Live From New York – It’s Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition

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While my main goal in the city Wednesday was to visit the Seinfeld pop-up, I was hopefully that this particular activity wouldn’t consume my entire day. I was prepared to wait on line as long as needed, but I did have some other activities on my agenda that I was hoping to squeeze in: I wanted to finally visit the High Line (beautiful), have a lobster roll at Chelsea Market (always a good idea), sample a sushi burrito (delicious), bring back some cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar (worth walking 16 blocks for) and finally head over the 5th Avenue to check out the newly opened Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition. Amazingly, I was able to accomplish absolutely all of this AND catch an earlier train home. It was a Festivus miracle.

My relationship with Saturday Night Live has ebbed and flowed over the years; right now we’re in an ebb period where I rarely even watch the show (unless the guest is The Rock, Louis CK or Justin Timberlake), but in the 1990s and early 2000s SNL was definitely appointment TV for me. Now I’m more likely to watch a clip or two online rather than a whole episode, but I still have an affinity for the show in my heart – especially those casts from my high school and college years – and getting a ticket to see it performed live is a holy grail that I’ve been chasing for years. I’m always interested in behind the scenes info and though I think the quality of the show right now is not as high as it used to be, I am always blown away by the fact that this show is done from cradle to grave in one week every week. That’s mind blowing when you really think about it. So my interest was definitely piqued when this exhibition opened last month and while I wasn’t sure what I would actually get out of it, I was looking forward to learning more about the show and its process.

The exhibition is set up to walk you through a typical week in the life of SNL – from the writing to the pitches to costuming, set design and make-up to rehearsal, re-writes and the final show. Each day has a milestone that needs to be accomplished and while the exhibition provides a clearer template for how the show is created, it is also full of memorabilia and interviews from cast and crew to full flush out the development of an episode week to week, as well as some historical context of SNL in the larger world of comedy. Because it was a Wednesday in the middle of the day, the exhibition was pretty empty which meant that I could really take my time and read all of the placards and watch all the videos without feeling rushed. I found the whole thing really interesting and even though I’ve seen many of the clips that they show many, many times before, I would still stand there and laugh until they had cycled through. Apparently the eras of the show that I like the most are generally the most popular as most of the costuming and video clips used were from this time period, though there was of course some special attention paid to the early days of the show.

Lorne Michaels' desk - notable because he has the same Paul O'Neill bobblehead that I do.

Lorne Michaels’ desk – notable because he has the same Paul O’Neill bobblehead that I do.

The Killer Bees - SNL's first recurring characters

The Killer Bees – SNL’s first recurring characters

Nick the Lounge Singer's jacket

Nick the Lounge Singer’s jacket

The Land Shark

The Land Shark

Buckwheat costume

Buckwheat costume

Mister Robinson's Neighborhood

Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood

Stuart Smalley costume

Stuart Smalley costume

Tentative schedule for the show - note that this is from the recent episode that The Rock hosted

Tentative schedule for the show – note that this is from the recent episode that The Rock hosted

The Church Lady costume - isn't that special?

The Church Lady costume – isn’t that special?

Wayne's World! Party Time! Excellent!

Wayne’s World! Party Time! Excellent!

From SNL 40th

From SNL 40th

Celebrity Jeopardy!

Celebrity Jeopardy!

Turd Ferguson (aka Burt Reynolds)

Turd Ferguson (aka Burt Reynolds)

Dooneese (I don't think that I ever knew this character's name)

Dooneese (I don’t think that I ever knew this character’s name)

Conehead prosthetic

Conehead prosthetic

Goat Boy

Goat Boy

Dick in a Box

Dick in a Box

Products from commercial parodies

Products from commercial parodies

King Tut costume - my first memory of SNL

King Tut costume – my first memory of SNL

Spartan cheerleaders

Spartan cheerleaders

Stefon

Stefon

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton

Matt Foley

Matt Foley

Mary Katherine Gallagher

Mary Katherine Gallagher

Opera Man

Opera Man

I just loved this old photo of Jim Belushi and Gilda Radner

I just loved this old photo of Jim Belushi and Gilda Radner

Night at the Roxbury

Night at the Roxbury

SNL Stage

SNL Stage

Jimmy Fallon's photo from the wall of head shots of all cast members. His hair cut is terrible.

Jimmy Fallon’s photo from the wall of head shots of all cast members. His hair cut is terrible.

