There had been improvisational and sketch comedy ensembles before Saturday Night Live (SNL) debuted in 1975, including the venerable Second City, Monty Python, the Goon Show, the Goodies, the Proposition, Firesign Theatre, and the Groundlings (from which sprang Laraine Newman), but none have had the longevity or wide-ranging cultural impact of SNL. What set SNL apart was the breadth and depth of the show’s on- and off-screen talents, combined with a determination to bring risky, youth-oriented “alternative comedy” to a mass audience. SNL is now entering its 43rd season, and the original cast – Newman, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase, and Garrett Morris – have become the stuff of legend.
Newman had theater experience at an early age and studied mime in Paris with Marcel Marceau, but she notes that it was her work with the Groundlings that provided the best possible preparation for SNL, a show in which scripts were sometimes treated more as useful suggestions than as holy writ. However much the cast would occasionally stray from the prepared text, though, they appreciated the writers’ work; not surprising, considering that several cast members were established comedy writers themselves. As a performer Newman worked closely with the writers and fellow cast members in developing skits and signature characters.
Following her five-year stint on SNL Newman has maintained a busy film and television career in both leading and supporting roles, and is a prominent voice artist on television and in animated features. She’s also a writer and editor who regularly contributes to several online publications, including McSweeney’s, the Atlantic Online, and Huffington Post. When asked what advice she would offer to aspiring writers and performers, Newman’s response is succinct: “Read a book. Make a compendium. Do things differently.”