Pete Buttigieg: Hi, I’m Pete Buttigieg and this is The Deciding Decade.
Like everyone else, a big part of how I unwind is through laughter — with friends, but also watching comedy on TV or the internet. It’s always been a strange relief to see political events that upset us parodied, it’s a reminder of how absurd reality can be. But the Trump era has brought us to a point that is almost beyond satire. Just look at Sarah Cooper’s amazing, hilarious viral impersonations of President Trump — truly comedic genius, but also disturbing, because most of their basis is the actual, un-doctored audio of the words of the president of the United States. It makes you wonder — is it even okay to laugh right now?
But laughter is part of how we make sense of what’s happening around us — and part of how we get through it. And nothing in American culture has played that role more consistently over the years than Saturday Night Live. Over the last few years, they’ve helped a lot of people — myself included — come to terms with the world around us through comedy. Of course, one problem you have as a presidential candidate — and this is admittedly a very good problem to have — is you also find yourself a little anxious going into Saturday evenings about how you’re probably going to be made fun of on national television.
Reflecting on the role of humor in our changing lives, I wanted to talk to someone about the role it can play to simply help us move through the world. And think about how that role may shape the years ahead.
Pete Buttigieg: My guest today, Colin Jost, who most of you probably know from Saturday Night Live or from his recent release of his very funny and very well written new book, A Very Punchable Face. And I’m not going to comment on how accurate that description is though I’m looking at him right now on Zoom. And what I will say is that he’s a smart guy. He’s a Harvard graduate, studied the history and literature of Russia and Britain, rose up the ranks at SNL, became a head writer and is now the very well-known hilarious cohost of SNL’s Weekend Update along with Michael Che. He’s won four WGA Awards, a Peabody Award, and has been nominated for multiple Emmys.
Colin. Welcome, and congratulations on the book.
Colin Jost: Thank you very much. Thank you for that wonderful introduction. I like your radio voice.
Pete Buttigieg: I’ve been practicing.
Colin Jost: It was good. It was convincing.
Pete Buttigieg: I should begin by disclosing that we knew each other in college. So we were in the same dorm in fact. I wouldn’t say we were close, but definitely remember kind of seeing you and had a lot of mutual friends. I should probably begin just by asking, do you ever think back to what like a sophomore Colin Jost or a junior year Pete would have thought about the idea that 20 years later you would be on SNL and enlisted to do an impression of me as a presidential candidate?
Colin Jost: None of those thoughts crossed my mind, like not a single one of those layers crossed my mind at the time. And I remember when Lorne talked to me about playing you on the show, he was like, “I think he just kind of has to. I think it just makes too much sense otherwise.” And I was like, “Yeah. Okay.” And it was a very surreal experience and it’s the most close to home that I’ve ever been in terms of… First of all, I never do any impressions as you can tell from my impression, but it felt very personal in terms of choosing even lines to say or working on some of the scripts because I wanted to do right by you and-
Pete Buttigieg: But your job is to make fun of the person that you’re doing impression of, right?
Colin Jost: Yes. Yes.
Pete Buttigieg: So do you feel…
Colin Jost: Yeah.
Pete Buttigieg: Does that feel like ethically complicated or how do you approach that?
Colin Jost: I guess it feels comedically complicated sometimes. Like, you’re just… Part of the decisions are complicated at our show because it moves so quickly. So you don’t always have the ability to look back at something and say, “Okay, is this really the line we want for this person? Or is this really what we want the takeaway of this sketch to be?” You just don’t always have that luxury. For everyone, we try to think, is this a fair comment on this person or a fair angle of attack on someone?
Pete Buttigieg: So how did you process the experience of just becoming very visible? That must have happened pretty suddenly. I mean, you were doing standup and you were a head writer at SNL, but then you flip over and you do Weekend Update and suddenly like you’re not just part of this very famous thing. You were a very famous face. And as you write about in the book, very honestly, at first it’s not going very well. So how did you process all of that? How did it change your life and how did you make sure you’re still yourself?