I was surprised at how much that I learned about SNL and I really got a kick out of seeing all the costumes – especially Wayne’s World, which was one of my all-time favorites. The exhibition does an excellent job of highlighting the people that aren’t in the spotlight – like the crew that designs and builds all the sets and the makeup and wardrobe people – but are essential to the show’s success week in and week out. As someone who fancies herself a writer, it was also nice to get the insight from current and former head writers about their process. The exhibition also walks you through what it’s like to sit in the control room during the show and ends with a (brief) simulated show where you get to see what is happening on the other stages during sketches (I had no idea that the seats on the floor are on a swivel). All in all, it was both an educational experience and a trip down memory lane of some of my favorite moments from the show. I’m glad that I was able to squeeze it in – anyone that’s a fan of SNL should try and check it out.

Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition is located at 417 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016.

Mad Men Exhibit – Museum of the Moving Image (Astoria, NY)

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Mad Men sadly begins its final season on Sunday and to commemorate the occasion last week was “Mad Men Week” in NYC; several restaurants even ran “liquid lunch” specials in honor of a show that features many a deal brokered over a three (or more ) martini lunch. Though Mad Men is actually filmed on the West Coast, New York is an integral part of the show – many real places and events are part of the stories that Matt Weiner and company are telling. They may be recreating New York, but they expertly captured both the spirit of both the city and its residents in the 1960s.

While I was in New York last Friday for Bob’s Burgers Live, I decided to take the opportunity to make the trip out to Astoria to see the Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. I had been to the museum previously to check out their exhibit on Breaking Bad and had enjoyed it, so I knew that they would do a nice job with a show whose identity was so closely tied in with the city. I also knew that this exhibit was a lot larger, as they had some of the sets from the show on display. Creator Matt Weiner was involved in the curation of the exhibit, so there was no way it was going to be anything other than top notch. Weiner doesn’t half-ass anything.

But before I hoped on the Queens bound M train, I had another Mad Men-related stop to make. The offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners, the latest iteration of the ad agency depicted on the show, are in the Time & Life Building near Rockefeller Center. In yet another tribute, a public art piece was installed outside of the building – a bench that has the famous silhouette from the opening credits of Mad Men. Jon Hamm himself even sat on the bench, which meant that I definitely had to go check it out.

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It looked great and there were only a few people waiting to have their photo taken on it, so I didn’t have to wait long to snap my own picture and be on my merry way. I neglected to notice that the street signs near the Time & Life Building had also been renamed for the show – “Don Draper Way” and “Mad Men Avenue” – but I’ll stop by again in the next few weeks to document that as well.

Then it was off to Starbucks for their limited “Happy Birthday Frappuccino” – so freaking good – and a rare trip out of Manhattan to the museum. I don’t agree with Pete Campbell on much, but we do agree on our love of Manhattan:

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Unfortunately, they do not allow photographs to be taken in the exhibit, which I was anticipating from similar restrictions during the Breaking Bad exhibit. Several people were covertly snapping shots with their cell phones when they thought the security guards weren’t looking, but I’m nothing if not a rule follower so I refrained from such wonton rebellious behavior. Besides, I’m wanted to experience the exhibit by being present, rather than looking at it on a screen.

The first part of the exhibit features a lot of background materials on the show – books that inspired or informed the show, drafts of what would become Mad Men, and photos of Matt Weiner and his family during the time period when Mad Men is set. There was a big display case that was just filled with random notes that Weiner had made about the show, both before the show debuted and during the run of the show. Some of the slips of paper had character or plot notes, will others had random lines of dialogue. As a writer, I was kind of fascinated by Weiner’s process and I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who randomly jots down ideas at random times.

I was surprised to find that one of the things that were recreated in the exhibit was the Mad Men writer’s room; it seemed like an odd thing to feature, not only because it took up a lot of space, but because Weiner notoriously puts his name on almost all scripts. Still, it was kind of cool to see how they keep track of all the characters and plot out storylines. Again, I’m more interested in process than most people simply because of my dream of finding myself in a writer’s room some day.

 

From there, it was on to a room full of costumes for all the main characters on the show. It was amazing how many memories flooded back from the show simply from the clothes on display; this happened more so with the women’s costumes, which are more recognizable. Joan’s costumes and Megan’s famous “Zou Bisou Bisou” dress in particular were really cool to see in person. It was a little jarring to see how small Sally Draper’s costumes were – Kiernan Shipka was so young when the show started!

