilliant, but in making this did you come across any cast member or season that struck you as being underrated?

JL Pomeroy: It seems that every time a new cast comes in, people are super critical and leery they aren’t going to be as good as the cast before them. Then slowly but surely they come into their own and the stars emerge from that, organically.

Tom Broecker: The thing about the show is it’s evolutionary. Each moment goes further and further, and it reflects whatever is going on at the moment. I think it’s a little unfair to compare everyone to the first cast because they were the first; it had never been done before. You know, Andy Samberg says himself, ‘they are the benchmark,’ but that’s the nature of being the first.

You interviewed 50 people for this film, how did you know you were done?

JL Pomeroy: I’m not sure I’m convinced we are done.

Tom Broecker: There are probably 50 more people we could interview. 

JL Pomeroy: In fact, Bill Murray still thinks he’s going to interview for this movie. He told his rep recently, about two weeks ago, ‘Absolutely I’m definitely going to be a part of this movie, and I’m excited about it.’ We were like, ‘Um, no, it’s already done.’