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What do Sarah Palin, the beaches of Normandy, and a woman with two vaginas all have in common? None of them were off-limits at Irvine Auditorium this March when Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live head writer and popular “Weekend Update” host, was the Social Planning and Events Committee Connaissance speaker. 

The event, which was moderated by theater-arts professor Marcia Ferguson and included time for audience questions, had Meyers fielding queries ranging from the impact of satire on news media to a dating proposal from a Penn student.

But it wasn’t long before the conversation turned toward the infamous and eerily authentic Tina Fey-as-Sarah Palin election-campaign parodies from 2008, which Meyers co-wrote. 

Those sketches achieved such instant popularity that Palin herself appeared in an episode, on the condition that the scripts be submitted to her for approval prior to the show.

Meyers laughed. “It was almost like Normandy. You know those soldiers at the front aren’t going to make it, so you send the most provocative jokes to be killed off first, and then you can get away with a lot more later.”

Don’t mistake all the laughter for flippancy, though; Meyers takes his comedy seriously. The SNL workweek contains a single off day and one Tuesday-to-Wednesday all-night writing session, which typically leads not only to delirium, but also to some of the show’s most notable sketches.

Take MacGruber. The popular recurring bit (currently being adapted into a feature film) is a parody of the MacGyver television show in which special-operations agent MacGruber must deactivate a ticking bomb with household objects but becomes increasingly distracted by personal issues. Said Meyers, “You don’t write MacGruber first thing in the morning. You write MacGruber after 24 hours of no sleep.”

Meyers insisted that the work is well worth the opportunity of doing what he loves: sending us into stitches. He closed with advice to those who may want to follow a similar path into comedy: “In the moments before you start making money for what you do, create a lot of product, get stage time, do something self-motivating because you never know when the lightning’s going to strike.”

—Ty Russell C’11

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