Lorne Michaels: How 'SNL' Got Sarah Palin

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why weren't Palin and Fey ever on screen together?
LORNE MICHAELS: Any dialogue would've been a letdown. That's not to say that if they talked as themselves it would've been a letdown. When someone's doing somebody's voice exactly, it's an impression. So their talking wouldn't have had the same power as them passing each other by. I thought it was the most powerful way [to do the opening skit].

Did they interact at all behind the scenes?
They talked. You'd have to ask them how it went. There was no kicking and screaming. We know how to behave.

Any other planned candidate appearances before the election?
Yes, but again, until they're in the building I'm not going to talk about it.

Did Palin really decide not to do the rap, or was that part of the gag?
It was all part of the act. We didn't ask her to rap. The idea was, what is the worst possible thing we could ask her to do? If her campaign were over-managed and she wasn't making the calls herself...you know what I'm saying? But she has a good sense of humor.

Do you approach skits differently when the target is there?
We don't tone things down. People understand that this is what we do, and it's not personal. Well, it's personal at some level. But people either have a sense of humor about it or they don't. They probably wouldn't be there if they didn't, unless they were incredibly desperate. And we don't make too much fun of the very desperate.

What are the challenges of writing skits for candidates instead of about them?
I think you just have to be sensitive to who they really are, because what we deal with in our work is how they are perceived. We don't know who they really are; we just deal with the perception of them. Tina's Sarah Palin is not the real Sarah Palin. She was fresh casting. The fact that no one knew anything about her, the fact that the audience got to go with her from Wasilla to Minneapolis. Literally six weeks ago she was in another world. I think there's a lot of sympathy for anybody who can step forward and handle that level of pressure. That thing on a human level was fascinating to watch. She was characterized so quickly by the media. She got a really tough welcome. So when she introduced herself that way at the convention, people went, oh, I see. She gave a great performance.

How much push-back do you get from campaigns when you present what you want to do?
This is our 34th season. People know what we do.

So they don't say, um, no, she's definitely not doing this?
Yeah, but so do people who are hosting the show, so do people at the network. There is never any shortage of people who think something's not a good idea.

Did you expect to be so big a part of this election?
You never expect it. But I think we're used to being in the center of it, when we do it right.

Originally posted Oct 21, 2008 Published in issue #1018 Oct 31, 2008 Order article reprints

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