If you watch Saturday Night Live, you know Taran Killam. The dancing zombie Mokiki? Eddie, the jerky older brother that just loves yelling in Justin Bieber’s face? The late-night lip-sync video of Robyn’s "Call Your Girlfriend" that made the rounds a few years back? That's all Killam. SNL’s 39th season kicks off tomorrow night, and with several high-profile names having recently left the show, the stage is set for a year of fresh faces and new energy. We spoke with Killam earlier this week about his fourth year with the program, the comic project The Illegitimates, and his obsession with gaming consoles.
We’re talking on a Tuesday, and the season premiere is happening Saturday night. Where are you in the process right now?
We are about to head into writing night, our first writing night of the season. We had pitch yesterday. Everybody was hopping off the plane from the Emmys. All of our writers were out there along with our host, Tina Fey — Emmy winner! And now we sit down in front of a blank page and try to come up with funny ideas.
How does the rest of the week break down?
"Many of our writers won't go home tonight."
I’ll head in about an hour or so from now, and all the cast and writers will be there through the night. Many of our writers won’t go home tonight. We’ll be there all the way through the end of tomorrow. And we write our sketches tonight. We turn ‘em in, ideally, before noon tomorrow. And then our producers — there’s anywhere from between 35 to 40 sketches — and they organize them, then put them in order. Then tomorrow, around three in the afternoon, we’ll do a three to four hour table read of all 40 sketches.
As soon as that’s over Lorne and the kind of trusted higher-ups will go and discuss what they think should be in the show, and then they’ll bring the host in, and gauge Tina’s temperature, and see what she would like to do. And then they’ll put together a list that we call "picks." They’ll put out the picks and those are the sketches that will be produced but not necessarily in the show. Thursday’s rewrites, and Thursday through Friday is camera blocking, and then Saturday is the show.
This is a big transition year. Some well-known names have left, and you’ve got six new cast members coming in. Does that present a big opportunity for everyone?
That’s not really something you can control, you know? I do think there will be more opportunity to try newer stuff. The vibe right now is actually incredibly positive. Almost half of the staff now are new, and excited to be here. And the remaining staff are still relatively new as well. No cast member has been here over five years except for Kenan [Thompson] and Bobby [Moynihan], and even Bobby is just over five years.
So it feels like a new dawn. It’s really positive. We’ve all been kinda hanging out for a few weeks leading up to the show, and everybody’s wanting to stay out. Everybody’s wanting to hang together. So there’s kind of a camaraderie occurring, and it’s just very exciting.
"The vibe right now is actually incredibly positive."
You were in The Heat earlier this year and have 12 Years A Slave coming up. Does stretching those feature film muscles inform you at all when you come back to SNL?
It’s a nice badge of honor, of course, whenever you work on a project outside the show that does well, but it really has very little influence. They’re completely different platforms and styles of entertainment. There’s no job like SNL. There’s no other job you go to where you’re like, "Oh, this is like that live, late-night sketch variety-musical show that shoots in, whatever it is, 10,000 feet of sound stage." There’s nothing like it.
But the breaks are so valuable because by the end of the season your mind turns to mush, and you get a little fried, and you feel like, "Ah, I’ve seen everything!" Because if you think, we do at least 20 episodes, and you’re reading 40 sketches a week; you’ve heard 800 sketches that year. You’re kind of, "I don’t… I can’t think of anything!" And so the break kind of reinvigorates, you know?
You also have a variety of other projects you’re involved with. You’re on Seth Meyers’ animated show The Awesomes, which just got a second season on Hulu, and there’s your comic book The Illegitimates. Can you talk a little about that?
"Comic books are a big passion of mine."
As I think you know, it’s about a James Bond-esque superspy killed in-mission, and the backup plan, his replacements, are the bastard children that he’s had with different femme fatales and female agents over the years, that the agency he works for has been anonymously nurturing and grooming to take his place. So they call together these five kids who know nothing about each other, nothing about their father, but each have their own special field, and have to come together as a superspy team and as a family to save the world.
This is a comic idea I’ve had for a very long time. Comic books are a big passion of mine. This job sort of gave me, you know, some income and some connections to make it happen on my own. It’s been entirely produced out of pocket, and I’ve been very, very fortunate to hook up with IDW who will be publishing it for us. I’m writing it with my friend Marc Andreyko, who’s been sort of a mentor in the comic book world to me, and my Obi-Wan Kenobi of sorts, sort of guiding me through the dos and dont’s.
"I still have my old Nintendo 64."
I also hear you’re a big gamer.
I’m a huge gamer.
Which of the new consoles are you most excited about?
I mean, I’ll take ‘em both! I’m excited for Xbox One and PS4. Like, I own everything. I still have my old Nintendo 64 that works. And I hook it up and I still play the original Goldeneye. I’m that geek. I have an NBA Jam arcade machine in my office at SNL.
Okay, how do you get any work done with that in there?
That’s a very interesting point that’s actually been brought up quite a bit [laughs]. It was my birthday present to myself last year, and we’re trying to find a place for it. But now it just sorta sits in the middle of our office. Much to the chagrin of my roommates. But it’s also fantastic. I’ve got an NBA Jam arcade machine in my office!
Saturday Night Live kicks off its newest season on Saturday, September 28th, with host Tina Fey.