Colin Jost: Well, it was very weird because… as I’m sure you experienced, for the vast majority of my life, I had been completely unknown outside of my family and friends and you don’t really think about who you are in the way how you’re presenting to the world. You think about who you are as a person, and you try to work on yourself as a person, but you don’t think about how you present to society or how you come across on TV or how you come across in the media. You just don’t think about that ever. You suddenly get criticism and you suddenly get notes on how you look or how you smile or you get like very specific comments, both from friends and from strangers on the internet and you’re suddenly thinking of yourself in a whole different way. You’re like, “What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I better at this? Why don’t I present better? Why does everyone hate me?” You have those feelings and… The weird part is it almost makes you question who you are as a person beyond how you present to the world. And then you just get used to it and you get used to a certain norm or a certain level that is criticism, which is both healthy and constructive and not, and you get used to trusting your own instinct and finding out what your instincts really are in the space of what everyone else is telling you to do. And that takes time and you kind of have to build the courage to do that. And that was actually my favorite thing about writing this book. I did it all in a vacuum. I didn’t show it… I mean, I showed it to some friends, but I didn’t show it to anyone at NBC or run it by anyone in that way. And I feel like it’s the purest form of what I set out to write and worked really hard at it. And that was it. I didn’t really care about how it was received and it probably made it a lot better that I wasn’t worried about that.
Pete Buttigieg: It’s a great book.
Colin Jost: Oh thank you. But I had a question for you though, the same question kind of, which is you had the same experience of… You had local fame when you were in South Bend, and then going to the national level is a whole other scrutiny and also level of fame, which must’ve been jarring at times, or it required some kind of adjustment, right?
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah. It was really in many ways it was disorienting and for the same reasons you described. I mean, as a mayor, you’re walking around your city, everybody knows you, right. And they’ll come up to you and they’ll talk about a pothole or a hot local issue, or what’s going on in the schools or whatever. But especially in a place like South Bend where I was on local TV all the time, and most residents knew who I was, but it was just in the city, right? So I could go anywhere else. I could drive an hour and a half to Chicago and I’m some dude and I can go about life in a very normal way.
And suddenly what happens is there’s that same kind of visibility, but it’s literally everywhere you go. Now I didn’t really have to confront it that much because I wasn’t doing many things other than campaigning, right. It’s such a total takeover of your life that I never really felt that much, the difference in being able to like go to the grocery store because every minute of my time was programmed. And it was unlikely I’d even be in that scenario.
Colin Jost: I wonder too, when you’re talking about being mayor and people coming up to you with problems versus on a national campaign where people are also probably coming up to you with problems, but a lot of things you’re faced in say, debates, are really about larger ideas. And I wonder, is it harder or less satisfying to deal in large abstract ideas when you get into foreign policy or economic policy, versus when someone’s telling you at a specific problem locally? And you’re like, “Okay, I know this problem. We’ve got to solve this problem.”
It seems like that is a more satisfying way to do politics, which is just a problem solve versus having to have sort of sweeping ideas that aren’t necessarily changing anything.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah. I think it’s true. I mean, it’s more satisfying when you have cause and effect, right? It’s why to get away from work I took in my first couple of years to a lot of home improvement, because it’s like you paint something and then it’s painted and it was that kind of immediate kind of reward of solving a problem. And it’s the same thing locally. Like it feels great to get a pothole filled in. Sometimes I’d literally go out with the crews mostly just to thank them, but also it was very satisfying to literally just scoop this asphalt in there and you tap it down to this big kind of weight and you’re like, “Oh, that problem solved, 80,000 to go or whatever.”
But the other thing that you would confront is the really big things are landing on your desk too. If it’s like just fix this stop sign, that’s one thing, but when they’re like, just fix racism or just fix homelessness. Or the crime rates. Sometimes you wonder if some commentators in the media think that there’s some big knob in the mayor’s office that you could dial up or down on how much homelessness or crime there’s going to be and you just forgot. Right?
Colin Jost: Yeah.
