TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. When we booked Colin Jost and Michael Che, the anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update, we had no idea that the date we'd scheduled would be just after a controversial edition of the show, guest hosted by Donald Trump. Jost and Che have some interesting things to say about that show and the protests surrounding it. Our interview was recorded yesterday. Jost and Che started anchoring Update together at the beginning of last season, in the fall of 2014. Jost had been the head writer of the show, but he stepped down this season to focus on Update. Che joined SNL as a writer in 2013, then left the following year to become a correspondent on "The Daily Show." After three months, he returned to SNL to co-anchor Update. Let's start with a Weekend Update clip from Saturday's Donald Trump episode. Jost speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
COLIN JOST: Well, Ben Carson had a real interesting week. First he said that the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by the biblical Joseph to store grain. Sure, makes sense.
JOST: Then he had to defend stories about his violent past after CNN couldn't find anyone to verify them, which is always great when you're running for president and you have to say, no, guys, I swear. I really did stab my friend.
MICHAEL CHE: Yeah, Ben Carson, what is going on with you? You are the first black man in American history to turn down an alibi. That would be like if...
CHE: That would be like if O.J. said, hey, give me that golf bag again, man. I think I can make it fit. Let me try by stabbing at it.
JOST: And then last night, Dr. Carson lashed out at the media for digging into his past, saying, what's next? They're going to find my kindergarten teacher who said I peed my pants? But at this point, Dr. Carson, I think we're more worried it'll turn out you didn't graduate kindergarten or that you claimed to pee your friend's pants and then they find your friend and he's like, I never had pants.
CHE: And now Ben Carson is complaining that no one ever vetted President Obama like this. Are you serious, dude? Even after Obama was elected president twice, they still made him show ID just to get into the White House.
CHE: And I'm talking about the guy hosting the show.
GROSS: And in case you couldn't hear Michael Che's final aside there, he said, I'm talking about the guy hosting the show. Michael Che, Colin Jost, welcome to FRESH AIR. What was it like to write for this past weekend's episode, knowing that Trump was on the show and that everyone was watching?
JOST: It was strange. It was a - I - even you can hear it a little bit in that clip. It was a tenser vibe, I thought, in the studio. I don't know if you agree, Michael. But it was like a tenser vibe because it's a political figure that's also there. So it's always strange to then be telling jokes about either the person that's there or other people that he's campaigning against. I think there's, like, an added level of tension there.
CHE: It's always hard in comedy to write for people who - who's made up their mind. I mean, the audience - I thought the audience pretty much had their minds made up on, you know, their opinion of him. So they're always looking at everything like, wait, is this a trap? Is this joke going to be a trap? Is this joke going to make me like him a lot more? Is it going to make me like them a lot less? And I thought they were kind of over thinking a lot of the things that we were saying, so the tension - that's where the tension kind of helped.
GROSS: Well, you got in one of the genuine digs at Trump, Michael, by that last aside that you said. I'm talking about the person hosting the show, meaning let's not forget that Trump was a birther and that he, you know, insisted that Obama show his birth certificate long after (laughter) Obama had shown his birth certificate. So did Trump have the opportunity of vetoing anything on Update? I know he had the opportunity of vetoing some things - at the very least in sketches that he was in.
JOST: No, he didn't have any - he had no say in what we did on Update. The interesting thing was, like, at dress rehearsal, even that - you know, that bit about - with Michael's observation about, you know, make America great again, like, when is again, was actually a lot longer. And we got into more, like, talking about, what era specifically did you want to go back to? Like, was it industrial revolution when, like, women couldn't vote and, like, toddlers had jobs or was it, like, the '50s or the '80s? And, you know, we kind of had - we went through each era. But you realized - again, it was, like - it was a little tense at dress rehearsal. And those things - like, Donald Trump didn't have any say in whether we did those things or not. But they just didn't play, like, in front of the audience at dress rehearsal.
CHE: It's a live show so you get to hear the audience enjoy it or not enjoy it when it's on TV. So we kind of write the show - when we're - for me, at least, as a writer, you know, you want a show that plays well to a live audience so that people at home understand that it's good and it's fun. We're all in on the joke, you know? So when it dies on air, you know, it's hard to relate it. Then it's just awkward. Then it's just tense. And then the next sketch has to follow that. So you can't kill a room for the rest of the show with something, you know, that might be a little chilling. So you got to - it's a very hard balance to confront something that's important but also make it fun.
