Gasping for Airtime

last read…

Did you know Jay Mohr was on SNL? The guy who I previously primarily associated as the antagonist in Jerry Maguire indeed got his start in stand up comedy. Granted that I was a preteen living abroad at the time, I had no idea that he was not only a Featured Player (an affliction which would later affect the way a certain host viewed his status) which is nothing to sneeze at, but also a writer. His status as a cast member built up during the second third of the book, and Mr. Mohr would drive it home until the very end.

Background on the author: Aside from Bob Sugar, Jay Mohr has a long list of credits: the Jeff Foxworthy Show, Pay It Forward, and Go – one of the most underrated movies ever – are what I can name without help from Wikipedia. Can we talk? The summer before senior year in high school, my b/f/f-slash-future-MOH and I watched him portray a man out for vengeance via a cross dressing alter ego in Cherry Falls. It is one of those slasher movies that is so bad, that it is good. Oh and I loved Jay Mohr in Picture Perfect. His character was the foil to the sleazy character portrayed by Kevin Bacon. The movie was just the perfect snapshot of the late 90s which I am very into right now. (I literally just searched him in Netflix and Hulu and voiced my frustration on the unavailability of both Jerry Maguire and Picture Perfect. My husband gave me the side eye. I resorted to Ally McBeal.)

I digress, as I tend to do.

As I mentioned, I was clueless to the fact that Jay Mohr was a Featured Player, let alone writer, on SNL. As someone who put in seventy hour weeks at her first job out of graduate school and even joined my department for a 5k color run, I identify with the agony of feeling like a perpetual outsider. (Spoiler alert: I burnt out.) Jay Mohr used the phrase, “Friends with everyone, but not really friends with anyone.” This spoke to me.

However, as I got further into the book, I read a few things that went against everything I believed to be true in a post-Lean In, post-Leave Your Mark world.

  • During his first year (second year as well), Jay failed to get his anticipated number of sketches past the notoriously discernible Lorne Michaels. As a result, Jay leaned out of writing after his first year on the show. He mentioned “boycotting” the Good-nights. Point against Mohr.
  • He mentions that because he forfeited his option to stay on as a writer for his second year, he would not have to participate in rewrites again. Yet he did it anyway. Point for Mohr.
  • During his second season, he got a flu shot. He did not get one during his first and consequently, spent a week taking sick time. This move reeks of privilege. Not everyone has a generous sick leave policy. Point against Mohr.
  • He came off female-negative. He shared negative anecdotes about Sally Field, Roseanne Barr (I think we can all get on board with that), Marisa Tomei, Janeane Garofalo. Jay stated that the lack of females on the screen was a reflection of the female cast members not having material written for them. Fair. This was a reflection of the lack of female writers. Fair. (Sidenote: Sarah Silverman, who started as a writer during the 1993-1994 season, as did Mohr, did not make it to the 1994-1995 season.) But, he claims that he was not getting material either. To which I thought, maybe it is because you left the building before the Good-nights. (Note to self: Watch the 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 seasons. Do a deep dive on this.) Point against Mohr.
  • Only once does Jay Mohr mention that he “was making a fortune performing stand-up at colleges and clubs.” He was so lucky to be able to pursue this dream at SNL, while simultaneously not having to skip meals or go on government assistance. Point against Mohr.
  • Did Jay Mohr predict a Donald Trump presidency? He addresses the mid-90s popularity of Jesse Ventura and Howard Stern as a reaction to the frustration of bipartisan politics. The latter only dropped out due to a New York State law of complete disclosure of income and property. Too real. Point for Mohr. Point against citizens of the United States.
  • Jay recounts a conversation he had with Mike Myers during the former’s second season. After being downgraded to a significantly smaller dressing room, invasive intercom speaker, and consequently copious bitching about both, Mike Myers told him about how he did not even have a dressing room during his first few years. Myers said that if his lack of office was any indicator of how he was perceived in the eyes of the bosses, then the chopping block could not be that far off. I Wikipedia’d how long Myers was on the show. He joined SNL in an on-screen capacity in 1989. This conversation took place in 1995. In the world of Saturday Night Live, six years seems like a respectable tenure. This is all to say that influence and popularity does not happen overnight. Had Mike Myers left after two years without having a dressing room, we would not have Wayne’s World or Austin Powers. We wouldn’t have Coffee Talk either. #likebuttah What kills me is that Jay Mohr acknowledges that the SNL heavy hitters had similar experiences to his own, in that they spent one to two years with a minimal line count per week. What makes Jay Mohr think he is so special? To not to pour his all into this opportunity that so few are granted? He further recognizes that he was following the same path as those who preceded him. 1K points against Mohr.
  • He stole comedy material. I was so disappointed to read that Jay Mohr was the Fat-freaking-Jewish of 1995. Not only that but he lied to cover it up. I can give him credit for fessing up, but is there a statute of limitations for theft of creative material? 1M points against Mohr.

Would I recommend it? If you have an interest in the Saturday Night Live institution. My history professors would be proud of my declaration that you just cannot get better than primary source material. In that case, I would also recommend Bossy Pants, Yes, Please, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns. Will I revisit the book? Nah, onto the next memoir.


Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live by Jay Mohr

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