In 1975, the Peter Paul Candy Manufacturing Company, the New Haven candy company responsible for Almond Joys and Mounds (and also another stop on the Connecticut school kid field trip circuit), launched the sale of York Peppermint Patties nationwide. The candy with a peppermint flavored soft center enrobed in dark chocolate was originally made in 1920 in York, PA (hence the name) by the York Cone Company and sold regionally. When Peter Paul bought the company in the early seventies, it had eyes on national possibilities. It launched the candy with the famous catchphrase of “Get the Sensation.” Peter Paul would later be sold to the Cadbury Schweppes Company which eventually sold to the Hershey Company which continues to manufacture the York Peppermint Patty today where it remains one of the top selling candies in the world.
Also in 1975, just down the road on I-95, a new television show was being launched at the unusual time slot of 11:30 on Saturday Night. Moreover, the show would be broadcast live. It would feature a young cast of improvisational comedic actors who were deemed too much and not ready for prime time. If York Peppermint Patties wanted us to “get the sensation”, the folks at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center were creating the sensation. That sensation was Saturday Night Live.
How’s that for parity? And to bring it all together, we were going to see Saturday Night Live in person on Peppermint Patty Day.
We arrived in the city at about 7 PM. We ended up getting a late start thanks to the extra snow that had come the night before and just general delays when it comes to leaving our house. That led us into some traffic which got us there later than we wanted, but we still arrived with plenty of time. We had to be at the studio no later than 10:15. I had booked a hotel on Priceline.com right in the area of Rockefeller Center, so I knew once we got there, it would only be a short walk away. I did one of those bids on a hotel where they don’t tell you where you are until after you pay. Risky, but a good value. We ended up at the Royalton on 44th and 6th which ended up being perfect and only 6 blocks away from SNL. When we were checking in, I asked the clerk if he could make sure we had a king bed (I was worried that they would put us in two double beds which is one of those things you can’t control on your bidding). He ended up giving us up an upgrade so we got our king bed but also a ginormous corner room on the 15th floor. I felt that was a good omen for how this night would go. After we settled in, we went downstairs and had a drink in their lobby (they had a roaring fire area in a swankified atmosphere), and we just kind of sat there by the fire, sipping beer and wine and waiting in anticipation. We were excited. We couldn’t wait for it all to start. That’s when I remembered I still had to celebrate Peppermint Patty Day. Uh oh.
My plan had been to pick some peppermint patties up on our ride, but we only stopped once and I kind of forget to go get them. I remembered this after we were back on the road, and I figured no big deal. You pass by all kinds of bodegas and news carts in NYC that sell candy. Picking some up would be easy. It was time to get to show, so we paid our bill and left the lobby. As we walked, I kept my eyes open for any peppermint patty sellers. Nothing. Plenty of halal for sale. Even some Chik-filet. But no candy stores. Suddenly we were at the studio entrance on 50th street. We were there! But I had no peppermint patties. It was just 9:30, so we had a little time, so we decided to walk up a bit to see if we could find anything. We turned on to Rockefeller Plaza which overlooks the famous skating rink and which sometimes supports a giant Christmas tree and there on the other side we saw the welcoming sign of a Duane Reed pharmacy. We dashed across the plaza. This is probably one of the most famous spots in the City. There were people scattered throughout the plaza taking pictures of the buildings, the rink, the Today Show studio. It was tourist heaven. And in the middle of it, there was Dan and Lola, darting across it all towards a Duane Reed as if that was the finish line on The Amazing Race. I found the York Peppermint Patties right away, paid for them and then triumphantly marched back to the studio entrance. We did it!
We stopped at the doors, took a deep breath and then anxiously pushed our way through the revolving doors. We had entered Rockefeller Center. When I won the tickets, there was always an element of disbelief about it. Not just a disbelief that I actually won, but a more real question as to the legitimacy of the email I received that said I won. It looked kind of amateurish. It had the SNL logo on there and pretty specific instructions, but you weren’t quite sure it was legit. I’m sure they can’t make the email too complex otherwise it might get filtered to Spam, but it was just odd enough to make you question it. The instructions said to bring a copy of the letter with you, so I had one printed out. We both still had the fear that we were victims of an elaborate scam. We were in the lobby that had a few random people meandering about and a security guard immediately asked us what we wanted. I told him and he pointed us around the corner to another security desk. We made it past the first checkpoint. When we got to the second desk, the guard asked to see our letter which he only glanced at and then sent us to another line at the bottom of a staircase. Here the person gave our letter a closer look, but then let us pass and we walked up the stairs. At the top, we were met by another security person who directed us towards the back of another line.