Pete Buttigieg: And so these big, almost cosmic and painful issues that you’re confronting are by their nature tied in with the national issues that we’re facing, right? And I think that’s part of what’s happening now with, basically the hostility between the White House and a lot of local leaders who should be working in lockstep, whether it’s dealing with policing issues or dealing with public health. And when you don’t have that, it all kind of spins apart because it turns out even the most immediate backyard concrete little problem is connected up to this big picture. It’s part of why I ran. It was realizing over time as a mayor, that the big things were affecting my ability to solve the things that were in front of me, if that makes sense.
Colin Jost: Yeah. I mean, yeah. The connecting… because things get connected in a way that you don’t know exactly what will solve the problem. Meaning if you’re talking about solving the problem of homelessness, obviously so much of it is tied to other shifting factors like the economy and do people have jobs and is there mental health treatment.
One thing I don’t understand, and maybe you can enlighten me on this, why isn’t there just a massive public works push that just gets people jobs in America and rebuilds all the things that are physically broken about the country, employees people, makes everyone’s neighborhoods, cities look better, feel better to be in, have better transportation. Why does that not get done? Because everyone seems to agree that that’s good. Everyone seems to… Even candidates on both sides seem to talk about this a lot.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, I mean, Trump talked about this when he was running.
Colin Jost: And then it never… it just doesn’t feel like it happens.
Pete Buttigieg: Like one of the few things I thought Trump would actually do out of his campaign-
Colin Jost: Totally.
Pete Buttigieg: … was this talk about infrastructure, right? Because he seems to want it. Everybody likes it. It’d be good for the economy, it’d be nice to run. And even that didn’t happen.
Colin Jost: Right. Even Obama, when we were coming out of the recession, I remember there was going to be a huge infrastructure push. And I kept hearing, there’s going to be these high-speed trains in California and New York and… what happened? Nothing happens. And you’re like, where does that go? Why does that get defeated? Is that just held up in congressional ways? What happens?
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, I mean, frankly a lot of it is because it turns out that there was not the political will to pay for it. Right. Sometimes people talk about taxes and then the programs like they’re completely unrelated. Like, are we going to raise or lower taxes? And it’s like, well, taxes for what? And if you’re going to lower taxes, where are you going to cut? But when you get to Congress, then they say, how are you going to pay for this? Now today of course, they’re not saying, how are you going to pay for this as we’re literally just sending out cash just to keep everybody going but still that’s been an obstacle.
Colin Jost: This is why you and I have to start GoFundMe to build that wall. What could go-
Pete Buttigieg: [laughing] What could possibly go wrong?
Colin Jost: … take a little off the top. Maybe a little off the top, but most of it goes to the wall. That’s why we got to do this kind of stuff.
Pete Buttigieg: Well, and the thing that gets me about that is we’ve seen this pattern with that thing for the wall that Steve Bannon has been indicted over and the NRA, which turned out… Remember the NRA, technically a nonprofit, right? Where the owner is being jetted or the president is being jetted around the world and has this giant home funded by these contributions that the graft that’s going on there is not that different in my view from what the president’s doing to the entire country, which is… he seems to believe his supporters are suckers who will just send their money or send their votes into this and then they’re laughing all the way to the bank.
Colin Jost: It’s really funny that there was a whole other scandal that wasn’t even on anyone’s radar, that then Bannon was involved in.
Pete Buttigieg: Right.
Colin Jost: It was like finding-
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, came out of the blue.
Colin Jost: … a lost city in the Amazon or whatever that was untouched. And you’re like, “Wow, we can still find new things.” Incredible.
Pete Buttigieg: So with production on hold, as these things are happening around the world, as a comic do you think like I have to go satirize this or do you feel like a lot of us do now that it’s kind of beyond parody? I mean, how does comedy and satire even respond to the moment we’re in?
