I don’t know about you but when I was watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) growing up, I always dreamed of being a writer on the show. Those sketches are comedy wizardry! That got me thinking about how to become a writer for SNL. Maybe you’ve wondered the same thing. Maybe you’ve stared into the mirror and honestly asked yourself if you have what it takes.
Since I’m a perpetual optimist (read: slightly delusional), I dug around and did a little research for us. I think you’ll find the information about how to become a writer for SNL pretty dang fascinating.
How to Become a Writer for SNL (Step-by-Step)
My research uncovered a step-by-step process for how to become an SNL writer. If you just want to read a darkly funny take on this process (that just might make you want to blow your brains out by the end of it), check out this blog post.
If you are looking for exactly how hard it is to get a job on SNL or how to become a comedy writer for a show like SNL, you’ve come to the right place.
Short answer: It ain’t easy.
Slighter longer answer: Pull on your big-kid boots because it’s going to take some work but you can absolutely do this (Just follow the steps in this insanely complete guide).
Binge Watch (Study) SNL
I know, I know. This is going to be tough. Watching hundreds of hours of a hilarious show full of clever characters and spot on dialogue is a terrible kind of torture. Actually, binge watching the show is a wonderful way to notice patterns that you can use in your application and portfolio for becoming an SNL writer.
In this first but important step, watch as much of the show as you can stand over a period of days or even weeks. Hopefully, you have watched it growing up, and (even more hopefully) you watch it regularly now.
That way, you have a historical knowledge and understanding of where the show came from, its ups and downs. You also know how the show is playing out right now.
This initial research will prove essential. If you want to know how to become a writer for SNL, you must do this homework.
While you are binge watching the show, make notes of any patterns you observe. You are looking for maco patterns and mico patterns that can inform your ultimate application, interview and success as a writer for SNL.
Patterns to Keep in Mind
- Themes of the sketches
- Character types or archetypes (like morally gray characters)
- Word choice
- Type of humor
- Plot of the sketches
- Conflict in the sketches
- What types of sketches seem to work best (in the past and on the current season)
- Setting of the sketches
- Number of characters in the sketches
- The big idea (what is the compelling idea behind the sketch that makes it different)
Study (a.k.a stalk) SNL writers
Also, study other SNL writers. Go do a bit of Google stalking. Find out if they have a website, check out their social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tik Tok, etc.).
When you find their social media, follow them, share them, and engage in positive social etiquette. Read their articles, peruse their website, drive by their house (ok, yeah, don’t do that, I was just seeing if you were paying attention :).
If they have a blog, read it. If they have a podcast, listen to it. If they are on Youtube, watch their videos or interviews. You just never know what little tid bit you might pick up that can give you an edge in your application or interview.
Study the Funny
Saturday Night Live is, above all else, a comedy sketch show. So, bone up on comedy by reading humor writing blogs, books, videos and taking comedy courses (online or in-person).
A few good resources on humor can sometimes make all the difference.
How to become a writer for SNL? Never stop learning and growing as a comedy writer. Flex those writing muscles by keeping yourself in top comedy shape.
- The Serious Guide To Joke Writing by Sally Holloway
- Poking a Dead Frog by Penguin Books
- Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV: How to Write Monologue Jokes, Desk Pieces, Sketches, Parodies, Audience Pieces, Remotes, and Other Short-Form Comedy by Twenty Lane Media, LLC.
- Truth In Comedy by Charna Halpern, Del Close, and Kim Johnson
- The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter
- And Here’s The Kicker by Mike Sacks
- Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy by Greg Dean
- How To Write Funny by Scott Dikkers
- The Complete Idiots Guide to Writing Comedy by Jim Mendrinos
- The Comic Toolbox By John Vorhaus
- The Hidden Tools Of Comedy by Steve Kaplan
Also, check out my other Recommended Tools for writers and bloggers.
You also might want to check out this online free comedy class. When you are trying to learn how to become a writer for SNL, it helps to obsess over becoming the best comedy-writer.