We were a little more hopeful now that our tickets were legit, but we still had doubts. You could tell we were getting closer. The walls in this area were decorated with giant video screens that kept flashing old Saturday Night Live still pictures from the show. John Belushi. Kristen Wiig. Tina Fey. George Carlin. This was getting real. As we waited for the next checkpoint, a girl was walking around checking off names on a clipboard. I knew this would be the true indication if this was all a giant farce or if we were legit. She asked us our name and I told her. She went down her list and found my name. We were in. And then for the cherry on top, she told us, “I remember your email!” She said that there was over 750 entries and she remembered mine. I was noticed. Better than that though, we were in. When we made it through that line, we were shuffled to a counter where we were given a wristband and actual tickets. They sent us through a security check where we walked through a metal detector. When I emptied my pockets here, I had to take out the peppermint patties and when the guard saw them in the key basket, he said it was a good thing I took them out because the metal foil would set off the detector. I gave him a “really?” response because I didn’t think it would, although I really didn’t care either way. But perhaps for his own peace of mind, he had me go through the metal detector while holding the peppermint patty over my head. The detector didn’t go off, but I did become the first person even to enter Saturday Night Live with a York Peppermint Patty over his head. To be friendly, I offered the guard one of the patties, but he politely refused. We were then escorted to a lobby and told to wait. We were in now.
I should say that as soon as we entered the building, they had a pretty strict no photo policy. That’s what I don’t have any other photos. But I also think that having my phone would have been distracting too. There was too much to soak in and I was teetering with excitement. I’m glad I wasn’t on my phone. The waiting area was a giant lobby with cushioned benches where everyone waited for the next step. There were more video screens that flashed more great pictures and videos of past SNL moments. It kind of put you in the mood. There was some music playing too that was upbeat and lively. It felt like an eternity of waiting, although it really wasn’t that long. Finally at around 11 pm, they started calling out numbers and loading up the elevators to take us to our seats. When our number was called, we were deposited into another line (I told Lola they should call it Saturday Night Line). This line led to a bank of elevators that they were loading methodically. We were kept to the side against the wall while we waited, but there were some VIPs that got to go straight through. One group stopped right next to us and it turned out to be John Hamm and a friend. Then a few moments later and older gentleman was being escorted in. That was Stephen Spielberg. This was all getting more and more real. We finally made it to the elevators which went express to the ninth floor. The show is on the eighth floor, but the seats in the balcony where we were sitting load from the ninth. When we got out of the elevators, we were pushed off to the side and into yet another line.
The line was moving slowly but surely. We were in a long white corridor now and the walls on either side were lined with photos from the show, mostly from that season in seemed. As we got closer, we could start hearing music. It was the Saturday Night Live band. The real McCoy. When we got towards the front of the line, I peeked through some doors ahead of us, and there it was: the Saturday Night Live stage. We had made it. We were ushered to our seats. We were off to the stage left – the seats on the very end so that if I looked over my right shoulder, I looked down into a back entrance to the studio. Our first thought was that these were kind of crappy seats, but we were still there – inside. It turns out that almost every seat has limited visibility at some point during the show because everything moves around and changes. So in truth, the seats weren’t bad at all. The seats in the balcony are actually old Yankee Stadium seats, on loan from the Yanks since 1975. They had that famous Yankee stadium blue color to them. That was just a fun fact to know as we were getting comfortable. We started soaking in everything. The main stage where the host does his/her monologue is dead center. But there are multiple other stages to the sides. All in all, the show was filmed in six or seven different areas of the studio. They really make use of every space. Any space that wasn’t being used as a stage was being used for storing backdrops and pieces of the set. They were stacked in orderly fashion throughout the studio and there were tons of crew members walking around managing every piece. Cameras were sliding all around trying to get in place and microphones were swinging about too finding the perfect spot to pick up the sounds it needed. At one point, I saw Lorne Michaels. He was in the back by a camera and seemed to be looking everything over. He was by himself, and no one seemed to be bothering him.