GROSS: Yeah, and, Michael, what you said that actually made it to air about that is, like, what era is he talking about? You want to say what you said about that?
CHE: Oh, I don't know that I remember it.
CHE: Yeah, like, what specifically because, yeah, when white - when old, rich white guys start bringing up the good old days, my Negro senses start tingling.
GROSS: Yeah, that...
CHE: Is that the part (laughter)?
GROSS: That is the - that is the part. So who is...
CHE: Negro senses start tingling.
CHE: I think every - I think every minority - even not even minority 'cause I hate that word minority - but there's always something - I think there's something about everybody that feels like the - a lot of the world can't relate. And whether it's black or whether it's woman or whether it's sexual orientation or whatever it is, everybody kind of has something except for Colin. And...
CHE: No, but, you know, like, everybody - literally everybody on the planet has something that they say, well, people don't talk about how hard it is for this. And I feel like there's a lot of times where, you know, Donald Trump is kind of like the poster child of ignoring people that may not have it as good as him. You know, he's, like, this rich billionaire privileged dude. And I think it would be weird to not address it at some point.
GROSS: So you were talking about how some of the things didn't play during dress rehearsal. They didn't play to the audience. Was the audience selected differently than it typically is?
JOST: I don't think so really. I don't know - I know there were definitely - there was additional security, but there also was last - the last show we did 'cause Hillary Clinton was on. And so it's similar - I think there was a similar process of just making sure, you know, there was just a little extra security.
JOST: So that adds to it also. But there wasn't anything - weird selection process.
CHE: It was more than Hillary but less than Prince.
CHE: If that makes sense.
GROSS: So can you tell us a joke that you liked but you took out because it wasn't playing with the audience?
CHE: Well, they - I had a joke where I said the N-word 11 times, as usual, and (laughter)...
JOST: And it ended up just sounding like a bunch of bleeps.
JOST: And no one knew what it was.
CHE: It ended up sounding so bad. But also, I had a - we had a couple that might've been mean toward Trump, but we don't want to burn it hear because we might still be able to do it.
CHE: I'd like another crack at it, to be honest with you.
GROSS: (Laughter) So the protest around Trump's appearance by people who thought that you shouldn't give him the opportunity to be in on the joke and seem like, you know, a good-humored guy who's in on the joke. He's said some really - you know, what people say are really hateful things about Mexicans. And why honor that by making him a guest host? How did you feel about the protests, and did you feel like they were, you know, legitimate?
CHE: Well, I understood the protests. I understood why people would protest. And I wouldn't have protested. I mean, as a black dude, if somebody came on the show that said the same thing about black people - or even as a black dude that identifies with the Latino struggles or any minority struggle that - again, I think the whole show, like, you're not taking color or size - I think everybody at the show understood where people were coming from as to boycott the show. But I think the - from where we stood is we're a comedy show. And, you know, that's kind of what makes our show special is that we can have people like that on and we can, you know, try to make something out of it. We can kind of address the elephant in the room in a unique way that a lot of shows can't do. We can talk - we can flat out confront exactly what it is that people are protesting. And we could also kind of be tongue-in-cheek. And so I think, you know, we're not a - there's no political side that we have. You know, everything is fair game. And I understand why we had to do our jobs. And I, you know, I would've - I will do that show any time or, you know, 10 times out of 10. But I also understood why a lot of people were like, well, I'm not going to watch that show.
GROSS: So one more question about this. What was the experience like for you of going to work and having to cross all of these protesters who were really angry that "Saturday Night Live" had invited Trump to host?
CHE: I was just glad they wasn't there for me.
JOST: That they had turned their Michael Che signs around to say Donald Trump?
CHE: Finally, yeah, spread the wealth. But (laughter)...
JOST: It's - I think it's a - it's also - like, remember the other side of it - you know, like, it's before our time, too. But when Lorne had Reverend Al Sharpton host, there were a bunch of, you know, channels that didn't carry the broadcast at a protest on the other side. And so I think there's a history of certain hosts make people upset for different reasons. And, you know, you - it's not our - you know, it's not Michael's and I decision. And our - in politics - your personal politics don't come into the show in general. You know, what goes into the show are different takes on what's happening in the news and what Lorne likes is that the show is balanced. And that it's really...
JOST: What he says, it's the idea of speaking truth to power. So whoever is in a position of power, you're going to take shots at.