Colin Jost: Having now extended time away from it, I think it’s healthy for our show in general that we have a summer hiatus because you’re definitely, there’s moments where you’re itching to be back on and you have something you want to say about whatever’s happening that week. But it’s nice to take a break because you also realize how cyclical things feel and how repetitive things feel. And people are always like, “Oh my God, can you believe you’re missing this scandal this week? Aren’t you killing yourself that you’re missing this?” And then you realize there’s going to be another one the next week and there’s probably going to be another one the week after that. And the strange thing now, I wish we could get a ranking of level of scandalousness of all the things that have happened, because I feel like I’m going crazy a little bit. I’ve lost all perspective on in the scheme of history, which events in the last four years will actually resonate in years and how many…
I mean, there’s certain things that are clearly… don’t matter at all. Like where people were making fun of Trump because he was walking down the stairs in a weird way after his speech at West Point. And everyone talked about that for a week and you’re like, “Well, that doesn’t matter at all. It’s the dumbest thing. Who cares? That doesn’t matter.” But then you’re like, “He was impeached.”
Pete Buttigieg: That takes a backseat to RampGate.
Colin Jost: You assume that’s going to make it into a history textbook, but who knows? There’s so much.
Pete Buttigieg: It feels like it’s not even in the top five events of 2020 surrounding the presidency.
Colin Jost: Yeah, that you could be impeached and it’s not in your top five scandals is really, really funny.
Pete Buttigieg: You have actually spent time with Donald Trump. I’ve never met him. He guest hosted SNL. You write about this in the book and maybe you could share a little bit about… first of all, what that was like, and then how you kind of resolve having interacted with him in a professional environment for a show that went pretty well and the disaster that his presidency is.
Colin Jost: Yeah. I mean the show itself on just a comedy level, I would argue was pretty bad. Independent of anything else. I mean, if you watch it, he afterwards, I remember Trump kept saying that he improvised the whole show and I was like-
Pete Buttigieg: It’s a bit insulting to a writer.
Colin Jost: “Oh my God, thank you.” No, I was like, “Please, thank you. Get that out there.” You know, you have hosts at SNL who were from all walks of life who have all kinds of political views. I mean, we had already had on the show like Giuliani and Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And when you look at the musical guests and hosts that are nonpolitical that come on, they’re really all over the political spectrum too. I mean, people have all kinds of… And I think that’s the nice thing about our-
Pete Buttigieg: Did you ever think of him as a political figure when he came on? I mean, this was 2015, right? Did it feel like he was there as a politician or that he was there as an entertainer or something else?
Colin Jost: I don’t know. Something in between. It really didn’t… It was very surreal. I mean, one thing [Michael] Che always says is like Donald Trump on television makes sense, Donald Trump in politics makes no sense. That’s the weird part. It was a very strange experience and I, that week ended up writing kind of around him, I would say.
And I would write these Drunk Uncle character for Bobby Moynihan. And so we wrote one of those where he was basically the platonic ideal of a Trump voter which was kind of a fun thing to have in the show where he hosted. And then Cecily [Strong] and Vanessa [Bayer] and I wrote these porn star characters and so we tried this idea for the table where they were porn stars who were endorsing Donald Trump for president. This is before obviously all this Stormy Daniels stuff came out and very surprisingly at the time, but maybe in retrospect, less surprisingly Donald Trump was way into that idea and that made it on the show. And so I think the last sketch of the show ends with Cecily and Vanessa as porn stars, endorsing Donald Trump for president, and then Donald Trump turns to Cecily who’s blonde and says, “Didn’t you use to be a brunette?” And I’m pretty sure that’s the last line of the show, which is… God, again, watching it in retrospect is so complicated to look at given everything that’s happened.
Pete Buttigieg: Because I remember even in college, I was pretty upset by the Iraq war, what was going on with the Bush administration. I remember The Daily Show at the time being a real kind of… almost a relief. And then I remember also not long after, I want to say, not long after we graduated. I remember the White House Correspondents’ Dinner when Colbert standing a few feet away from George W. Bush gave this amazing searing just skewering of the Bush administration and feeling like I’d never seen anything like that happen. It was as if Voltaire had mocked the monarchy in the court of Louis XIV or something.