As 11:35 came closer, Weekend Update host Michael Che came out and warmed up the crowd. You could tell some of it was his stand up, but he was also giving us a quick taste of what the show would be. He got some good laughs and got everyone excited. A few minutes later, Kenan Thompson came out and sang “Gimme Some Lovin'” along with the band as fellow cast members Cicely Strong, Vanessa Bayer and Sasheer Zamata sang back up. He sang it straight forward, not as a joke, and he was pretty good too. I wasn’t sure if this was a shout out to the Blues Brothers, but it was good and got the crowd cheering. The band, I should say, was incredible. They sounded amazing on whatever they played and tight too. I almost forgot that they were playing live, thinking that we were listening to a recording. As we waited, the famous clock post that appears at the beginning of every show was retracted back up in to the rafters and suddenly the crew got to work piecing together the opening set. It was the White House Press Room set which caused some excitement in the rafters. The set is put together smack dab in the middle of the studio right in front of the main stage. The people sitting on the floor had to get up and move. The set had four walls so you couldn’t see inside from the balcony. We did see some cast members walk in though, most notable was Bobby Moynihan in his Glenn Thrush outfit. The studio was dark now as they started counting down the time to air. One minute. Forty-five seconds. Thirty seconds. You could tell it was a cast member shouting the countdown especially when it got down to ten seconds and his voice purposely quivered. Five seconds. The monitors came up and we saw a C-Span title image announcing their coverage of the White House Press Briefing. Lights up. Crowd goes crazy. Melissa McCarthy pops out as Sean Spicer and immediately starts yelling for the press corp to shut up.
Last week, before I even knew I was going to SNL, I was saying that Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer impression will be considered one of the top ten impressions to ever appear on the show. It was something about her commitment to the character. It was comedic brilliance. To be watching it live from the rafters just a week later was kind of crazy. We couldn’t really see her inside the four walls, but we watched the monitors and laughed along. When she started crashing her drivable podium around, we caught a better glimpse of her. Towards the end of the skit, I glanced over the railing to my right and happened to notice a few people entering the stage area behind all the sets. One was Alec Baldwin, his unmistakable peppery spiked hair the giveaway. He was walking towards the back of the stage so he could enter through the doors on the main stage as the guest host always does. He was accompanied by assistants but definitely trying to sneak in undetected. I will say that they try to keep the studio audience in the dark about what’s happening. Anything that will give away the live reaction was hidden or covered up until it was live. Alec Baldwin was not seen beforehand, but snuck in for his big entrance. I just happened to spy him. I didn’t see where Melissa McCarthy went after the opening skit. The stage explodes once the opening sequence begins to play. The set gets torn down in seconds and hauled away. The main stage gets extended so Alec Baldwin can do his thing. Most of the cast exits straight out from the stage, under the balcony, so you see them walking to the set and then backstage. They are actually running. Everything is timed to precision and when one guy moves, the other guy knows where he has to move. It was an elaborate dance. By the time they announced the musical guest, everything on the main stage was set and then Alec Baldwin came out.
The next skit was taking place right in front of us. While we still couldn’t see directly in because of the set walls, we could see the cast walking over and Alec Baldwin too. Lorne Michaels walked over as well and I saw him chatting with the cast. He looks pretty supportive, like a party host. The cue card folks were running through the cards, so I naturally read them. That gave me an indication about what the skit was going to be about. When we came back live, I could see the actors reading the same cue cards and I was reading along with them. I even noticed when they made a few slight changes when reading (missing a word or changing an article – just slight changes from the original). After the skit ended, the cast hightailed it back stage and the crew came in again and started setting up for the next one. When there was a pre-taped piece (like the Kate McKinnon Kellyanne Conway Fatal Attraction bit), the studio would go dark and quiet and everyone would watch it on the monitors, so when you hear laughs at home, that’s really the audience. When the show goes to a television break, there’s a strange quiet throughout the studio. Things are happening like sets being built and people getting in places, but there’s a hush that prevails. Then when they countdown back to going live, it gets really quiet.
When the break game before Ed Sheeran was going to play, he and his band took the stage to applause as soon as the show cut away. They perform on the stage to the right of the main stage which seems to be the designated musical stage. We couldn’t see inside from our seats, but they only used that area throughout the whole show for Ed Sheeran. There were a lot of people excited to see Ed Sheeran in the audience. We were, but we’ve never been a huge fan of the guy. I like him. He did a version of “Atlantic City” once on Howard Stern that was great. But he’s not usually my cup of tea. The musical guests don’t warm up too much before playing. Maybe a couple of notes, but that’s about it. I always thought that the musical guest would be jamming during the commercial to get ready. Not the case, at least here. I noticed that Alec Baldwin was suddenly standing amidst the audience on the floor of the studio and a camera was in front of him. His assistant was messing with his hair. We came back on live and Alec gave the famous Saturday Night Live music intro. Then Ed Sheeran played. It was a good song. Kind of typical of his usual sound. He did sound great though. I am really impressed at how good the music sounds in that studio. You would think it would be a tough room for acoustics but the music all sounded great. When he was done, Ed gave a quick wave to the audience and then ran off with his band. Then the crew started bringing out the Weekend Update set.