CHE: It's - we're - if we're a pop culture show and these episodes are time capsules, it would be weird for 2015, 2016 to not have Donald Trump on. You know, it gets - I like the protest 'cause I thought that it showed that the show is that relevant, that it's that important to people. People are saying, no, he can't be on the show. They treat our show almost like it's a government institution. That's because it's still special to people. So it's exciting. When people don't care who's on the show - when people don't care Donald Trump's on the show, then that's the time to worry. But when people are passionate and people are - you know, they love the show that much that they don't want people that they don't want people that they don't like on it, you know, and it makes it exciting. I actually - if they didn't care, it would be worse.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Colin Jost and Michael Che, the co-anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Michael Che and Colin Jost, the anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. Let's get to an example of what you do on a regular week when Donald Trump isn't hosting. So there's a clip I want to play of you both from something you did on Weekend Update about gun control this season. And do you want to say a little bit about what was happening in the news that inspired this?
JOST: Well, there was - it was after the Oregon shooting. It was probably a week or two after that. But it was really - it started because there was constant media coverage of it and just constant debates about what to do about gun control.
GROSS: OK, so here's an excerpt of Weekend Update with my guests, Michael Che and Colin Jost.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
CHE: Look, here's a list of things that are harder to get than a gun - a driver's license, a purple belt in karate, Kevin Hart tickets, a GED, spray paint.
JOST: All right, well, here are things that are easier to get than a gun - herpes.
CHE: All right, why do you say that all the time?
JOST: I didn't prepare a list. Look, you know how hard it is to limit guns? Think about how hard it was in New York to limit sodas. Bloomberg was like, uh, maybe just don't drink soda out of a bucket? And people were like, he's trying to take our soda buckets.
CHE: Which brings me to my next point - you can't have whatever you want, all right? I know the forefathers said you have the right to own a gun. But they also said you could own people which, by the way, if I owned a whole field of jacked Africans, I'd probably want a dozen or so guns, too.
JOST: It's not supposed to cut to me after that.
CHE: Oh, no. It isn't. I told them to do that. Look, the Constitution - I was making a point.
CHE: The Constitution is a lot like our grandfather. He's wise. We love him, and he means well. But he's getting really, really old, and every once in a while he says something crazy and we got to go to the other room and discuss what we going do about it.
JOST: And, look, you know, as New Yorkers, I don't think that we should be telling the rest of the country how to deal with guns, OK? I don't have a gun. You don't have a gun.
JOST: Wait, you have a gun?
CHE: I mean...
JOST: Why do you have a gun?
CHE: I got a lot of sneakers, Colin. I mean, what you want me to do?
CHE: I walk home by myself, man.
GROSS: (Laughter) That's Colin Jost and Michael Che on Weekend Update. So Michael, do you have a gun?
CHE: (Laughter) I do have a lot of sneakers, though.
CHE: I don't have a gun.
JOST: That was a fun - that was a fun one to do because I think it was the first time that we kind of just tried doing a back and forth almost debate kind of between ourselves that came out of a very real just us talking through like, well, what do we think about this? And that was kind of a nice...
GROSS: Yeah, tell us more about that process.
JOST: Well, I think what - for us the more we want to do is make Weekend Update as much ours and in our voices as it can be. And so that's - whenever there's an existing segment on the show like that, I think, certainly for me when I started, I was like, oh, this is how this segment goes. This is the structure of it. But then as we start getting into it, you're like, oh, no. It's just - we have to figure out what it is again. Even though it's in an existing format, we have to rediscover what it means for us. And so, like, that - for us - that came from - one thing that we did was start just getting in a room and talking through how we feel about different things and that was the big issue that week. And that's just been helpful week to week for Michael and I just talk, like, kind of basically the way we would in normal life if we were trying to figure out jokes as comedians about a subject.
GROSS: So, you know, I'm thinking, like, I asked Michael Che if he had a gun. Is - Colin was everybody asking you if you have herpes (laughter)?
JOST: No one asked, but thank you, Terry.
JOST: I think people just know I don't. They just instinctively know I don't.
GROSS: So on Weekend Update, do you still use cue cards?
JOST: Yeah, the whole show.
GROSS: The whole show?
JOST: Every part of "SNL."
GROSS: Why is that? How come (laughter)? It seems so antiquated.
JOST: I don't know exactly what Lorne's reasoning is. I feel like everything's changing so much at our show all the time that I actually think you'd rather trust human error of getting the cards ready than computer error that if something messed up that it would be kind of a nightmare in a way that is - I don't know. I guess it's almost like a faith in humanity that they can get it better than a computer 'cause - under pressure, I think.