And yet it feels like all of those things that were kind of rewarding to watch then are kind of harder to take any comfort or pleasure and relief in today because things are so, in many ways, disturbing and frightening in our political landscape. And I wonder, especially because you don’t just write for SNL, you write for the part that is most topical, Weekend Update. Like how much do you think about humor as a relief from what’s going on in the world versus humor is an important part of how we deal with what’s going on in the world?
Colin Jost: I think when you’re thinking even back to George W. Bush, I mean, whatever anyone thinks about his policies or people that were working with him while he was president, it’s pretty hard to argue that he’s not a compassionate man and a decent man. I mean, even if you might say whether it was applied to all these things while he’s president or whatever and who knows what he looks back on and has regrets about or not, I don’t know. But you sense there’s some moral center in George W. Bush, I think. And when you look at Trump, I think you just don’t see that in the same way, even what his own family is saying about him. And I think that makes a lot of things that you’re talking about harder, like in the Colbert way, because it doesn’t feel like it’s… it’s just sort of going into a strange vacuum or something and not affecting this thing or-
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, it’s like pushing on a string. There’s just no tension there because there’s no possibility of experiencing shame. Maybe that’s it.
Colin Jost: Yeah, I also think things like that trickle down from whoever’s the leader of your country. If your leader is not paying taxes and your leaders doesn’t mind exploiting the system to get wealthier then why would anyone else? I mean, I can’t believe people in America aren’t like, “Why am I paying taxes? This guy’s not paying… Our president doesn’t pay taxes.” That stuff trickles down. It becomes a mindset. And I think the other thing is just some sort of compassion for people and trying to figure out how to help, even if it’s people just immediately around you. It doesn’t have to be a big sweeping political thing. It can just be, how am I helping family members? How am I helping people in my community? How am I help educate people even? Whatever it is, those small things that I think make a difference over time.
Pete Buttigieg: Turning to the book one thing I want to ask you about is a lot of the really funny moments in the book are also very self-deprecating in many cases, and that’s a big part of comedy, right? It’s a big part of humor. One of the more interesting specials I saw recently that I think got a lot of people’s attention was Hannah Gatsby, who obviously is coming from a different perspective. But was talking about how, in her case, the kind of self… at least I took it to be saying that the self-deprecation involved in humor kind of crossed the line into abuse or self-abuse. And the psychology of comics, I think is something that’s always kind of under the surface, and we’re in a moment where I think people are talking more about mental health, talking more about kind of how they relate to the world and being more open about these things. And I wonder, do you see comedy changing in that way?
And especially being in a very intense community of comic actors and knowing that SNL has a history of some of the best comedy the West has ever produced and also a history of a lot of bad things happening to people who were on the show.
Colin Jost: Yeah.
Pete Buttigieg: I guess the question I’m asking is like, is comedy bad for you? It’s great for us.
Colin Jost: Sometimes. I mean, I think the vast majority of comedians wildly fluctuate between periods of confidence, sometimes extreme confidence, and then debilitating depression and debilitating self-doubt. And you see people, even people that look like they have a ton of bravado on stage, so many of those people are the most vulnerable people you’ll meet. And, you know, off stage are constantly worried about whether they’re funny, are they any good at it? And meanwhile, you think they’re the most confident person in the world. You look at someone like David Letterman and he always talked about how every show he was like, “I think I’m just not funny. I can’t do this anymore. I’m terrible. I don’t…”
And I think part of that is healthy because part of it makes you try to keep getting better and keep questioning yourself and pushing yourself to find some kind of new level or challenge yourself to get out of a rut. And then some of it is not healthy and some of it just makes your life miserable and prevents you from enjoying even the successful moments in your life where the things that feel like victories, which are usually few and far between even for someone who’s very successful.
