Just some of the great greats. How have they changed, and what does it say about us?

What Lorne Michaels sees in changing SNL talent

Kids raised in captivity

Lorne Michaels just completed the 46th season of Saturday Night Live, a show he created and executive produced for most of its existence. It began, of course, in 1976 with an incredibly talented group of future superstars, including Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and the source of my first tears over a celebrity death, John Belushi.

To have identified such a talented group of people once could have been dumb luck. But Michaels has renewed the cast dozens of times since then, finding and launching comedic giants year after year, decade after decade. As I get older, and struggle to keep up with changing tastes in comedy, music, and everything else, I find this more and more remarkable. To know who’s funny as your own generation comes of age is one thing. But to do it again and again — to have spotted so many of the funniest and most talented people across generations of aspiring unknowns — is another thing entirely. The show’s enduring cultural relevance is testament to Michaels keen eye not only for the kind of electric talent common to both a Belushi and Farley, but to the ever-changing comedic sensibilities that gave us first Eddie Murphy, then Adam Sandler, then Will Ferrell, and then Kate McKinnon.

Lorne Michaels is, quite clearly, a keen observer of cultural change. Which is why I found his answer to a question about that so fascinating.

Michaels was asked what was different about today’s rising comedic stars, specifically how they differed from those he’d identified at the start.

Paraphrasing, roughly, he said “When I was a kid, my parents had no idea where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing. And that was fine. So long as we were home by bedtime and nobody got killed, there were no problems. We, of course, did all kinds of crazy things, and got into all kinds of trouble. When we graduated, the world made us put on ties and go to work, and that was just awful. Today, it’s just the opposite. We keep our kids safe by controlling so much of their lives, their challenge is really figuring out how to survive once they get out in the world.”

”It’s like we were raised in the wild, then forced into civilization,” Michaels concluded. “These kids are raised in captivity, then released into the wild to fend for themselves.”

This is something I’ve worried about with my own kids, and haven’t heard said better than that.

For more check out Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live. Fortune Magazine once called it the best book about workplace politics ever written, and I’m inclined to agree.

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