GROSS: What are some of the things that can go wrong with cue cards that wouldn't be going wrong with a teleprompter?
CHE: I could answer that.
CHE: I remember one time - a guy - one of the cue card holders had their thumb on the last word of a joke. And I couldn't read it until he moved it.
CHE: That's one thing that could absolutely happen. That's a lot of fun.
JOST: Someone - one time at the top - right at the beginning of Weekend Update, I turned to see my first joke and someone - like, in the audience dropped something and it, like, rolled at the cue card guy who then moved the card because, like, some object was going at him.
CHE: Yeah (laughter).
JOST: And so like I turned to the camera and there was basically, like, nothing there for a second which is pretty terrifying when you're like, OK, wait, I think I know what the first joke was. Like, you do know - we could probably almost do the entire thing without cue cards.
JOST: But you're just so trained to be - also it just helps focus you, like, where - literally where you're looking at the camera. So, you know, when it's suddenly not there, it's like a director not yelling action or something, you know?
CHE: Or like Brian Fellows - remember Tracy on Brian Bellows? The camel - there was like a camel on Brian Fellows, and he walked in front of the cue card and Tracy had to yell I can't see camel. Like, he couldn't see the last line.
CHE: So, you know, it's just - that happens.
JOST: That's one of many potential downsides of having a camel on a live set.
CHE: Yeah, but, like, we go through the cue cards before we go on the show and sometimes they'll - like, a whole word would be missing or a joke is changed, but it's still the same on the cue card or sometimes it's just written weird where, you know - you feel like there's a pause there but there's not really a pause there. Or even sometimes if it's written small, like sometimes I can't really make out the words that well. So I got to get them to write it bigger or put it - you know.
GROSS: What did you do that time when the cue card guy's thumb was over the joke - was over the punch line of the joke?
CHE: You kind of freeze a little bit, and, I mean, the show feels - every moment of this show feels like the longest moment of your life. So it probably - if you watched it - it probably was like a second of a hiccup or whatever or two seconds of a pickup, but then it was like an eternity. It felt like I had to actually SOS him from my - with blinking in Morse code blinking to let him know your thumb is on the freaking card. You have to move it. But, you know, it's - it feels like an eternity and it's the only thing that'll be in your head the entire time. Everything else could go right but that part is like death.
GROSS: My guests are Colin Jost and Michael Che. After we take a short break, we'll talk about why and how Che left "The Daily Show" after only three months to anchor Weekend Update. We'll also talk about how Jost and Che broke into comedy, and they'll each tell the first joke they remember doing on stage. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Colin Jost and Michael Che, the anchors for "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. They started anchoring together last season. Jost was "SNL's" head writer but stepped down from that position last month to focus on Update. Che started writing for "SNL" in 2013 but left last year to become a correspondent on "The Daily Show." Michael, when you were asked to co-anchor "Weekend Update" with Colin Jost, you had just started on "The Daily Show" as a correspondent. You'd been there three months (laughter).
GROSS: Was that a hard decision to make, whether to stay with "The Daily Show," where you just arrived, or go to "Saturday Night Live" for Update?
CHE: Oh, it was a very, very hard decision because, you know, I love "The Daily Show." You know, Jon was fantastic as a - even letting me consider it. You know, it was a really cool job. And also, the - you know, Weekend Update, you don't want to just to do it - it's not something that you just want to put on your resume. You want to do it right. You know, that's one of the reasons why I do comedy is because of, like, Norm's update and, you know, "SNL" is such a special thing to me, even - especially having worked there and knowing how important it is to the show. So I at first was just really debating could I do this right? Can I do it justice? Is it just something that, you know, I'm doing because it's possible? And then it just became, like, an exciting challenge. And, you know, it was kind of the best case scenario because I love the cast so much and I loved "SNL" so much. And then working with Colin was going to be so much fun, so it was, like, yeah, you kind of have to do it. I mean, how do you say no?
GROSS: I want to take a little detour here and play the last sketch, Michael, that you were on on "The Daily Show." And...
GROSS: ...It started out as a report that you were doing on Joe Biden. So here's Jon Stewart introducing you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")
JON STEWART: For more on Joe Biden's recent blunders, we're joined by senior casual racism correspondent Michael Che. Michael, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
STEWART: I've got to tell you - Hillary Clinton has to be overjoyed to see a challenger flame out like this.
