Saturday, November 8, 2014
Close, but no SNL
Shigeru Miyagawa, a linguistics professor who recently moved into our office suite, was leaving for the day.
“I have to meet my friend, George Takei for dinner. He’s in town for a show at the Somerville Theatre,” he said. I had no clue who George Takei was, but from Shigeru’s expectant look I knew that I was once again exposing my lack of pop culture coolness.
“He’s Mr. Sulu on Star Trek." Pause. Silence. "Didn’t you watch Star Trek?” he asked.
“Oh, sure, a few times,” I said, trying in vain to conjure up a Japanese character. I didn’t tell him that I can’t watch shows like that because I always irritate the person I’m watching it with by asking, “Can you put it on hold for minute? Ok, who are these people, and why are they on this spaceship?”
“Laura and Jay will know who George Takei is,” I said lamely.
“He’s very well known in popular culture,” he said, “He hosted Saturday Night Live!”
“Really? Noam was asked to host Saturday Night Live once! This is interesting – I think I’ll write about it in my blog.”
“Oh, wait then. Maybe I should check and make sure he really did end up hosting. I know a lot of people suggested the possibility,” Shigeru said, throwing down his brief case and pulling a chair up to his computer. While he searched, he told me “George played me in a documentary about my return to Japan for the first time since I was ten years old.” He showed be the first minutes of the documentary and forwarded the link to me so I could watch it at home. Takei’s voice was slightly familiar, but I couldn’t place him based on the dozen or so (no doubt partial) Star Trek episodes I had watched in my life.
Shigeru and I discovered in his search that George Takei had in fact not hosted Saturday Night Live, though the campaign to have him on is still being waged.
I told Shigeru the story of the time Noam was asked to host Saturday Night Live.
One day in the late 90’s, one of the producers of SNL called our office. Some of the show’s writers had written a loose script for Noam. The only thing he needed to do was show up on the set and play it straight, answering the questions that were put to him. Sort of like, “I’m Noam Chomsky, and I play myself on TV.” I was excited about this for many reasons, but mostly I liked the idea of Noam appearing in mainstream media, something that was just beginning to happen in small ways in the 1990’s.
Noam wasn’t at the office when they called, so I called his home, and he picked up. I tried to keep myself calm, but I had a personal interest in wanting him to agree. I wanted my friends, family, and the rest of the country to see my boss appear on, and possibly host – had they said he would host? - this brilliantly funny iconic show.
“Hi, Noam, it’s Bev.” Breathe…breathe…slow…down" I said to myself. “I just got a call from a producer of Saturday Night Live. The writers have prepared a script specifically for you, and they’re hoping you’ll travel to New York next weekend to play yourself on the program.” Noam was quiet on the other end, and I had a fleeting image of him reading a book while listening in for key words. He had confessed to me that he sometimes does this during boring phone interviews. This, to me, was far from boring, and I finished my shpiel, trying to be convincing. “I think this would be a great opportunity to get your word out to people who don’t know who you are.” I felt he did enough preaching to the converted. “Saturday Night Live is a very popular show.”
“Saturday Night Live?” he asked. “I think I’ve heard of it. I might have watched it with the kids when they were younger. Uh, just a minute, let me talk to Carol.”
Noam yelled downstairs to his wife. "Caroooool! It's Bev.... Bev! She's asking if I can be on Sat Night Live.” Pause. “It’s in New York. I said New York! What? What?” Pause. “Ok, just a minute."
"Bev, what would I have to do on the show? Would I have to prepare anything?"
"No, you would just have to show up and play yourself - play it straight. Their script will play around you. I believe they will also have you on the news section."
"Ok, just a minute, let me talk with Carol. Caarroooool!..."
Noam returned to the phone.
“Uh, Bev, Can it be taped somewhere closer? And if not, would I have to be there at a specific time?” he asked, and I realized I had my work cut out for me.
“It would take place at the Saturday Night Live studios in New York”, I replied. “In New York City. And, um, no, it's actually a live show.”
Saturday – night – live, I’m thinking to myself, wondering if he actually was reading a book. Wasn’t everyone familiar with Saturday Night Live? Didn’t everyone know how the show began, every single Saturday night, after a brief initial skit: “Live, from New York, It’s Saturday Night!” ??
“When would they want me to be there?” he asked.
“Uhm, next Saturday," I said, trying to cover all bases, as I thought he might have meant 'what time'. "You would have to get to them around 9 pm, and you would be finished at 12:30 am. Let me look at the calendar and give you the exact…”
But he was already yelling back down the stairs to Carol, who was most likely in the living room at her own computer, across the hall and down a half stairway from Noam’s office in their split-level home, or perhaps in the kitchen around the corner from that.
By now I was convinced that Noam had probably never watched Saturday Night Live, or if he did sit with the kids to watch, he was probably writing a lecture in his head at the same time. He had to be very careful when the kids wanted his attention, because if they saw him moving his hands, as he always did when writing a lecture in his head, they would ask indignantly, “Are you writing something, or listening to me?”
I heard Noam repeating, very loudly, to his wife, "It would be next weekend...I said, next weekend!
I could hear Carol’s voice in the background, though I couldn’t tell what she was saying, and Noam spoke one last time into the phone.
“Uh, Bev,” he said. “Carol says no.”
Maybe someday George Takei will host Saturday Night Live. At least I’ll know who he is, especially since Jay, my pop culture expert, and Laura, a long-time Trekkie, filled me in.