And I think that’s just the reality for a lot of people in comedy and that’s why I have a lot of empathy for comics who go through lots of different things, because I know that that’s… There’s lots of comedians who are alcoholics, or… I think so many are either alcoholics or recovered or sober now because that’s one way of dealing with the wild swings of when you’re on stage and it goes great you want to keep that feeling going. And you’re like, “I’m going to have two to 12 drinks.” And then you’re… when a set goes horribly, you’re like, “I want to drink to forget that I just had a horrible set.” And that becomes a way of life. And then say you have a few drinks before you go on stage and you do well, there’s not only a superstition, but almost a feeling like maybe I need that every time. Maybe I need to be a little drunk before I go on stage. Like people go through… And then you’re like, “I will drink.” And then you have a bad set and you’re like, “Damn it. I didn’t need to.”
You get into all these habits that you have to be really vigilant to break things like that. And really have help, have therapy and also do self-reflection, which is hard to do. And sometimes that’s the last thing you think about is mental health. And that’s the nice thing now. I do think people are talking about it more and giving each other a little more leeway or I hope that’s the goal.
Pete Buttigieg: Another pressure that you mentioned in the book is when… and I’d never thought about it this way, but when you become head writer, you take on this responsibility of… basically over the careers of the people that you work with deciding whether to go to bat for a certain sketch, worrying not just about how to reflect on you, if it doesn’t go well, but will it be bad for them? And it just reminded me of so many of the pressures that I think people go through when they first find themselves with responsibility.
Colin Jost: Yeah. It’s where my Catholic guilt really kicked in from every angle. Because I feel guilt about what if my own sketch is on, is that bad? Is it feel like I’m promoting my own thing which I always try not to do. If I’m going out on a limb for our young writers at the show and saying, “Hey, this sketch is really good. We should put it on the show.” And then it either doesn’t do well or Lorne [Michaels] just doesn’t like it for some reason, then I almost feel like I’m jeopardizing the writer’s career. There’s a strange balance. It’s like you almost feel like you have to trust your instincts, but you also have to pick your battles a little bit.
Pete Buttigieg: That makes me think about just how powerful of a name or an institution SNL is. And one of the things that was important in my life was I was part of a lot of institutions that had very powerful names: Harvard, Oxford, the United States Navy. But one of the most important steps in my life was when I kind of left the warm embrace of a lot of institutions that spoke for me, left my job and went out to run for state treasurer in Indiana where nobody had heard of me. I wound up getting clobbered. I lost like 60, 40. I was a Democrat in Indiana in 2010, not a great year to be running statewide. But it was that step that put me on kind of the path to being able to serve my city as mayor and then eventually run for president.
And yet I found even running for president that often as people were figuring out who I am, the shortcut to that was good or bad, was looking at any kind of big name I was connected to, whether it was McKinsey, the consulting company I worked for, or Notre Dame, even though I wasn’t an alum because it was connected to my hometown. And so one thing that you were very open about in the book is you’re thinking about what comes after SNL which feels to me like it kind of runs with that sort of moment which is frightening and full of possibility. And I wonder, first of all, why did you decide to share that? Because usually you don’t telegraph career moves in very public ways when you’re very visible.
Colin Jost: Especially with a book you don’t know the timing of exactly how it’s going to come out or when. It’s hard to put a date on something.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah. So what made you decide to be open about it? And then how are you thinking about this process?
Colin Jost: Well, first when you’re talking about the different institutions, I mean, it’s a very strange thing because you have to be… first of all, I didn’t… maybe you were the same way. I grew up in Staten Island. I certainly didn’t grow up assuming I could go to Harvard or that I could work at SNL. Like those just weren’t things that I thought I could do. And then Harvard definitely being an institution and even SNL sometimes feeling like an institution. I think you have to approach when you’re at a place like that, I think you have to have a healthy skepticism about the place you’re at. I think you have to be examining the institution you’re at and just trying to figure out the ways in which it’s broken or the ways in which it just needs to be updated or I don’t know, or better run or whatever.
