Colin Jost may be the head writer and “Weekend Update” host at “Saturday Night Live,” but that doesn’t mean he rests on his laurels all summer long. He’s using his hiatus to spread some standup dates around, and heads to Laugh Boston this weekend for a few shows. It’s something of a return home for him, since he attended Harvard and worked on the Lampoon prior to his “SNL” days. We chatted with him about what you can and can’t expect out of a Colin Jost standup date, and how his Lampoon days shaped him.
“Weekend Update” has such a strong current events focus. What kinds of stuff do you like to talk about in your standup?
Lots of different stuff. A lot of things about the places I’m going, but just working on building some new material. Kind of a mix of everything. No puppets.
Do you ever try to do prop comedy when you were coming up?
I did do one show where I found a puppet with red hair and a red mustache and a blue suit that my brother had left somewhere and I had the puppet answer questions from the audience. That was one show. But I don’t know how.. I don’t know if I want to go back to that.
A once in a lifetime sort of thing?
Exactly. You had to be there. You literally had to be there.
Do you find that doing standup allows you to be a little looser than your day job at "SNL"?
Physically, It allows you to be looser. You can move and people see that I have legs — exciting! It’s cool. It’s fun. Obviously, the reason people love doing standup is that it’s the most you’re in control, kind of in anything in entertainment. It’s just you. You do what you want. It’s very freeing.
Do you find it to be a relief to not have to be so all over the news in your off time?
Yeah. I take like a little bit of a break, but I can’t ever not be aware of what’s going on. I inevitably end up reading newspapers and looking on the internet and keeping up on things because that’s in my nature. But it’s definitely a relief to not have the pressure, to take a slight break from the pressure of figuring out a take on the news, even just for a month, and then get back into it.
Is there anything that happened that you were kind of sad about, where you thought, oh I might have some great stuff for that?
Yeah, I mean, certainly Donald Trump, although I’m guessing he’ll still be around. The woman from the NAACP, pretty fantastic. Let’s see, El Chapo, great. What a great, nice mystery, the escaped convicts in upstate New York. All fun, breezy stories.
A lot of prison breaks this summer.
I guess even they deserve a summer vacation, you know?
There’s such a long tradition of people going from the Lampoon to SNL. Do you think there’s a shared sense of humor there or it’s just a great incubator of talent?
I think it’s rare in colleges that people are just writing all the time. The culture at the Lampoon is intense. I was probably there eighty or ninety hours a week and even though I certainly wasn’t working during all of that time, I was around people who were serious about comedy. Usually you don’t find that until after college, if you go to Second City or Groundlings, or the UCB theater in New York. A lot of time either during or after college people will go to those places because that’s where they find people who want to do the same thing, so it was kind of a nice self-selecting group of people who wanted to be working kind of full time on writing.
Does that help with the discipline you need at "SNL"?
Yeah, "SNL" feels the most similar to the Lampoon. My approach to both was to write as much as I possibly could, because I thought I’d develop mentally. The more I wrote, the better I would get. So I wrote a lot of junk. Like I did when I started at "SNL." But if you had one thing that worked, you could learn from that and try to refine your process. But I think early on, the more you write the better. It’s like getting reps in, you know, like in hours. Malcolm Gladwell, how many hours are you putting in? The more you’re doing that, you can’t ever really go wrong by trying something and experimenting.