 

 

Around the corner was the first of the two Mad Men sets – the Draper family kitchen. It was jarring to see the set in person; so many famous scenes transpired here and I now found myself standing in it. It was a little like being in bizzaro world. It all felt so familiar and the set designers did an impeccable job of recreating the Man Men experience. I half expected to see Betty Draper chain smoking away behind the counter.

If I was a little unprepared for all the feels when I saw the Draper kitchen, I was most certainly was not expecting the feelings I experienced when I stood in the set for Don’s office.

Again, there was the jarring dichotomy of complete familiarity despite the fact I was in an unfamiliar space. Since the exhibit wasn’t too crowded, I took my time at this set, just taking in all of the minor details that you might not notice during the TV show. For instance – who knew that Don had a record player in his office? This seems like something that I should have known, since it’s a pretty sizable piece of furniture, but I was surprised to see it there.

 

Everything just felt perfect, right down to the photo of Megan on the beach that sits on Don’s desk, along with photos of the Draper Children. I then turned my gaze to the sitting area in Don’t office, where many a pivotal scene has occurred (within reach of the omnipresent liquor cart).

It seriously might have been worth getting thrown out/arrested to hop the barricades and take a seat behind the desk. I had a similar instinct when I saw the desk from The Godfather at the Francis Ford Coppola winery in Napa, California. Thankfully, I was able to resist temptation and control myself in both cases, but I’m not going to say that I didn’t actually consider it (and the ramifications).

The rest of the exhibit was full of other props from the show. I was particularly interested in the display that showed the different sequences that they considered for the opening sequence. The one that they ultimate chose was indeed the best, but it was informative to see the different directions that they had mocked up before making a final decision. It also served as a reminder that Maggie Siff, best known as Tara on Sons of Anarchy, was on the first season of the show. I’d completely forgotten that she played Rachel Menken. They also had a digital scrapbook if images that they saved for inspiration for the characters attire on different seasons that was fun to flip through.

Another wall had some additional costumes (yay Rizzo) as well as some of the famous artwork that was used in the ad campaigns that the agency had pitched. There’s some classics in there, including “At last something beautiful you can truly own” and the ill-fated Hershey campaign that nearly undid Don’s entire career.

There were interesting little items everywhere, including Don’s “secret box” that contained clues to his past, like his dog tags and old photos.

I really enjoyed the exhibit and felt like I learned a lot about one of my favorite shows. I skipped most of the rest of the museum as a lot of the exhibits I had seen on my last trip, though I was mesmerized by their editing display. They had on an old baseball game – so naturally it caught my eye, even if it was the Mets – as well as the feeds of all the different angles that are then seamlessly combined to great what we see at home. I guess I never thought about all that goes into orchestrating all the camera shots to capture the game, but it was truly fascinating to watch the editor directing away, jumping between cameras and weaving them together to give the best view of what was happening live. Honestly, it kind of blew my mind and I sat there for a long time just watching in wonder (plus it was nice to sit down for a while). I have new found respect for the guys in the control booth and tip my cap to them.

The Museum of the Moving Image is a cool place and worth the train ride, especially if you love pop culture. I always find something interesting there and the Mad Men exhibit was no exception. It’s a must stop if you are a fan of the show.

Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men runs through June 14th.

 

Bob’s Burgers Live – The Beacon Theater (New York, NY), 3.27.15

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I may be in my thirties, but I still watch a lot of animated programming. I’ve been a fan of the genre since I was little, getting up early on Saturday mornings to see the latest installments of The Smurfs, Muppet Babies, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats and the Gummi Bears. As I got older, I switched over to Jem and the Holograms and Beverly Hills Teens; my brother and I found common ground with He-Man and She-Ra. Then it was on to The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, Daria, South Park, Family Guy, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and SpongeBob Squarepants. Now I’ve added Bob’s Burgers and Archer to my rotation. In my opinion, you’re never too old for cartoons.