There’s everything, things are around for a long time. And so that means there’s probably something there that’s worth keeping, but you also have to keep reexamining or else it doesn’t function right anymore, or things have to keep evolving, I guess, is the word that I’m looking for. And unless they do that, then I think they wither and they die and I think that’s why you have to always be… I think it’s good to be an outsider and come in and look at something and say, all right, I want to do things a little differently, even if it’s my part of it. It starts with that, because when you start as a new writer or you start as a freshman at Harvard, you’re not going in and saying, “Now let’s restructure this institution.” You’re more like, “I want to figure out how I want to do this as much as possible and be aware of some of the downsides of it.”
Pete Buttigieg: You talk about that kind of search for belonging. It’s a theme that comes up in the book that resonated for me because it was a big theme of my campaign too, is trying to respond to this kind of issue or even crisis of belonging that I think is playing out for different people in different ways. It sounds like you found it at the Lampoon, the humor magazine that you were part of at Harvard, you found it as a member of the SNL cast. I wonder how you would think about building a sense of belonging when you do go walk out from being kind of in the embrace of something as big and famous and as tight knit as a place like SNL?
Colin Jost: That’s absolutely the scariest part about leaving and I’m realizing, I mean, part of it was writing the book and part of it was just reflecting back on SNL and growing up in Staten Island. So much of my life is so community oriented, my favorite parts of life are community oriented, or feeling like I’m with friends, I’m with people who I can joke with and work with and live with, and that’s I think the most valuable thing. And again, there are medical studies that show when you’re part of a community you’re physically healthier, you’re happier-
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, and actually relates to life expectancy.
Colin Jost: Yeah, totally. It totally relates to the life expectancy, heart disease, all these things, because you feel like you belong somewhere.
Pete Buttigieg: One of the things I noticed in the book, it feels to me like you go out of your way to name some of the people you worked with, people who influenced you, other writers, other comedic actors. So very curious, looking to the future if there are two or three names of people that most of us haven’t heard of who you think might be shaping comedy or satire entertainment in the next decade.
Colin Jost: Well, I think… At SNL, I think right now there’s a group of writing supervisors who I think they’re going to be very important, both at our show and beyond our show and their careers, which is Fran Gillespie and Anna Drezen and Sudi Green and Streeter Seidell. Sam Jay who’s a writer at SNL just had a special that came out that people should check out too. It’s really funny. And stand-up it’s so hard now because I haven’t been in a club, since whenever, six months to see who’s coming up and who to look out for.
Mark Normand was super funny, Andrew Schultz. Those are guys that we came up with together. Che being someone that I loved as a standup and then getting to work with as a writer and then getting to work with for Update has been a very cool journey and I think we’ll look back on a lot of those years and what happened and be very happy that we got to go through it together.
Pete Buttigieg: We’re weeks away from an election that’s going to change American history one way or the other. Do you think that humor is going to have a different role in our lives in the decade ahead or is this just variations on a theme?
Colin Jost: You never know exactly how comedy is going to change until it does and then you look back, you know… We were talking about Steve Martin the other day and how much his comedy was a reaction to coming out of the Vietnam War and such a heavy political time. And then his comedy was so absurdist and so just fun and an escape in a whole different way that was completely apolitical. And so I could certainly see something happening in that way and people needing an escape from everything feeling very overly scrutinized politically at every turn. I could definitely see that happening, but the biggest thing is you don’t exactly know where the next generation of stars is going to come from.
I think that each generation makes the previous one either relevant or irrelevant. And so I don’t know what it’s going to do for comedy quite yet.
Pete Buttigieg: I’m struck by how Colin and I basically lived across the hall from each another in college about 20 years, but really didn’t know each other… and are now encountering each other in what feels like a different life for each of us, having a really substantive, fascinating conversation. It also shows you how you never know how you may cross paths with somebody again in the future.
With every part of our society changing right now, I’m wondering what role humor is going to play going forward. For as long as human beings have faced major events, humor has helped us process and think through it all. There’s a case to be made it’s actually going to be more important than ever in the years ahead. And I’m really grateful for people like Colin, who are bringing their talent for making us laugh into our lives.