Westport Man’s Surreal ‘SNL’ Adventure Takes Him from Audience to After Party
Live from New York, I must be hallucinating!
As a lifelong Saturday Night Live fan, I often imagined myself standing on the sketch comedy show's iconic stage and basking in the warm glow of the studio lights. Of course, growing up in Westport, Young Phil never thought that would really happen.
What an idiot that guy was.
Last Saturday, seconds after watching host Woody Harrelson and the cast of Season 48 say goodnight, I got to walk across the set and stand in that comedically holy spot for a few sweet minutes. Several days later, I still don't quite have the words for that experience other than to say it was a dream come true.
It also turned out to be the first of a bunch of ridiculously surreal moments I had that night in New York City, thanks mostly to a friend and Fall River native who keeps SNL running year after year. In fact, without him, it would be impossible to do the show at all.
SNL: The Toughest Ticket In Town
I love working in the radio biz as digital managing editor and news anchor for Fun 107 and WBSM, but I also love TV. Since I don't work in television, I get my fix in the audience. I've been to Jerry Springer, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night With Seth Meyers, Live With Regis and Kelly, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and — virtually, with my cat — The Drew Barrymore Show. Hey, we all had our weird things during the pandemic. Then there's Conan O'Brien, my favorite talk show host since I was in middle school. I got to see him in person several times during his 28-year late-night run, long before he interviewed me for his podcast in 2022 about my other job involving murder. That was another surreal moment.
SNL, though, has always been a tough ticket. It's so tough that NBC chooses audience members via online lottery only open in August. I have entered that lottery on and off for the last 20 years without success. I don't have expectations. Instead, I prepare for disappointment so that when disappointment comes, I'm not as, well, disappointed. Works like a charm.
Imagine my surprise when I got an email from NBC a couple of weeks ago inviting me to the Feb. 25 dress rehearsal, which is like the live show at 11:30, only longer.
The first person I told was Wally Feresten, my fellow Fall River-born friend who lives in New Jersey. Oh, he also runs the cue card department at SNL and has been a key part of the operation for more than 30 years. He has worked with the greats: Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Bill Hader, Tina Fey and Kate McKinnon, to name a few. He's a great himself, but also as humble as they come considering his connections and status at NBC.
I got to know West Bridgewater-raised Wally when I interviewed him about his genius side business, writing personalized cue cards for fans around the world. I have a Cue Card by Wally hanging in my home and it's one of the first things I'm grabbing in a fire.
Wally is one of the nicest people I've met and I try to see him whenever life brings me to 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I also have to keep in mind that he's a busy guy. Take a look at what it takes for Wally and his team to get the job done every week.
Wally texted me back to say he'd see me at the show.
Also, would I like to attend the cast party later?
Um, yes, please and thank you.
SNL Rehearsal Gives New Appreciation for Show
I've been watching SNL since before I was old enough to understand a lot of the humor. It's hard to explain but I love the show like family. I quote from beloved sketches, admire brilliant performers who have come and gone, and have immense respect for the people who put the show on TV. That respect deepened when I experienced SNL in person. It was an intricate ballet of usually unseen and unheard staffers and machinery navigating a small, oddly shaped studio while under serious time pressure, all working toward one selfless goal: to make us laugh.
I could write a ton about the rehearsal itself, but it's what came after that really blew me away.
As the audience cleared out, Wally showed me to the main stage for some photos, then down a hallway under the bleachers to where his team was already hard at work tweaking cue cards for the live broadcast. Cuts would have to be made.
It wasn't lost on me that I was standing in a place where not many outsiders have been, so I think I looked pretty stunned.
Wally had a lot of work to do in the hour he now had leading up to the live show, so I left him to do his thing. A few hours later, around 2 a.m., we'd reunite for the truly crazy part of the night.
Live From New York, It's Somehow Sunday
Wally and I — joined by my friend Tony, a Somerset resident and fellow SNL diehard — walked past security into a nondescript building down the street from 30 Rock and took an elevator to either an upper floor or an alternate reality.
Picture yourself there:
The doors open and there's actress Scarlett Johansson, wife of SNL head writer and Weekend Update host Colin Jost. You'll see Colin later emerging from the bathroom. Stars: They're just like us.
Over there by the bar? That's Academy Award winner Emma Stone. You'll have a friendly chat with her about what alcohols immediately nauseate you. For her, it's vodka. Being a great actress, she'll demonstrate for you the physical reaction she has to even the thought of vodka touching her lips.
You don't want to bother rockstar and tonight's musical guest Jack White while he's eating, but he'll shatter your assumptions by being happy to shake your hand and say hello. Also, everyone knows and loves Wally so walking around the glitzy room with him certainly helps.
You'll bump into SNL cast member Bowen Yang and say, "You killed it in that last sketch," and he'll put his hand on his heart as if to show that the praise really means something to him.
You'll round a corner to find CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins and talk journalism with her for a minute.
You'll see celebrated SNL creator Lorne Michaels at a table by the window with tennis legend John McEnroe and wonder what those two are talking about.
You'll have a great chat with a kind woman named Laura, who happens to be Woody Harrelson's wife, and she'll remember your name three hours later at the after-after-party when you're hanging in the backyard with her fun-loving husband, who is on a major high partially from joining the fabled SNL Five-Timers Club and partially from, well, other stuff. Woody owns a cannabis dispensary in California.
Finally, you'll head back to your hotel after sunrise on Sunday, somehow not as tired as you should be despite burning all your mental energy on trying to process everything that just happened.
You'll vow to never again put limits on what is and isn't possible. You'll be grateful for this experience and all the good experiences to come. You know you'll be back someday.
And you'll laugh about how weird it is to be wide awake yet absolutely convinced you're dreaming.
Well, isn't that special?