9 Things You Might Not Know About SNL Architect Lorne Michaels

He Turned Down His Own Show

Lorne Michaels casts a heavy shadow over the modern comedy scene. By creating Saturday Night Live he had a hand in forming the comic sensibilities of every young person that the weekly show came into contact with. No matter who your favorite comic is, they’ve probably been influenced by Lorne Michaels’s work with SNL. But this silver-haired Canadian is a bit of a mystery and Lorne Michaels facts are hard to come by. He rarely opens up about his life outside of show business and even when he’s talking about SNL, Michaels can be guarded. As enigmatic as he is, we still managed to put together some of the most interesting Lorne Michaels trivia that covers everything from his pre-SNL life to his thoughts on Kanye West.

Some of these Lorne Michaels fun facts were gathered from quotes about the longtime producer of Saturday Night Live from the comedians and performers that he employed, but some of the most interesting pieces of Lorne Michaels information come from the man himself. Despite giving a scant amount of interviews, the things he has said about himself are wildly interesting, and offer a rare glimpse inside one of the minds of one of the most comedically gifted talents of the 20th century.

1. He Doesn’t Get Academic About Comedy

He Doesn't Get Academic About Comedy

Even though Michaels exudes a kind of East Coast academic aura, he’s quick to make sure people know that he’s not really some comedy egghead. “I’m always very fearful when academics get ahold of comedy. Comedy is such a clear thing—people laugh or they don’t laugh. It’s involuntary.”

2. He Likens Comedians to Monkeys

He Likens Comedians to Monkeys

In what is hopefully a term of endearment, Michaels once told Marc Maron, and more recently told Jerry Seinfeld that he sees all comedians as monkeys in a zoo. According to Michaels, “People go to the zoo to see the lions, but they always end up watching the monkeys.”

3. There are Only a Few People That He Regrets Not Hiring

There are Only a Few People That He Regrets Not Hiring

In over 40 years of directing Saturday Night Live (save for 5 years in the ’80s), Michaels has seen enough comedic talent to never sit through another audition again, and in that time he’s passed on some people whom he regrets not picking up. Among the exalted cast offs are Lisa Kudrow, Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carell. “There were lots of people who you’d see how brilliant they were,” Michaels told Time, “but you knew on some level that it wasn’t going to work.” How does Michaels live with the loss? “No one gets it all right.”

4. He Loves It When Athletes Host the Show

This is actually shocking, but according to long time cast member Kevin Nealon, Michaels absolutely loves it when athletes appear on Saturday Night Live. “Lorne Michaels loved them because they always knew where to hit their mark because they’re used to being told where to go on the field. When you tell them to go right there, they’re gonna be there.”

5. Michaels Respects Kanye’s Crazed Artistry

In early 2016, some surreptitiously recorded audio from behind the scenes at SNL captured Kanye West having what many called “a meltdown” over people touching his set. It seemed like this could be the end of SNL’s fruitful relationship with the rapper.When a reporter asked Michaels about the outburst at the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot premiere he actually complimented Kanye, saying, “That happened in his dressing room. Kanye’s been on the show a lot of years and it’s always different. He’s an artist, you know? A great artist.”

6. He’s a Registered Independent

He's a Registered Independent

Saturday Night Live has always been a place you can go to get some level political comedy, and it turns out that it’s because Michaels doesn’t prescribe to any specific political agenda. “Our job—and it sounds too grand to say and none of us ever say it—is speaking truth to power. I’m registered as an Independent, not because everything that we do would be undermined if we were partisan—Jon Stewart has that role. Us? Theoretically, whoever it is in power, we’re against them.”

7. Michaels Can Be Funny in a Stressful Situation

During Louis C.K.’s second appearance on Saturday Night Live the comedian was pushing to perform a 12 minute monologue, something that had never been done before, and Michaels said no. C.K. flipped his wig and tensions started to escalate. Louis C.K. remembers, “I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. I thought it was pretty good. And f*ck you.’ I was really mad.” To which Lorne responded, “I’ll give you seven and nobody’s ever done seven.” When C.K. threatened to go long Lorne responded with a gem of a burn. “[If you go long] we’ll know that you’re very undisciplined and unprofessional.” If you watch the show the monologue is just under 8 minutes

8. John Belushi Got Him Into the White House Without I.D.

John Belushi Got Him Into the White House Without I.D.

While appearing on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, Michaels tells a story that could have only happened in the 1970s. Michaels, John Belushi, and Dan Akroyd had been invited to the White House to meet Gerald Ford, and of course John Belushi didn’t bring any I.D. “I said, ‘You don’t have I.D.?’ Then the security guard looks up and notices that it’s John [Belushi] and said, ‘I know who he is, it’s fine.'”

9. He Turned Down His Own Show

He Turned Down His Own Show

In the early 2000s, it seemed like anything was possible, especially in the world of reality TV. Producers found Michaels so interesting that they offered him “a lot of money” to host his own Apprentice-style series for NBC. “It was the Scott Sassa era at NBC, and they wanted me to do a Trump thing. I would have liked the money, but I didn’t want to be ‘that.’ I can’t have cameras in here between dress and air. I need that freedom.” As awful as this show sounds it would have been interesting to see the pilot.