by Jonas Polsky
Here’s some information for comedy writers about submitting to “Weekend Update” that may be helpful to someone in the future. There’s scant information available about the process, and I was unable to find advice about what makes for a successful packet. I had planned to post tips about how to do it when I was accepted, but since I wasn’t, here’s all the information I was able to gather, and perhaps from my experience you can divine what not to do.
The most important thing to know is, the only time you can submit to freelance for Weekend Update is in September. SNL takes a summer vacation each year, and the week before the show starts up again, they have a tryout for freelancers. That’s important, because if (like me) you found out about submissions in December, you will have to wait several grueling months to submit.
SNL retains a pool of around sixty freelancers that send in ten jokes per week to Update. That means the writers go through six hundred-plus jokes, and pick out the handful of very good jokes that make it onto the show. I’m told that the number of new freelancers they accept per season is based on how many of the sixty current freelancers that are let go. If one freelancer is let go, they have one spot.
The tryout process is pretty straightforward, they send you “setups” for topical jokes, and ask for you to fill in the punchlines for a total of ten jokes. The producer looks at those ten jokes, and decides based on their quality whether they will allow you to continue sending in jokes. The most important thing to them is that you send in current topical jokes. You may have an award-winning joke about The Unabomber, but they need to rely on you to have great jokes each and every week, so the jokes must be new.
You’re allotted one week to put together ten of your best current jokes, which simulates the actual process, because that’s the maximum they accept, and the time frame between shows. I figured that the producer would be tired of reading jokes about the setups he emailed, so I picked news stories that happened later in the week, thinking that my packet would stand out by sheer virtue of having newer, and different stories.
Here is my packet:
In New York City, the world’s oldest man has passed away at the age of 112. The man’s hobbies included chess, theatre, and not dying.
NBA star Lebron James has gotten married. The couple walked down the aisle, gave their vows, then exchanged headbands.
During Fashion Week, Nicole Kidman was knocked over by a photographer on a bicycle. Kidman was hit so hard, her face almost changed expressions.
A new app will match users up for a date, based on what kind of salads they like. It’s the perfect app for the single woman, who wants to meet a gay man.
A new vaccine has completely cured HIV in monkeys. Which is great news, because monkeys literally never wear condoms.
In South Korea, construction is moving forward on the world’s first “invisible tower” that uses cameras and LED panels to cloak the building from view. Which brings new meaning to the phrase, “Have any trouble finding the place?”.
The new Britney Spears single, “Work Bitch” has been released early. And just in time, because it’s the new anthem for the US Department of Labor.
Michael J. Fox has said that “Parkinson’s helped me with acting.” Especially if the character needed to be scared.
In New York City, a new luxury hotel suite has a going rate of $45,000 dollars per night. And if you think that’s bad, the free continental breakfast, costs six grand.
As Anthony Weiner was driving away from his mayoral concession speech, he reportedly gave the middle finger to a reporter. The reporter then took a second look and realized, that wasn’t his finger.
I’ve been writing topical jokes regularly for about two years, and I thought this submission was pretty strong. What I’ve learned is, the more you work at any craft, the worse your previous efforts will look. Hopefully in the future I will look back at this packet and not too be embarrassed by it, but in the meantime I think it was great, and I was very disappointed to be rejected. The producer didn’t provide any notes, or reasons for rejection, just said simply “we will not be soliciting you for jokes this season.”
Back to the freelancer pool. The reason SNL has such stringent guidelines for freelancers is that they need to know that each week they can rely on them to generate more than enough quality jokes to use on the show. I’m sure some of them are written by full-time staff writers, but I don’t know how many. Sifting through six hundred jokes must take a lot of time, and with the deadlines they’re under, they don’t want their time wasted by bad jokes. I’m told that no freelancers were let go this season, and as a result none were accepted. That dulled some of the pain of being rejected as it was not possible to be hired, and is the only thing keeping me sane.
I look forward to trying out for Weekend Update again next year, and hopefully will have landed a full-time writing job before then. If you’re an SNL fan, I hope this was interesting, and if you’re a comedy writer, best of luck with your submission. And in the off-chance that you’re reading this and need a topical joke writer, I am available.
More topical jokes: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/topical-joke-takeover