Steve Martin even has a comedy-writing class on Masterclass.com
YouTube Comedy Specials (to study)
Move to New York (OK, don’t). But, yeah, maybe consider it. At least make a trip out to see the show recorded live. Try to get there and experience the live show at least once.
It’s unforgettable and will give you an insider’s perspective.
When you are struggling to know how to become a writer for SNL, that first-hand experience can motivate you.
Meet who you can meet. Network, but don’t be creepy. Be polite, positive, give other human beings (even famous ones) the respect of social distancing (cue 2020 covid-19 humor that you, future reader, may not even understand. I promise it is hilarious).
Side note: What is it about writing about humor that almost forces you to try to be funny?
Write Funny Stuff
Hopefully, you have been doing this a long time. If not, today is the best day to start. Write jokes, sketches, stand-up, dialogue, ideas, puns, poetry, short stories, articles, blog posts, YouTube scripts, social media posts, and anything and everything else you can think of that is funny.
The key here is to keep flexing the funny muscle. And collect lots of ideas. Keep a notebook handy, or use the notetaking or voice recording app on your phone. I use the built-in Notes and the Smart Recorder on my android phone.
Keep a running collection of:
- Funny words
- Funny sayings or phrases (could become a character catchphrase or running gag)
- Funny situations (including scenes with sexual tension)
- Character traits
- Character appearance
- Jokes of all kinds
- Current and popular trends
When possible, publish funny stuff out in the world. This will give you real-world feedback from places like Twitter and YouTube. Take note of what works and what doesn’t work. Scale up your strengths, work on your weaknesses.
If anything hits and works especially well (or better than your other funny stuff), definitely keep that around so you can use it in your portfolio.
When you can, get your material published in magazines, popular comedy websites, or just your own personal website and blog (the more traffic and engagement analytics you can show, the better). This is about beefing up your resume and portfolio.
You can also get paid to write comedy on websites like Medium.com. I’ve been writing on this platform for around two months and have already make close to $100 by posting simple articles daily.
I expect to make over a $100 this month alone. Here is a comedy-related piece I wrote, for example. You can hone your funny bone while making money an building an audience.
If you want to know how to become a writer for SNL, you will need talent, grit, and resourcefulness.
Write Standup Material (SNL Writer Style)
Many SNL writers write and perform stand up. Follow their lead. Go to comedy shows, study what works, put together a 5-minute stand up set and perform on open-mic nights when they let just about anybody get up there and bomb (I mean, get standing ovations). You’re totally going to get standing ovations.
Steve Kaplan, a comedy expert at Backstage.com, offers this insight into standup:
“And the comedian is simply the courageous person who gets up in front of a large group of strangers and admits to, simply confesses to being human—telling the truth about herself, and others. People may be sitting the dark thinking, I’m a failure, I’m defeated, I’m all alone. The comic artist goes out there and says, ‘Me too.’
The comic actor isn’t straining to be funny but simply allowing his own humanity, her own absurdity, with all the flaws, foibles, and failings, to inform the characters they play and connect with the audience sitting in the dark. The essential gesture of the comedian is the shrug. ‘Hey, you’ll live. I’ve been there, that’s life, you’ll live!’ The art of comedy is the art of hope. This is the truth, the comic metaphor for our lives.”
Ask a friend or someone at the comedy club to record you on video. Then you can play it back later to catch patterns of which jokes hit and which bombed. You can observe spikes in laughter, hone your delivery, and tweak your performance for the next time.
If you read the backstories of famous comedians who ended up on SNL, you’ll find that most of them spent years finetuning their craft. You can follow in their comedic footsteps for how to become a writer for SNL.
Plus, over time, you capture video of you owning a crowd like a comedy god. This is portfolio gold that you can parlay into getting an agent, paid comedy gigs, paid comedy writing gigs, and impress the SNL recruiters and interview team.