It’s funny to see that iconic backdrop as three pieces of wood that are held together by clamps. I think their set design rules must be that it has to be easy up and easy away. The desk however did seem to be one long piece that rolled out. I noticed that there was a section behind the desk that had cup holders and was loaded with what looked like ice coffees for the hosts. I thought it was weird that they would need a beverage if they were only going to be out there for just ten minutes. I also noticed that they rolled out six chairs for this part of the show. I knew there were two anchors at the desk, so I started getting curious as to who would be sitting in the other chairs. Michael Che was still wearing jeans and sneakers along with his suit coat and tie. I think Colin Jost was too, but I didn’t catch a glimpse. When on screen, it looked like they were both dressed in fancy suits – some classic television trickery. While Colin and Michael were working through the headlines of the week, I noticed someone came out to stage right and was getting some final touches of make up before they would join them on stage. It looked like Elizabeth Warren. In fact I told Lola that it is Elizabeth Warren. Then they introduced Elizabeth Warren, although it was really Kate McKinnon. Compliments to the costume design folks. It was part of that bit that Kate mentioned the anchors getting perks from such companies as Jamba Juice when they cut to Michael Che drinking from the cups in the desk that I had seen. Now it all made sense.
When they went to the People’s Court skit, I saw it all come together. That was filmed on the far other side of the studio, farthest away from where we were sitting. I saw Alec Baldwin walk over there but he was not in his Trump outfit. They must have made him up behind the door to the courtroom before he came out. I had a few moments of anticipation thinking this is where Rosie would come out too, as Steve Bannon, especially when they had Steve Bannon as the Grim Reaper again. I thought the judge would make him take off his mask and it would be Rosie dressed as Bannon. But alas, not this week. At the end of the skit, when the judge is giving her ruling, she is directly talking to Trump. But at that moment, Alec Baldwin (Trump) was off camera and had run backstage for the next skit. But even though he wasn’t there, the judge (Cicely Strong) was addressing him as if he was still standing in the plaintiff’s spot. More television trickery.
The next skit was the Beyonce at the doctor’s skit. At some point during the People’s Court skit, I glanced over my side rail again and I saw another person walking in. It was Tracy Morgan. I wouldn’t think that I would be able to identify Tracy Morgan from the back of his head, but I knew it was him right away. Maybe it was his walk. But as soon as I saw him, I told Lola that Tracy Morgan was there. And I was right. I thought his skit with Kenan was pretty funny, although I admit he makes me laugh at whatever he does. That was happening right in front of us too and afterwards, he took a second to wave to the crowd (to big applause). Kenan got some nice applause too.
The rest of the show went by pretty fast. Ed Sheeran came out again in pretty much the same way and again sounded great. We liked the second song much better. The skit where Alec Baldwin was a commanding officer with his son was filmed on another stage, just to the left of where we were sitting. When Aidy Bryant came through the door at the end, we saw her go back there before the sketch. That was pretty much a door to nowhere and I noticed a crew member having a laugh with her during the commercial. The sit-up contest was filmed right in front of us as well. That skit made Lola really laugh which surprised me. I guess everyone loves a good fart joke. That skit seemed to be in the show because it was good for time – a nice, short skit. Or maybe just to make Lola smile.
When they went to the final commercial break, the band started playing the ending music so we knew the end of the show was near. The sets were cleared except for the main stage which was once again extended. The cast started coming out and assembling on stage and for the first time, we saw the collective on air team. There was a weird clapping that started too. It was a double clap. I wasn’t sure if this was an audience mishap or a tradition, but it was weird. As the cast came out, they started doing it too. Clap clap. Clap clap. I couldn’t figure it out, or get the rhythm. I wanted to just clap once. That’s a mystery. The end of the show is pretty much the same as you see on television. The guests are thanked and then everyone on stage goes about their thanking each other. It’s always a cool moment and neat to see live. It seemed a bit more open than it does on tv. More space for the cast to roam around. When the camera goes off, it disperses pretty fast. The audience gives a big clap for everyone as they walk off, and they politely give a friendly wave back. Melissa McCarthy was one of the last to hang around the studio. She was talking to, we think, Stephen Spielberg. Maybe they are in talks for Schindler’s List 2: Spicey’s Revenge. We tried to hang around to soak in more, but we were enthusiastically asked to leave the studio. So we did which put us into another line.
We filed down that long white corridor again with a little more time to look at the pictures on the wall. There were a few nostalgic items in display in glass cases too, like the Target Lady uniform and the Prince costume that Fred Armisen wore. Neat stuff that we would have loved to explore, put they push you out of the studio and building pretty fast. There was a slight smell of weed in the air coming from the off-limit areas we passed by, so we figured the party had started. We waited for an invite to the famous after party at some New York bar, but that never game. Rather we were dumped into the elevators, released onto the second floor and walked out into the Manhattan night. That’s where we ate our peppermint patties. That was a sensation.
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