You knew COVID-19 took the life out of New York City when morgues were overcrowding, landmark businesses went bankrupt and Broadway reverted from spectacle back into pavement. So, let’s call a spade a spade: Saturday Night Live without the "live" is just another Saturday night. When the cast of Saturday Night Live held the final three episodes of its 45th season over webcams in April and early May for Saturday Night Live At Home, it was more impressive than familiar. The humor was still sharp, but the appeal was more in seeing how they’d fit a bigger than TV show in Zoom chats.
That changes this Saturday as the 46th season premiere is set to air with Chris Rock as the host, Megan Thee Stallion as the musical guest, and COVID-19 as the unofficial executive producer.
“COVID makes it different as far as the health concerns and all of that. We’re shooting to have it be as close to the show that people recognize as possible. It’s probably going to be more pre-tapings because it’s easier to do that six feet away.” Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Redd told Complex.
Redd has been a cast member on Saturday Night Live for three years and has attested to how exhausting it is to put on such a grand production every week. For him, the show’s return is more than a grasp at an almost forgotten normalcy, it’s an escape from the unforgettable trauma reruns of 2020. Before he uttered a single therapeutic joke on the new season, Redd was helping people deal with this new normal by starting his COVID-19 Protest Relief Fund in June following the killing of George Floyd. In less than a month, his fund raised more han $350,000 to help protesters get masks, pay their rent, get tested for COVID-19 and essentially exercise their American right to protest without losing their American life.
“I want to continue to be a resource and continue to be involved. I feel like we need more of that. I hope to inspire more people to do that,” Redd said. “It takes nothing to start a GoFundMe and just do them. The more people that do it, the better place we’ll be. The protests are happening all of the time and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”
Redd spoke to Complex on September 29, which he says was the first day since the pandemic hit that the cast members had a table read for the new season. He spoke about how they put together SNL during a pandemic, how Megan Thee Stallion’s Tory Lanez issues are not off the table for jokes, and what’s funny about 2020.
How has it been preparing to get this season of Saturday Night Live during the pandemic?
It’s been a lot of pre-writing and getting your nose stuck up with stuff. We’re testing all of the time to get in the building. It’s a lot of making sure everyone is doing things safely. A lot of connecting over Zoom and whenever we can in the building to create angles on what to write for this season. We’re excited to be back. I personally missed everybody. It’s been real healing to connect with folks and find some jokes in all of these things. I feel we all needed this.
Everything shut down in late March. When did you know the course of this new season was being changed?
We didn’t see any of this coming. When they shut down the city the first time during the pandemic that was my first week off, so I hadn’t slept in three weeks. When I woke up I was like, “Wait, I can’t go outside?” It was a kind of a shock, and then the at-home shows happened on the fly. With this, we were getting emails that it might come back but nobody knew how and everybody was focused on making it as safe as possible. It’s been a week-to-week thing. This past couple of weeks, we really got our heads wrapped around the idea of coming back and really trying to write and prepare for it. We’re taking it day by day. It’s not normal but it’s a resemblance of what it used to be, except with face masks and double masks. So many masks (laughs).
This week is our first week really writing and doing a full-on table read with the hosts and everything. We go in today to do our first table read of the season. It seems like a regular writer’s night like any other season, it just everyone is in the comfort of their own homes over Zoom. There’s a lot more Zooms involved in this.
How different will this SNL be compared to episodes pre-COVID-19?
What’s going to be different is people are going to be truly tuning in because they’re going to be tuning in to what’s going on right now. It’s maybe the biggest election we’ve had in history. It’s different on a smaller scale because we’ll have to have less people that are there for our shows. Instead of 300, we’re going to have 100 people. COVID makes it different as far as the health concerns and all of that. We’re shooting to have it be as close to the show that people recognize as possible. It’s probably going to be more pre-tapings because it’s easier to do that six feet away. It may be a couple more pre-tapes than usual, but hopefully people see the show on Saturday it’ll look as close to what y’all are used to as possible.
The world is pretty much working under two topics: the pandemic and the election. How will that affect what you all discuss this season?
The beauty of the show is we can be really topical about what is going on and touch on everything as it happens. It’s like a regular challenge of anything else. We were getting exhausted by everything Trump was doing but we still pulled things outside of that. I think it’s beautiful that we can touch on the things going on, but we all are comics who are silly and want relief from all those things. As much as the pandemic is everywhere, I still have my really silly ass ideas to take our minds off of it for five seconds. I think a good mixture of that is going make the show fun to watch.
How do you balance the humor with the politics?
There are a lot of comedic minds who think like that. I feel like we all have our strengths. It’s really about the collaborative effort of the building of the show and how it works. We shoot stuff at the wall until stuff comes together. A lot of it is, “Yo, that’s the best idea we could think of? That’s what we’re laughing at? Let’s put it out.” That’s the beauty of it; you just take a shot. Sometimes they land, sometimes they miss, but you took the shot. Sometimes it comes down to that.
Comedians know how to find the humor in the hurt. What is the most absurd thing you’ve seen happen during the pandemic that would be good for an SNL joke?
There are a couple of things that come to mind when you ask me that. People are supposed to be socially distant. I live in Harlem and as people were getting used to staying six feet away, I saw two people fight about not staying six feet from each other while being in each other’s faces. They were like, “Hey, stay six feet from me. Don’t tell me how far I should be.” They were both breaking the rules while trying to enforce them (laughs).
Another example is, I was moving and I ordered some movers from this moving company and one dude showed up to help me move my couches and everything. I was like, “I ordered movers with an ’s’. That means several.” But, one dude came up like, “I’ll move that couch.” I’m like, “By yourself?” So many things have happened in this pandemic that is funny to us. I was also dating somebody and hadn’t seen the bottom of her face. I had only seen her with a mask. There’s always something to find to flip things on its head. But, it’s also a good way to put things like voting and how important everything is in the zeitgeist.
The season premiere has Chris Rock and Megan Thee Stallion. How does that lineup change the sort of show we’ll get?
I love when we get exciting hosts. This kind of week is what I call a “Black ass week” because you got a smart, political comic and one of the hottest artists in the world whom I personally love. It excites me because you can go anywhere with the comedy. We can twerk for votes (laughs). We don’t know where we going to go with it. It’s really exciting when you have someone as smart and hilarious as Chris, and somebody as talented as Megan who is also down to do comedy. It just opens the door to go anywhere with things. I’m really interested to see what we do on Saturday. I don’t want to talk too much and tell you too much (laughs).
I don’t want you to. I’m a journalist, so I actually would love for you to do that.
Megan’s issues with Tory Lanez are probably the biggest issues right now. Is that off-limits from jokes on SNL this Saturday?
(Laughs) Oh, man. That is a really big story. I will say you’re going to have to wait on that one. I can’t speak too much into that. Anything is possible. Nothing is off the table, right now, from what I know. We’re going to have to see.