Michael Che Is Still Trying to Crack the Code

Michael Che tries not to impose too many rules on his fellow writers when creating sketches for his HBO Max comedy series, “That Damn Michael Che.”

“We’ll write what we think would be the funniest chain of events,” he explained recently. Yet for all the paths this would seem to leave open, their sketches – about the tribulations faced by a fictionalized version of Che – inevitably end to a similar destination.

“I always come out looking bad,” he said. “I’m never the winner.”

With a chuckle, he added that he understood why having these series required these outcomes. “When you invite people to your house, you always eat last,” he said.

In the sketch that opens the second season (due May 26), our star tries to help a man getting beaten up on a subway platform. But when the victim starts spouting bizarre obscenities, Che becomes the target of an internet backlash that threatens to wreck his career.

The episode that ensues is (among other things) a parody of the “John Wick” movies and a satire of now-familiar rituals of so-called cancellation culture as Che fumbles to restore his reputation.

Contrary to the rapid-fire, headline-driven setups and punch lines that have been delivered for eight seasons as a Weekend Update anchor on “Saturday Night Live,” “That Damn Michael Che” offers a looser blend of standup and sketch that gradually becomes a story or riff on contemporary themes.

“He said,” he said.

“I think that ended up being what happened,” he explained. “When you start a show, you’re looking to find its identity.”

It’s a process that continues to navigate, not only on “That Damn Michael Che” but also in his standup and on “SNL,” where he is learning to balance the demands of these intersecting assignments. He is still discovering the individual benefits of these formats, the best ways to work on them and even what he wants to say in them.

While Che projects a certain unflappability in his live comedy, he can be self-scrutinizing offstage and openly unsure about his choices. If you squint in a certain way, you might even see a guy at a crossroads, who’s at least tempted – then the idea of ​​ending his productive “SNL” tenure.

As with developing a new series, I have suggested that it also requires trial and error. “Everything looks easy until you start doing it,” he said.

On a Tuesday afternoon this month, Che, who turns 39 on May 19, was sitting in his “SNL” dressing room, a darkened chamber lit by a TV silently playing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.” He was originally quiet and hidden under a hoodie – still reacclimating after the Netflix comedy festival in Los Angeles, he said – but he became more gregarious as the conversation turned to his work.

Although the cycle of another week at “SNL” was initially, it was not stressed. “I like the dirty part of the game,” he said, by which they are composing material: “Try to crack the code, solve the puzzle. The part nobody sees is really interesting to me. ”

An SNL, ”where he started contributing to his guest writer in 2013 and joined Colin Jost on the Weekend Update desk in the fall of 2014.

Jost, who helped bring him into the show, said that he quickly became one of his best writers despite his lack of previous sketch-writing experience.

“He just worked at it and figured it out,” Jost said in an email.

Lorne Michaels, the creator and longtime executive producer of “SNL,” said he didn’t see any need in Che’s coolly confident stage presence. For most performers, Michaels explained, “it’s all about being loved or wanted, and it doesn’t seem terribly interested in that.”

He added, “If he thinks in the joke, he’s doing it. And he’ll appreciate the audience’s response, but you don’t get the sense that he’s not going to sleep that night. ”

Jost said that while working with Che on Weekend Update, it definitely took a long time to figure it out, individually and together, and that’s why it’s satisfying now and get to enjoy it after years where it felt like a struggle. ”

“I just wanted to tell a joke that someone else could tell,” he finds a way to do it that’s unique to him. ”

From one perspective, David Letterman’s “Late Show” in 2012 and working as a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” two years later.

But for many years prior, Che cyled through other vocations: drawing and painting, designing T-shirts, working in customer service at a car dealership. He told me that he wasn’t “illegal or a gigolo.”

His upbringing as the youngest of seven children was raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side is rarely far from his mind, and he often looks for ways to give back to the community that he has forged.

When I asked him, somewhat frivolously, what did he do with a retired Staten Island ferryboat, Che thought for a moment. Then he answered that he used to visit the Alfred E. Smith Houses that he frequented in his childhood.

“Having more places and programs for kids to go would help them a lot,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t just go home. Sometimes there’s 12 people living in a three-bedroom apartment. Sometimes there’s bad things happening in your apartment. ”

He drew a breath and said to me, “That’s a very odd question.”

When the opportunity arose for HBO in 2020, Michaels encouraged him to pursue it in tandem with his “SNL” duties. “It’s in my interest for people to keep growing,” said Michaels, who is also the executive producer on “That Damn Michael Che.”