Then it’s about rinsing and repeating the process as many times as possible. This is invaluable experience that will transform your writing. You will be living comedy, not just writing it. You’ll probably bomb a few times, but those will be some of the best learning moments of your writing life.
Plus, they’ll make nice anecdotes to drop in during your eventual national media interviews while winking slyly into the camera.
Develop Funny Characters
While you are at it, go ahead and work on some funny characters. When I say “funny characters”, I mean characters that make OTHER people (read “normal people”) laugh. Funny characters often don’t see how funny they really are to the people watching.
Start developing different kinds of characters using various types of comedy. Again, this is all about flexing your funny. Practice now will be invaluable later. And, who knows, you might come up with some really great characters that end up on SNL one day.
Keep notes, test out your characters by “playing them” in your stand-up comedy routines. This is a great way to fine tune both your comedy chops and your character details.
Prepare 3-5 Original SNL Sketches
Next on the agenda is to prepare your sketches that go with your submission to be a writer on SNL. Shoot for variety with a mix of commercial parody, current topical (pop culture or political), and three other sketches that demonstrate your range as a sketch writer.
The sketches themselves should also include lots of variety: different themes, characters, types of humor. You want to show range and see what sticks with the reviewers and recruiters. Insider tip: Include the names of active SNL cast members and potential hosts as characters in your sketches.
Once you have completed the previous steps, you will be prepared (as much as you can be) to submit impressive sketches as part of your application.
Get an Agent
By following the previous advice, you set yourself up to get an agent. A talent agent can help connect you to awesome opportunities locally and in other cities. Depending on their professional network, they probably know someone who knows someone with a connection to NBC or Saturday Night Live.
Here are a few tips for getting an agent:
- Develop a professional portfolio (If you follow the steps in this post, you will have already done this or at least have the raw material to create one)
- Look for an agent who lives in New York (or at least with connections there)
- Check out this list of agents specializing in TV writers.
Oh, and a good agent can usually share insider tips for how to become a writer for SNL.
Tap Into Your Inner Pain
This may sound strange in a post about comedy-writing, but pain is an essential element in humour.
I’m certainly not the first to point this out:
If you want to know how to become a writer for SNL, tap into the universal experience of pain.
Gilbert Gottfired says:
I have always felt comedy and tragedy are roommates. If you look up comedy and tragedy, you will find a very old picture of two masks. One mask is tragedy. It looks like it’s crying. The other mask is comedy. It looks like it’s laughing. Nowadays, we would say, ‘How tasteless and insensitive. A comedy mask is laughing at a tragedy mask.’ Gilbert Gottfried
Almost every comedy teacher that will tell you how to become a writer for SNL will emphasize pain.
If you are human, you have felt pain. Use that raw experience to connect with people through your writing. Not only will you heal yourself, you will help heal others.
Apply for this SNL Writer Workshop
Did you know that there is a workshop for late-night show writers? Each year, NBCUniversal selects 5 to 8 comedy writers to attend a multi-day, NYC-based workshop that prepares them to write for NBC late-night shows like SNL.
This is where you will meet executives, writers, and other professionals connected to late-night shows, including SNL. You will prepare sketches, experience a writers’ room, and make invaluable connections.
If you are accepted as one of the coveted few who get to take this workshop, and then impress the instructors and other NBC staff, you will have your best shot of becoming a writer for SNL.
You can find all of the details at this website but here are a few main points:
- The website describes the workshop as “a multi-day program focused on exposing talented sketch and comedy writers to NBCUniversal’s late night & alternative line-up and readying them for a staff writer position.”
- During the workshop, you’ll create sketches and experience what it’s like in a writer’s room.
- There are some specific application submission rules, so study those closely. Some of the rules, for example, are to submit the entire application packet as a single PDF and to complete the entire online submission (bio, essay question, and resume). Don’t forget to sign any release forms and ask a mentor to write you a letter of recommendation.
- Keep in mind this secret sauce from Reddit to landing a writing gig on SNL.