CHE: Are you kidding, Jon? This is the first real threat to her campaign. I mean, sure, it's nice to have Jews and Asians on board. But if Joe Biden can sew up that old white racist vote, he'll be unstoppable.
CHE: You've got a line, man.
STEWART: You really think this was a bit we were doing? The Joe Biden thing - you think that was a bit, a segment?
STEWART: All right...
STEWART: A lot of you don't know this - today is Michael Che's last day on "The Daily Show."
STEWART: I know, but he is going to be co-anchoring Weekend Update on "SNL," so we're very proud of you - very, very proud.
STEWART: It's terrific.
CHE: Thank you.
STEWART: And we're very excited for Michael. And so we sort of conducted this whole bit - we concocted this whole bit so that he wouldn't know, you know, we were planning a little something for him. Tonight marks kind of the end of an era, and we get to say farewell. You know, it reminds me when John Oliver left in the same way, and it was...
STEWART: I guess it was...
CHE: He was here for seven years, man.
CHE: I've been here for, like, three months.
STEWART: You were here for...
STEWART: ...Actually 58 business days. You know, Michael...
STEWART: ...I will never forget the first time young Michael Che showed up here at "The Daily Show," a fresh-faced kid, must've been - what? - 31?
CHE: Yeah man, I'm still 31.
CHE: It was, like - it was June.
GROSS: That's really - that's so hilarious.
CHE: You know I've never seen that?
GROSS: Oh, you're kidding. You have to see it.
JOST: Because you were in it.
GROSS: It's so funny.
CHE: I never watched it. I never watched it.
GROSS: So were you surprised? Like, did you really think it was a Joe Biden sketch, or were you in on it?
CHE: No, no, I was in on it. But I wasn't in on the whole thing. It was actually supposed to be way more elaborate. But we just - 'cause we - that was probably the craziest time in my very short, young life, I would just have to say just because I remember, like, coming from "SNL," like I had to run from "SNL" to "The Daily Show" to tape that...
JOST: Oh, yeah. That's right.
CHE: ...'Cause we were still doing, like test shows and stuff. So I had to, like, run, and it goes directly into wardrobe and then run through that. It was really, really hectic and really crazy. And like I said, like, that - "The Daily Show" - I mean, Jon Stewart - he was just such a welcoming, great dude. And they were really, really cool about everything. And I really appreciated them for even doing that episode. They didn't have to do that. I was only there three months. It was more of a - the joke was that I didn't deserve it, you know? So that's what made it so much fun, but it was cool...
GROSS: The whole segment ended with a card saying Michael, we hardly used you - 2014 to 2014.
CHE: It was fantastic. It was a lot of fun.
GROSS: So Jon Stewart was not angry with you for leaving after such a short period of time?
CHE: I don't think Jon Stewart has an angry bone in his body. You know, it's a unique fraternity to be a standup. I think everybody understands, you know, opportunity and everybody - especially at the top - are genuinely rooting for you.
GROSS: Colin, like Seth Meyers and Tina Fey before you...
CHE: You're white.
JOST: It sounds like it was dubbed in.
GROSS: You were a head writer when you became...
JOST: This is radio. They don't know, Michael.
GROSS: You were a head writer...
JOST: They hear my voice.
GROSS: You were a head writer when you became a Weekend Update anchor. And you stayed a head writer. But last month, you stepped down as head writer and just remained as Weekend Update co-anchor. Why did you step down?
JOST: It was for this whole season. I mean, it's - you know, Lorne asked me about it last summer just going back to do update. And he was like, do you still also want to do head writing? And at the time, I just didn't know what was going to happen with Weekend Update. So I was like yeah, I still want to do it and - you know, and just to see even what this part of the job's going to be, the Weekend Update part. And then this year, we talked again, and I was like yeah, I'd rather just do Update. And, I mean, I've done - like, the head writing job is stressful. And a lot of the job - the writing side, like, I do the same exact amount of writing that I did last year. But the managerial part of the job of dealing with a staff and managing a staff is very stressful and is very not performance - it runs contrary to how you think as a performer. You know, it's much more you're thinking about the logistics of the show, which is not - doesn't, like, really free your brain as a performer. So that was the decision, and, you know, I had done - I had been a head writer for three or four years. And then I was a writing supervisor for, like, three years before that. So I had been doing to be some version of that job for, like, six years. And it burns you out. You kind of get - it's not an easy job to think creatively and then also have to think logistically or producorially about the show. And so I feel a lot more relief and a new joy about my job this year because I'm thinking - I'm focusing on the creative elements again. And it kind of gives me a second wind at our show because I'm not - I don't feel like the burden of having to do those other things, too. So it's been great.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here. My guests are Colin Jost and Michael Che, the co-anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us my guests are the co-anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update, Colin Jost and Michael Che. I'd like to talk to you each a bit biographically. Colin, let me start with you. You grew up in Staten Island. Your mother is, or was, the doctor for the head of the New York City Fire Department or for the whole New York City Fire Department.
