It’s pretty safe to say that New York City has been good to native Michael Che. The comedian and writer is now co-anchor of “Saturday Night Live” centerpiece “Weekend Update” — and the first African-American to sit behind the desk — a gig he left “the Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to take. And now he’s the face of the #NYTough campaign. Not too shabby. But that doesn’t mean life in NYC isn’t still without its drawbacks.
What’s your approach to “Weekend Update,” as the newest anchor behind the desk?
My approach is just telling jokes that I think are funny, talking about things that I would like to see talked about and telling the jokes that I think are really funny. The feedback’s been great. It’s still a process of learning how to do the job better. I feel like every week is a process of getting better, and we’re definitely headed in the right direction, and me and [co-anchor Colin] Jost are having a lot of fun up there.
Was there any level of intimidation factor the first time you sat there?
Oh, absolutely. It’s extremely intimidating because you’re doing something that a lot of people care about. A lot of people care about “Saturday Night Live” and “Weekend Update” — they grew up with it, it’s important to them. So it’s very intimidating. It’s like you’re babysitting somebody’s kid. You don’t want it to get messed up on your shift.
You’ve done both “SNL” and “the Daily Show” now, which is impressive. Do other NYC comics resent you for hogging all the opportunities?
They shouldn’t. If they are, they’re thinking of the wrong things. They’re looking at it weird, because the more New York comedians getting jobs on “Update” or “Daily Show” or “SNL,” if we do it well it makes it easier for the next guy because they’re always looking for the next one. Comedy is a cycle, so the more people that are like you that get these opportunities, the better. When Hannibal [Buress] gets these opportunities, I feel like I got it because it’s opening doors. So be happy for me and Pete Davidson for being stand-ups that are doing these shows because now they’re going to be looking for more stand-ups.
You’re a native New Yorker. Everyone always talks about how much safer and cleaner the city has become over the last 20 or 30 years, but do you think it’s gotten any tougher to live here?
New York is still the toughest city, I believe, but it’s different. Obviously it’s a lot more expensive and a lot faster. Technology has made things a lot easier, and it’s a lot safer than it used to be, but it’s still tough. Just ask anybody on the 29th when rent is due how tough New York really is.
Is there a particular NYC odor that’s the worst for you?
Oh man, there’s plenty of New York smells, but the empty car on a crowded subway is the worst smell in New York City. You walk in because you say, “Wow, there are seats!” Every other car is crowded. Then as soon as you get on you get why that train car is empty — because it smells to holy hell and the doors are closed and you can’t get off. That’s the toughest thing to smell in New York, in my opinion.
You used to be able to actually walk between the cars.
You used to! You used to be able to walk through the cars, but I guess a lot of people got hurt so they stopped that. I feel like New York has grown up a lot as far as safety. It used to be you could do a lot of dangerous things, but now there’s a cop stand on every corner. It’s changed in that way. It’s still tough, it’s still a tough place to live.