Given my love of Bob’s Burgers, I was very excited to hear that the cast of the show was going out on a limited tour. Dubbed Bob’s Burgers Live, I wasn’t really sure what the show would comprise of, but I knew had to be there. Thanks to a pre-sale, I was able to snatch up tickets early. I was excited for the show, despite the fact that history shows that I get a little freaked out when the voice of a cartoon character comes out of a human person. If a person is doing a voice, it is less problematic, but if their regular speaking voice is the same or too similar to the voice that they use for an animated show, it throws me off. It’s like my brain cannot process what is happening. I first noticed this when I saw Seth MacFarlane on a talk show – his voice and Family Guy’s Brian are one in the same and I just couldn’t deal with the voice of a cartoon dog coming out of a human. This only happens when I am not familiar with the voice actor beforehand – celebrities that loan their voices to animated films doesn’t faze me in the least. But if I see Julie Kavner in another movie, I fixate on the fact that Marge Simpson’s voice is part of the scene. Intellectually, I of course understand how voice work works, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Yes – I’m weird.

If you’ve never seen the show – and you should – Bob’s Burgers is about a family that runs a fledgling burger restaurant. Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) is the default voice of reason, since his three kids and wife all march to the beat of their own drummer and occasionally need to be brought back to reality. This is not to say that Bob isn’t weird in his own way; he just comparatively more normal. He’s a great cook and a terrible businessman. Linda (John Roberts) is the matriarch of the Belcher clan who loves life and is enthusiastic about pretty much everything. She’s prone to break into song and she encourages her children to be their own people and be themselves. She tends not to think things all the way through and can be a pushover, especially where her offspring are concerned. Tina (Dan Mintz) is the eldest Belcher child and she’s socially awkward and struggling with going through puberty. She’s obsessed with boys, butts and zombies. Gene (Eugene Mirman) is the middle child and is the most similar to his mother in his offbeat sense of humor and musical inclinations. He’s probably the least bright of the Belcher kids, which makes him easy to manipulate. Louise (Kristen Schaal) is the baby of the family and is easily the most aggressive member of the family. She and Stewie Griffin from Family Guy would probably get along famously, as they both tend toward dark thoughts and wants to be in control of everything. The family all work together and live in an apartment above the restaurant. The kids are terrible employees, but they are free labor and while the family lives paycheck to paycheck, they genuinely love each other and enjoy each other’s company.

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As I filed into the Beacon Theater Friday night with a bunch of other Bob’s Burgers fans, I had only the vaguest ideas of what the show would actually look like. The crowd was in a jovial mood and many people came dressed up as characters from the show. There were many Louises floating about, which was not surprising given that not only is she a great character but she’s pretty easy to cosplay (put on a pink bunny ears hat and you’re basically done). I saw a few Tinas in the mix as well and one devoted audience member bridged out beyond the Belcher family to dress up like Jimmy Jr, Tina’s crush. I was impressed. I’m not a person that would dress up, but I always respect the people who have the dedication to do so. That takes some self-confidence and shows some true passion. I had great seats in the fifth row, so I was close to the action.

Jon Benjamin and Eugene Mirman came out to greet the crowd and give us the basic structure of the evening – each of the five main cast members would come out and do some stand-up, followed by some clips from the show, a table read by the cast and then end with audience Q&A. The stand-up intrigued me, since I didn’t know enough about the background of many of the actors to know if they had previous stand-up experience. I’d seen Kristen Schaal perform previously at the Oddball Festival so I knew that she was up to the task, but I wasn’t sure about the others. Turns out that they all were, to varying degrees. Everyone was funny, but some cast members seemed much more comfortable doing a short set than others. They were individually on stage about ten minutes each and it became clear that not only do the cast of Bob’s Burgers generally sound like their animated counterparts, many of them actually look like them as well. I didn’t really know what any of them looked like besides Schaal and Benjamin, so it was kind of jarring to see. The physical resemblance between Dan Mintz and Eugene Mirman and their respective characters is hard to miss:

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So basically, I was watching Tina and Gene Belcher doing standup. That was most problematic for Mintz, since his material dealt a lot with his girlfriend, which just sounded so odd delivered in a voice that we most associate with a 13 year old cartoon character. I wasn’t the only one in the audience that found this amusing, since every time he said the words “my girlfriend” there was slight titter from the audience. Roberts probably had the biggest personality on stage and sounded the least like the character that he portrayed; there were traces of Linda in his performance, but he was able to distinguish himself the most from his character. It was fun, but I was glad that they all did short sets, since I was more anxious for Bob’s Burgers-related content.