JOST: Yeah, she still is. She's the chief medical officer for the whole New York City Fire Department. So she...
JOST: ...She oversees all the - yeah, it's a cool job. She oversees all the - the entire medical office, all the medical staff. She's done it...
GROSS: Was she that when you were growing up?
JOST: She - I don't remember - she was the first female medical officer for the Fire Department in history and then became the first chief - first female Chief Medical Officer. I want to say in the early '90s. But so - she's definitely been doing that job, she's been running it for, you know, 25 years, something like that. And she - it was really important for her. My grandfather was a fireman. My great-grandfather was a fireman, both Staten Island. All my cousins, who, like, live on my block growing up, were firemen. My uncle works with the Fire Department dispatch. It's like a - that was my whole Staten Island world. And so, for my mom, that was like the job she most wanted to do because it was - it felt like she was keeping it in the family, but also she was a doctor, which was something she loved. You know, she loves working with people.
GROSS: You must have also been exposed to some pretty terrifying stories as a child about burn victims, and, you know, firemen or just individuals who were killed by a fire or by falling debris.
JOST: Yeah, yeah, and well, she - you know, my mom is - a part of her job is she has to tell the families of any firefighter that dies in the line of duty. So she was - you know, I think there's a lot of days she came home that were rough because she was going through that, and is still close with a lot of the families that she went through with that. And that's just - I think part of why I'm in comedy today is because of the Fire Department because that's - that was my mom - my mom always had an outlook on life that was trying to see the best parts of it, and trying to make light of things as much as possible because she was dealing with so much heartache. And so I think that's why naturally I gravitate towards people who like joking about things. Like, I can't imagine - I can't imagine dating someone that doesn't have a good sense of humor because you're going to go through so much stuff in life, and with having a family, like, it's so hard to imagine not - not having that to get you through it.
GROSS: And Michael, let me ask you about your childhood. And it strikes me you're from very different backgrounds. Michael, you grew up in a housing project in New York City.
CHE: Yeah, lot of fires.
JOST: Also a lot of fires.
CHE: Also a lot of fires.
GROSS: So I read when you were 14 your mother basically told you to leave home.
CHE: (Laughter) Yeah.
CHE: She was cool, too.
CHE: I mean, I was a strong choice for a woman. You know what I'm saying? No, I'm kidding.
GROSS: What was that about?
CHE: I had a little rebellious streak, you know? I was just a man-child, you know? I say man-child meaning I thought I was grown, and a lot of the choices I was making were for adults. And, you know, she was, like, well, you can't do that here. So we didn't really get along that well for the teenage years of my life. But I lived with my dad, I moved in with my dad and went to art school and figured out a little bit more about myself then.
GROSS: So initially, like, in the art school period you were thinking you'd be, like, a painter or a graphic designer?
CHE: No, I wanted to go to art school because they had - there was like 7-1 girl-to-guy ratio.
CHE: This is the - I'm just going to tell you the truth. I was 14, 15 years old. That's what I was thinking. And I went to LaGuardia High School, and they had a dance department and a drama department. And I was, like, yeah man, that's going to be fun. And, to be honest, it wasn't. No, it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. It was, like, actually, as a New York City kid, it was the first time I felt like a New York City kid because I got to meet people from all over the city from all different backgrounds. When you grow up in the city, New York is so big that you can kind of stay in your own little corner of the city and think that that's it because you don't need anything. You don't have to venture out, you don't have to touch the boroughs. You can kind of stay in your neighborhood and there's everything there.
CHE: And I felt like when I was in high school - (laughter) when I was in high school, that's where I started to meet kids from Long Island, and from Queens, and from Brooklyn and, you know, kind of - I kind of learned about - from different classes from the Upper West Side from, you know, poorer than me, richer than me, famous. So it was kind of - that was kind of a cool place to learn that oh, there's other things I could be instead of a rapper or a basketball player or a vodka connoisseur.