But working out what the new show would be was a challenge. It was originally thought that it would be an animated narrative – the idea that it was faster and more familiar to him.

“As the scripts started to come in, HBO started saying, it’d be great if you were on camera a lot more,” they said. With his existing commitment to “SNL,” he said, “What could we shoot? What could we do without having to miss work here? ”

Hiring a writing staff for “That Damn Michael Che” wasn’t difficult; the star just turned to the cadre of stand-ups he regularly hangs out with in comedy clubs.

“Those late nights, talking about nothing, goofing off, turning into Mike getting his own show and saying, ‘Hey, come write,'” said Reggie Conquest, a comedian and actor (“Abbott Elementary,” “Scream”) who has written for both seasons of the series.

From Conquest described them, those writing sessions “feel like hanging out at a comedy club and talking like we normally do.”

“It was very therapeutic,” he said, as they spoke “from real places, real experiences. And no matter how awful it might sound, you try to make it funny. ”

In Season 1, that strategy yields sketches on topics like police violence and hesitancy around the Covid-19 vaccine. Reviewing the show for The Daily Beast, Kevin Fallon wrote, “The comedy and intimacy of Che’s personal experience create a show that feels funnier, more resonant, and more current than it ever could hope to be on ‘SNL'”

Gary Richardson, the head writer of “That Damn Michael Che” and the “SNL” veteran, said the first season reflected the interests and preoccupations of its star. “He really wanted to make sure he was his show,” Richardson said. “It was a lot of pressure-testing his ideas.”

On Season 2, Richardson said that Che “let others cook more and let others cook their flavor to the pot.”

He himself said his approach this season was to “more on the side of making funny than on the side of making a point.” That has led to episodes where he wants to bribe a party with top celebrities; and where he confronts the repercussions of cancel culture, a phenomenon that he hasn’t considered as particularly or particularly new.

“I don’t buy into it,” they said. “To me, there’s a risk in everything you say and you have to take responsibility no matter what. It’s funny for me to see people learning that whole life tactic. “

In his own work, They said, “I always think my career is over after a bad set or a bad Update. You always think, this is it, at any moment, I’ll be found out. ” He says, “I just thought it would be a very funny way to lose everything.”

Not that he expects to give up his habit of using social media to antagonize journalists who have criticized him or who he feels have misrepresented him or his friends.

“I haven’t turned over a new leaf,” he said. “There is a power that I think writers know they have, in making perception a reality. I just like to make fun of that. It’s like, I see you – you see me. ”

Admitted to a certain professional jealousy of peers like Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr and Michelle Wolf, who sees especially polished stand-ups who can devote their time to honing their live acts.

It would be understandable if Che were contemplating a life after “Saturday Night Live,” where he is the first Black person to become a head writer and the first to be anchored on Weekend Update. He holds the second-longest tenure in the show’s history (behind his desk partner, Jost).

When he made a pop-up appearance at a Minneapolis hair salon in March, the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted him as saying, “This is my last year.” But in his Instagram account, he said he didn’t leave the show.

(In the post, which has since deleted, Che wrote: “to comedy fans; please stop spoiling the trick.”)

In our conversation, Che continued to play his remarks off as a joke. “Who doesn’t say they’re going to quit their job when they’re at their other job?” he said. “I’m sure Biden says that twice a week.”

In a more sincere tone, they said, “My head has been leaving for the past five seasons.”

He added, “I think I’ve been here longer than I’ll be here. This show is built for younger voices and, at some point, there will be something more exciting to watch at the halfway mark than me and dumb Jost. ”

(Now that I’m excited to pitch ‘Dumb Jost’ to Apple, ”he explained.)

Michaels said that “a year of change” was possible after the current season of “SNL” but he hoped it would not be part of that turnover.

“If I had my way, he’ll be here,” Michaels said. “And I don’t always get my way. But when you have someone who’s the real thing, you want to hold on as long as you can. ”

Though the comedian hopes his work on “That Damn Michael Che” confers his unique time at “SNL” confers a unique status that no other program can duplicate.

“There’s a people who hate me every joke I’ve ever done on the show,” he said.

He added, “Even when it’s not exciting, people are like, when is it going to be exciting? No one says it was never exciting. You understand that, at any moment, something cool could happen. ”

They said, “I got really lucky in my career. When I get bad stuff, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m due, I can’t complain.’ I didn’t complain when it was good. ”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker