While the majority of last weekend’s Saturday Night Live premiere was met with a tepid response, one sketch stood out from the rest thanks to Adam Driver’s committed performance as rage-filled, decrepit oil baron Abraham H. Parnassus. As anyone in comedy knows, a good sketch starts with the writing, and this particular sketch was penned by new SNL hire Eli Mandel, who was in the midst of enjoying his first whirlwind week on staff at the late-night institution. Recently, Vulture sat down with Mandel to chat about the rare experience of getting a sketch on the air on his first episode.
“I got hired like two weeks ago. So, when I heard it was going to be Adam Driver, I was thinking about things for him. I thought he would probably be very good at my weird oil baron thing,” Mandel says, after explaining that the earliest iteration of the character originated in an improv scene he did five years earlier in Chicago, albeit in a much more truncated form. Though the essence of the character goes back a long way, Mandel credits Driver with really helping bring it to life in the finished sketch. “It’s 150 percent Adam Driver doing it and being extremely good at acting. I lucked out so hard with him.”
One would assume your first week as a writer at SNL is a bit hectic. You’re still learning people’s names, trying to remember your way around the studio, and you’re expected to write TV-quality sketch comedy. Luckily, as Mandel tells Vulture, he didn’t have to do it alone:
They go into Lorne’s office and choose which sketches are going to be put on. Mine was put on. And then I didn’t know what to do. They assigned Bryan Tucker — a more senior writer there who’s great and a Very Funny Comedy Man — and he took me through the production process. He showed me where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do and answered all my questions. He helped me out with literally everything, because I did not know what was happening. From there, I met with the production team, all the designers, and they were great. They truly crushed it.
We would have to agree. You can check out the full interview here, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at how SNL writers decide what kind of bird is going to get crushed by a cane on live television.
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