GROSS: So part of what you did for a while was illustrate T-shirts and sell them on the street. What kinds of designs did you put on the T-shirts?
CHE: I would do all - fun, like, portraits and silly things, you know, that seemed like a good idea at the time.
JOST: I didn't know this about this Michael.
CHE: You did know this. Did you not?
CHE: Oh, absolutely. I used to paint pictures - what happened was, I used to draw and paint pictures. And some of my friends would be, like, yo, you should put that on a T-shirt because that's where their brain would go.
CHE: And so I would do it, and then I started selling them to my friends. And he was, like, you could - you could just go on the street and sell these to, like, other people. You know, everybody thinks of a quick hustle, you know.
JOST: I think T-shirts are the most universal American dream.
CHE: It's the most - they always say - I mean, in comedy, they're, like, yo, you should make T-shirts.
JOST: Oh my God, this is going to do everything.
CHE: I don't know what it is about T-shirts.
JOST: I still think that. (Laughter).
JOST: I'm realizing that now. I'm, like, put it on a T-shirt.
CHE: It's always T-shirts. So, yeah, it was so weird. So I would just make, like, put a bunch of, you know, stuff that I like to draw and I print them on T-shirts and sell them on the street and make some money.
GROSS: Give us one example.
CHE: You get to meet famous people. Well, of what?
GROSS: Something you put on a T-shirt.
CHE: Oh, I don't know, like, portraits of famous people, like, you know, or drawings of sneakers. I always loved sneakers. Oh, sometimes I'd...
GROSS: Who - what famous person was worthy of one of your T-shirts?
CHE: What famous person? I think the first one I actually, oddly enough, the first one I ever did was Richard Pryor. And this was before I even thought about trying stand-up comedy. But the first one was Richard Pryor. And I think that one probably sold the most. I would sell those a lot. People would really - because you didn't see that many of those kinds of T-shirts.
JOST: Like, how many do you think you sold?
CHE: I couldn't - I don't know.
JOST: Like hundreds?
CHE: Oh yeah - well, like, for - like, on a weekend - on a weekend I would probably sell, like, anywhere between 50 and 100 depending on the weekend.
JOST: Wow, OK.
GROSS: So after your career selling your T-shirts on the street, what made you think you could do stand-up? Or what made you want to even try?
CHE: Well, I realized that I didn't have a career.
CHE: And it was, you know, I was like 25, 26 or so, which is a very strange age because you feel like you're as old as you'll ever be when you're 25, 26. I mean, I have friends that are starting to have kids, and get married, and they're settling in, and they're out of college and they have all the degrees. It's really - all my friends are starting to be grownups, and I was, like, yo, I'm selling T-shirts on the street. You know, this is weird. I got to do something. And I'm having, like, these odd jobs to, you know, raise money. And I was in a really, really tight spot. So I was just in a - such a funk that I was, like, I've just got to start trying things that I've always wanted to do. And I've always wanted to do comedy, I just didn't know how. I wasn't a performer. So I was, like, I don't know how I would ever get into comedy, you know? And there's no college you can go to, and every...
JOST: Clown college.
CHE: There's clown college, that's true. But I wanted to be a little bit different. I wanted to be slightly better than a clown. You know, improv classes were too expensive, so I just started going to open mics. And the day I did it, I did, like, three because I just loved it so much. It was so much fun. And it wasn't good, it was just fun to do. It felt like a release. It felt like something that I could get. So that's - that was it. After that I didn't think about anything else.
GROSS: My guests are Michael Che and Colin Jost, the anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Michael Che and Colin Jost, who co-anchor Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live."
Can I ask you each to share one of the first jokes you ever told at the microphone?
CHE: Do you remember?
JOST: I remember. I remember the first one I wrote.
CHE: I don't remember the first one, but I do remember one that I was using, like, a lot, and it was bad. But go ahead (laughter). You can go.
JOST: Well, one - the first one I wrote was - it's basically the whitest origin story for a joke, but I was playing golf.
JOST: And it was - there was, like - it was, like - I was out in Arizona, and I was like...
CHE: And you're what - 20?
JOST: Something like that - 21 - 21. And - maybe 20. And I played golf, and it was like a - the golf course was built on an Indian burial ground. And...
CHE: That's the whitest thing you could ever say.