The following image visually describes what to include in the Late Night Writer’s Workshop and SNL Submission Packet. Keep in mind that the online submission form is only available during open submissions.
Also, this FAQ section on the NBCtips website is very helpful for putting your application together. It answers questions about format, bio and even a brief description of the types of jokes to include.
I’ve included a screenshot below so that you know exactly where to look on the website:
Here are their social media accounts so you can follow them for updates and more tips:
Looks like I missed the mark this year, so I plan to update this post with more images from the actual submission form during the next open submission period.
Double Check Everything
Perhaps this goes without saying but be sure to double check everything before you officially submit. Check names, spellings, punctuation, times and dates. Check all of your sketches. You don’t want a silly typo to disqualify you after all of this hard work.
You can use free online editing software like Grammarly to give you an edge.
It’s also helpful to run your complete application by other experienced writers or mentors for feedback. If you happen to have a talent agent, run it by them as well.
Submit The Application
Once you have double-checked everything, go ahead and submit. You can’t get the opportunity if you never take the shot. Click submit and know that you have done your very best to give yourself a chance at your dream job.
Be sure to check the SNL Writer Application website regularly so that you know the moment the submission period opens. You can also follow the Late Night Writer’s Workshop and NBCunitips social media accounts I listed earlier to stay in the loop.
Now Wait (Actively)
There is nothing else to do but wait for a response. Yes, you may never officially get one. There are lots of other applicants. You may be waiting for up to 4 weeks or more for a response, so passively waiting around isn’t really the best option.
Instead, try active waiting. What does that mean? It means continuing your journey towards being a writer on SNL while you wait. Keep flexing your funny. Keep studying and writing and performing and tweaking and collecting and publishing. Keep at it until you get there. There is still time. There is still hope.
By maximizing your wait time, you increase your skills no matter if you get the coveted call back or note.
Some Hope: Real People Do Get Chosen to Become Writers for SNL
This next graphic is pretty cool. It shows the 2020 winners chosen to take part in the Late Night Writer’s Workshop. This is often the first step in how to become a writer for SNL.
Note that there were 900 entries. The competition is steep but with the tips in this post and tons of hard work, you can be one of the lucky chosen few.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I pitch skits to Saturday Night Live?
Saturday Night Live (SNL) doesn’t accept unsolicited sketches or ideas for sketches. The best way to become a writer for SNL is to put in the time and effort to build an awesome portfolio, resume, and cover letter. Get published. Get feedback. Get an agent. And then apply for the coveted NBC Late Night Workshop.
What if a SNL writer steals my sketch ideas?
I can understand the creative concern. However, this is very unlikely. Any similarity to one of your sketches is more likely the result of common cultural topics (that are on everyone’s minds) or a coincidental fluke. I’d focus more on developing the experience, credentials and portfolio to wow the submission packet reviewers.
But if you DO have an incredible idea, leave it for me here in the comments. I promise to credit you as a Ghostwriter when I’m on Conan.
How much do SNL writers make?
Check out my other post about making money online.
According to PAYSA and Linkedin, if you know how to become a writer for SNL, you can likely earn an average of between $66,232 and $70,000 per year. Experienced writers can make upwards of $82,540 or more. That’s certainly no chump change.
Suggested next read: How to Become a Fortune Cookie Writer
Thank you for reading this article on how to become a writer for SNL.
Here is a quick summary:
- Study SNL
- Practice writing comedy
- Study how to write comedy
- Get real-life experience by doing stand up
- Seek a comedy agent
- Tap into your pain
- Apply for the SNL Writer Workshop
- Never give up hope
So, now you know how to become a writer for SNL.
As you have seen, it will take time, heart, focus, and lots of practice. I hope that you have also seen that it is possible. You really can live your dream of writing for SNL.
Someone has to write the comedy for the show. It might as well be you.
Before you go, check out my Recommended Tools for writers and bloggers.
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