Saturday Night Live is at its most timeless when it gets really, really weird. Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford impression fell into obscurity when Carter was inaugurated, but people still remember “Land Shark.” Comedy nerds love these truly bizarre sketches, like “Happy Fun Ball,” “Potato Chip,” or “Ornaments.” They’re all a cascade of surreal images, and many appear at the fabled ten-to-one spot, but sometimes you’ll get a gnarly curveball smack-dab in the middle of an episode, like with “House Hunters.”
Liev Schreiber and Leslie Jones play a couple in their last scenes on House Hunters. Each house has its pros and cons, but the cons are truly insane. One house has a completely vertical floor. Another only has pictures of windows. One is just a packet of Ranch dressing. Kent Sublette, SNL co-head writer and author of this sketch, spoke to Vulture about what exactly goes into making the star of Screams 2 and 3 poop upside down.
Tell me about how this sketch came about.
I wrote it really early on Wednesday, just a couple hours before read-through. I had written a bunch of stuff Tuesday night, and I was trying to get one more thing. I’d done a couple sketches like “Thanksgiving Food,” one that was a surreal list. Or like the “Easter Candy” one with Michael Keaton.
Oh, I love those!
They’re just weird, and get crazier as they go. They’re fun to write. I did those with Rob Klein and John Solomon. So I was trying to figure out if I should do another one of those, or could I think of something new? And for some reason I just thought of that end moment on House Hunters, where they list all the features of the houses. Pros and cons, in one scene. And I thought, Oh, I kind of like that as a setup. It’s simple. And I started writing it for Liev and Leslie as a live scene. I thought we’d see Photoshopped pictures of the crazy things. And then I got halfway through it, to the Ranch dressing, and I thought, This is insane. It’s too crazy; I can’t turn this in. And then I showed it to Erik Kenward, one of the producers, and asked if it’s too nuts: “Is this anything?” And he liked it, so I turned it in. That was basically it.
How did it go from being live, as it was in your head when you wrote it, to being taped?
We read it out loud, and it got laughs at the table. And during the meeting, when we were picking out all the sketches for the show, there was room for one more tape. Lorne suggested, “Why don’t you tape that?” And I was like, “Oh … okay.” I just couldn’t [see it]. It seems like such a small idea to spend a ton of money doing a pretape of. At least you could get all those visuals. So I said, “Let’s do it.” We did a rewrite on Thursday and then shot it Friday. Hannah [Levy] and Adriana [Robles], our new directors this year, I hadn’t really worked with them, but they did a really good job of making those visuals funny and adding to them.
So were you around for the shoot?
Yeah, I was there Friday. We shot it in Brooklyn, in one house that had a bunch of different rooms and types of spaces.
What was Liev Schreiber’s process like, as an actor, to prepare to take an upside down shit?
He thinks about all the sketches a lot, from an acting perspective. We did that part on green screen, obviously. He was sitting normally and they flipped it. I’m not sure what he was thinking in that moment, but I remember that he had never seen the show. So his instinct was to play it very real, like a real conversation. I had to tell him, “No, this is fake. Make it as fake as you can. Because you’re nonactors, you’re not used to it.”
You’ve already bought the house.
It’s all bullshit. And Leslie, who’s a big fan of the show, didn’t know that. She was like, “You’re kidding! Are you shitting me? I didn’t know that.” I actually had a friend who did it in London, for House Hunters International, so I knew all the ins and outs.
You had a peek behind the curtain.
How much HGTV would you say you watch, on average?
I watch a fair amount. I’m more of a Food Network person, if I’m going to do that kind of thing. But I will watch House Hunters. I don’t watch the whole thing anymore, but I will watch it. I do like that fake acting. I used to produce reality TV, before I ever did this. So I’ve done a bunch of those interviews, and I know what it’s like: “Use part of my question in your answer, and look at each other, not at the camera.” I know how awkward it can be, so they’re kind of fun to watch in that way.
Some people watch those shows because they find looking at all these fancy homes very soothing, and some people watch them to see couples slowly crumble before your eyes while pretending everything is fine. Do you fall into one of those camps?
I’m less into the houses. It’s one of those wallpaper shows that you can kind of focus on and not, at the same time. It’s very easily digested. But sometimes the people are interesting, and you wonder if that one is gay, things like that. You try to guess little aspects of their relationship that you’re not told about.
Do you have any insight into the house-hunting couple you wrote? What their day-to-day life is like?
They seem pretty happy. Sometimes one person dominates on the show, and you can tell they’re the one that’s gonna make the decision. I feel like they were pretty 50/50 when it came to the decision-making. I felt like they took each other’s needs into consideration.
Honestly, that’s rare enough that I’m willing to overlook the whole kidnapping thing.
What is it about these sketches with escalating surrealism that appeals to you so much?
Going back to “Happy Fun Ball,” I like those lists of crazy details. The longer it is the better it is — it’s not funny anymore, then it keeps going and it becomes funny again. So I’ve always been drawn to a list of jokes that gets weirder and weirder.
Do you have any jokes for this sketch that didn’t make it to air?
There were some things we didn’t have time to do. I wanted to get more shots of Leslie and Liev interacting in the spaces. We were only able to do that a couple of times, like with the invisible house. We were going to have Leslie in the bed, in pajamas, cooking on that stove, which I think would have been really funny. So at the end of the day, I was worried we didn’t have enough coverage of everything, but I think we were fine.
The Australian vampires, is that a What We Do in the Shadows reference?
Not intentionally. It’s just two random words I put together.
They were from New Zealand anyway. But there’s something so funny about an Australian vampire. Intellectually, I know Australia exists at night, but I just can’t picture it.
I wanted them to be in khaki Dracula outfits. It was almost that, but I wanted there to be khaki capes. It was halfway there. But I thought of that too late to change the costumes.