JOST: Right. And there was a sign. There was, like, one section where if you hit a golf ball into it, there was a section that said, if you hit a golf ball in here, please leave the golf ball as a sign of respect (laughter). And I remember thinking, like, oh, I'm sure that there's a native - a dead Native American chief who's thinking, wow, he left his golf ball on my grave; white people finally respect us.
JOST: And then it was - the rule was, basically, like, if you hit a minority group with a golf ball, like, at least let them keep the golf ball.
JOST: Like the whitest rule.
CHE: That's actually good.
JOST: And then, I was - like, that got me through the first 10 horrible open mics. I was like, there's something there, right? I don't know.
GROSS: And Michael, what about you?
CHE: Mine was nowhere near that. Mine was something about how Jehovah's Witnesses don't answer the door for - they don't celebrate Halloween, which is weird because that's the one time people open the door for you, and they give you candy.
CHE: It was a real social satire.
JOST: And you fit in the most. You're like, oh yeah, there's a...
CHE: Yeah. I would think that would be their greatest holiday, is Halloween.
JOST: Yeah, that's like their - that's like their Christmas.
CHE: That's their Christmas.
JOST: Everyone - look at everyone being so friendly.
CHE: (Laughter). And also Christmas.
JOST: I guess also Christmas (laughter).
GROSS: So one more question. As the anchors of Weekend Update, what is now the best, and what is now the worst day of the week on a typical week?
CHE: Oh, that's a good question.
JOST: Well, I think - well, there - to me, like, Saturday - Friday and Saturday for update anchors, I think, is the most exciting because that's when you're really getting the segment together. Like, early in the week, you can kind of brainstorm stuff, but the news changes so much over the course of the week that...
JOST: ...You're kind of not fully into it till at least Thursday, just because you don't - you don't know how stories are going to change.
CHE: One a.m. Sunday morning is pretty cool.
CHE: One a.m. Sunday - because it's just such a release. I always like it. And doing SNL is like - feels like planning a wedding every week, you know? It's, like, very special, and you get one real shot at it. And you just want it to go - you just want it to be done, you know? Like, not - even whether it goes well or doesn't go well, you just want to say, ah, we did it. We put it all together. We put a lot of work into it, and we made it to air, and we finished the show. And that feels like an accomplishment in itself, you know, because it's just so much to put a show like that together. And it's so exciting, and it's so much tension that, at 1 a.m., you feel a big release - like, we did it.
GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us today. Thank you, Colin Jost and Michael Che.
CHE: Thank you.
JOST: Thanks for having us.
CHE: This was a lot of fun.
GROSS: Colin Jost and Michael Che are the anchors of "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GREY'S ANATOMY")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character). This is bad. This is very, very bad.
GROSS: My guest will be Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the TV shows "Scandal" and "Grey's Anatomy" and the executive producer of "How To Get Away With Murder." We'll talk about lots of things, ranging from why her first series is set in a hospital, to why she adopted three children as a single mother. I hope you'll join. We'll close with music by the great New Orleans R&B songwriter and performer, Allen Toussaint. He died yesterday while on tour in Spain. He was 77. Toussaint's hit songs include "Working In The Coal Mine," "Mother-In-Law," "It's Raining," "Lipstick Traces" and "Yes We Can Can." I had the chance to interview Alan Toussaint a few times. And on Friday, we'll feature highlights of his FRESH AIR appearances, including one recorded in 1988 when he was at the piano. Here's an excerpt of that 1988 broadcast with him performing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Allen Toussaint, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
ALLEN TOUSSAINT: Thank you.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you - I'm going to start with a request (laughter) to play one of - one of the songs - one of the first songs that was a big hit for you that you wrote, "Mother-In-Law."
TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes. It was one of our very first ones.
GROSS: This was originally recorded by Ernie K-Doe.
GROSS: Would you play - play it for us your way?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER-IN-LAW")
TOUSSAINT: (Singing) The worst person I know - mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She worries me so - mother-in-law, mother-in-law. Every time I open my mouth, she steps in and try to put me out. How could you stoop so low, mother-in-law? Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. Why, Satan could have been her name - mother-in-law, mother-in-law. To me, they're about the same - mother-in-law, mother-in-law. If she'd leave us alone, we would have a happy home. Sent from down below - mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. I come home with my pay - mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She asked me what I made - mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She thinks her advice is a contribution, but if she would leave, that would be the solution. And don't come back no more, mother-in-law. Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law.
GROSS: We'll hear more of that 1988 Alan Toussaint performance and interview, as well as other interviews I recorded with him, Friday in our memorial broadcast.
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