The Night I Worked for the Saturday Night Live Props Department

In a conversation recently on my podcast, The Committed, I briefly told the story of how I participated in a sketch on Saturday Night Live. I recalled that today, and went online to see if I could find a video of it; indeed, there it is: Samurai Tailor, with John Belushi in his recurring role as the samurai.

Back in the late 1970s, I loved watching Saturday Night Live. You could write in and get tickets, if you were lucky, but a friend found out that you could also go wait on the standby line at Rockefeller Center, where the show was performed. It was a great atmosphere there. The line was in one of the marble-floored halls of the art deco 30 Rockefeller Plaza building, and each week there would be anywhere from about 50 to 100 people. It was a relaxed party atmosphere; we’d wait on line for a few hours, taking turns to go outside and replenish our stores of food and drink. We did this many times, and got in about half the time; all told, I probably saw a dozen episodes of the series.

On May 22, 1976, Buck Henry was the guest host, and Gordon Lightfoot was the musical guest. My friends and I were led to seats at the front row of the area where the audience sat. The audience was above the sets; we could see the sets in the back of the soundstage, and there were other, smaller sets below the seats.

A little while before the show started, a production assistant came up to me with a small paper bag. He explained that, later in the show, there would be a sketch in the set just below where I was sitting. He asked if I could open the bag when he told me to, and drop the buttons it contained directly below me.

Naturally, I was psyched. When the sketch started, the PA came up to the aisle and waved to let me know it would soon be my call. As the sketch progressed, he kept his eye on the action – we couldn’t see anything in the set, but there were monitors the audience could watch – and just when it was time, he gave me a hand signal. You can see my work at about 3:00 in the video below.

I have to say, my timing was impeccable. I may have missed my calling.

(Note: if you’re outside the US, you won’t be able to see this video without a VPN.)

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