We then got to see a few clips from upcoming episodes of the show – two from an episode this season about Linda’s birthday and one from the Halloween special next season. The clip for next season wasn’t finished – the mouths on the characters were not psyched to the dialogue yet – but the episode looks awesome. I’m bummed that I have to wait until next fall to see the rest of it. The clips from Linda’s birthday episode were great too – the downside of seeing the clips with a roomful of enthusiastic fans was that we were all laughing so hard that we missed some of the dialogue. There are worse problems to have. It was cool to get a sneak peek at what’s coming down the pike. We were then briefly treated to some musical numbers from Roberts and Mirman, as they sang some of their characters songs. I was glad that they had Mirman sing Gene’s snake song:

 

The cast then came out on stage to participate in a table read for an upcoming episode. Yup – more advanced access, which I always enjoy. Since the episode that they were performing hasn’t aired yet, they only did the first two acts of the show so as to not spoil it completely. Even without the resolution, it was pretty funny – the episode focuses around the kids imagining what Bob and Linda’s first meeting would have been like if Bob didn’t have his mustache. Because it was a full table read, some additional actors were on stage as well – Larry Murphy, who plays fan favorite Teddy, and the great Kevin Kline, who voices the Belcher’s landlord Mr. Fischoeder. The best part about the table read, aside from seeing the cast all together, was how much they clearly enjoyed doing the show. They were laughing when it wasn’t their turn to perform and Roberts really seemed to get into being Linda. So it was nice to see that they find the show as funny as we do. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of the episode when it finally airs. Good stuff.

I notoriously hate audience Q&A so I did have half a thought about ducking out early to make sure that I caught the earlier train home, but logistically that would have been difficult to do given my seat location. I didn’t want to disrupt the rest of the people in my row just because I think that fans generally ask asinine questions and ramble way too much. Thankfully, they did the Q&A in the best way possible, using pre-selected questions that had been submitted before the show. This basically took the audience out of it, which was perfect, though even the pre-selected questions weren’t generally very good. Thankfully, they dispensed with this pretty quickly; the only really interesting nugget that we found out is that there will be a Bob’s Burger album coming out. Hooray.

One of the final questions, which was probably a plant, was to ask the cast to sing “Electric Love,” a song from the episode “Topsy” when Louise is forced to do a science project on Thomas Edison. Annoyed by this, she decides to focus her project on Edison’s electrocution of an elephant, the titular Topsy, to annoy her teacher who is a big Edison fan. Classic Louise. This seemed like a fortuitous request since Kevin Kline was there, though they were missing Megan Mullaly, who voices the kid’s Aunt Gayle. Mullaly was out of the country, so no surprise appearance, but they found a suitable replacement for her half of the song – Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords. The crowd went nuts when he came out, since Flight of the Conchords haven’t made a lot of appearances lately; I was less awe-struck since I saw the Conchors at the aforementioned Oddball Festival two summers ago. Still, it was a nice surprise and they got the whole audience to sing along with the song.

 

It was a great way to end the night.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Seth Myers was at the show, sitting a few rows ahead of me in the front row. That was my second celebrity sighting of the day, as I saw Kirk from The Roots earlier that afternoon.
  • I’d never been to the Beacon Theater and I have to say it was really beautiful inside. It’s also conveniently located to a subway station, which is an added bonus. I’d definitely go to a show there again.
  • Kevin Kline actually came out on stage with an eyepatch on, to match the attire of his character. Outstanding.
  • Worst question from the Q&A – Who would win a fight – Bob or Archer (both voiced by H. Jon Benjamin)? Not even a question – the super spy would wipe the floor with the burger chef. Don’t waste our time with this foolishness.

I had such a fun night at Bob’s Burgers Live, even if it was a late night for me (I got home from the City after 2 am). In fact, I spent most of the rest of the week lounging on my couch, recovering from the late night and watching all the back episodes of Bob’s Burgers on Netflix. I haven’t watched many of the episodes multiple times, so it was nice to revisit them. The tour is now over, so I can’t recommend that you go check it out, but if it does come to a city near you in the future and you are a fan of the show, it is well worth your time. My only regret was that some of my friends who are die-hard Bob’s Burgers fans couldn’t join me. It was a great time and made me fall in love with the show even more.

Bob’s Burgers airs Sundays on Fox; seasons 1-3 of the show are currently streaming on Netflix. Season 4 will be added April 1st.