Jerry Minor’s Ride From Flint to Mr. Show, SNL, and Beyond

Photo: Todd Williamson/Getty Images

Jerry Minor is one of those naturally likable everyman types comedy aficionados should recognize from supporting parts in any number of iconic movies and TV shows over the past quarter century — Mr. Show, Eastbound & Down, and Anchorman, to name a few. (Last month, he added a guest appearance on Abbott Elementary to his deep bench of credits.) But one could just as likely overlook Minor on first viewing despite a résumé as long and varied as the range of his talent.

That’s almost certainly how you could characterize his time on Saturday Night Live from 2000 to 2001. Minor is an archetypal one-and-done cast member, someone who didn’t get to appropriately spread his wings during a brief SNL tenure. Minor recently opened up about his time on the show, his blue-collar bona fides, what Rodney Dangerfield thought of him, and how he got Eminem to loosen up.

You grew up in Flint, Michigan, and worked stints at several of the local plants before performing full time. How did that affect your approach to sketch comedy?
At first, it was something I didn’t pursue. I was doing more stand-up around town. It didn’t seem like a career; it was more of a hobby. When I first started, I was still living at home and in college. So by the time I was influenced by sketch, that was everything. It seemed more up my alley, and it had this intersection of people with varying backgrounds. Some people had theater backgrounds, but a lot were like me — they just got interested in it and moved to Chicago.

So you don’t see breaking into comedy without your parents bankrolling you as an advantage or disadvantage, necessarily?
At some point, I embraced my working-class background more. I worked for Michael Moore. I was a correspondent on The Awful Truth, his show on Bravo, on the last season. We met through Adam McKay — they’d met maybe through SNL. He said, “Oh, I have another friend from Flint that you should meet.” We spoke on the phone, and I did a little writing for him early on. I sent some ideas in before he hired me.

At that point, I was doing another show here in L.A.: The Martin Short Show, which I quit to work with Michael Moore. Martin Short was a weird show, a daytime talk-show type of thing. I wasn’t getting the satisfaction I really wanted creatively. Actually, I met with Lorne originally around this time when I was doing The Awful Truth.

How did the Lorne Michaels connection happen?
I had a lot of friends at the show. McKay was there. I actually had gone out a couple years before I got on. But since I was on The Martin Short Show in ’99, I couldn’t audition. They flew me out, and I couldn’t sign the contracts beforehand to audition since I was doing another show. Then, years later, I happened to be in New York, and Lorne heard I was there. He said, “Do you want to come in and meet with me? I don’t know if I am going to be able to get you in the cast.” At that point, Tim Meadows was still in the cast. He said, “But if you want to be a writer for a while, maybe we can work out something.” So I didn’t really have to audition. I just came on. Tim was still in the cast when I met with Lorne in 2000. He quit right before I started.

You are one of a handful of SNL cast members to also be a Daily Show correspondent. How do those two experiences compare?
It was the second year Jon Stewart had taken over, I think. It was a weird experience. It was a different show then — a lot more of making fun of people. It was fun but a totally different experience from what I was used to. It was a lot more like the Michael Moore experience, where I was out in the field dealing with real people. So I know what the bit is going to be, but I have to listen to an hour of this guy’s story and be nice to him. And I’d feel kind of icky because I’m just going to make fun of you at the end of this. I have to make friends with you and be personable. That part I didn’t feel comfortable with.

Within a very short time frame — four years essentially — you were on Mr. ShowThe Martin Short ShowThe Awful TruthSNL, and The Daily Show. That’s quite the grind.
I was working! It was a different time for comedians like me, working in that kind of space. It was a word-of-mouth kind of thing. There was also an alternative-comedy thing going on, and that’s right in my groove. It just so happens that’s my audience, and those are the people who were in the Mr. Show audience. I was able to use that cachet to work a lot on different things.

I’ve heard that Bob Odenkirk and David Cross essentially discovered you while doing Mr. Show. Is that accurate?
Yes, definitely. They were just starting to workshop Mr. Show as a live show and were working with HBO to get it on air, but it wasn’t a show yet when I did my first sketch with them. That sketch didn’t end up airing until later. But when we did it, they were just coming up with the idea for the concept for the show. They sent me an early cut of it, and I was like, “Uh, good luck.” But now when I think about it, it was a really good early concept of what they wanted to do. I wasn’t in L.A. then for the live show showing the sketches they’d shot. When I eventually saw the show, I thought it was amazing.

I did a fact-check on this: It’s safe to say you’re one of the only comedians to ever rap with Eminem. Can you tell me about how that “Weekend Update” segment came about?
At that point, they had shot my intro, but there was no thought of me being in the cast yet. It was the first show of the season, but Tim hadn’t come back. I came up with the idea over the summer and told Horatio Sanz about it. He was like, “You’ve got to do it. They did your intro, so you can be in a sketch anytime you want.” We went to Lorne late one night: “Hey, we want to do this sketch.” He said, “Well, is it something for Tracy?” Actually, Horatio was the one to say, “No, Jerry wants to do it.” Lorne was really apprehensive about putting me on air. We did the sketch for read-through, and it killed.

Was Eminem in it at that point?
He wasn’t. He was just the musical guest. A lot of times, they don’t even know what’s going to happen in the show until someone asks them, “Hey, we’ve got a sketch for you.” They asked him and he said no. [Laughs.] He does not joke around; he’s not that kind of dude. We did the sketch anyway without him in it at dress rehearsal, and he saw it on the monitors and said, “I want to be in it now.” Because, in the show, we’re kind of challenging him — we’re doing these hokey characters like, “Eminem, you’re not so great.” He’s like, “I can’t not take a challenge.” So he had to be in it!

In between dress rehearsal and the show is a few hours, so I had to run down and grab the old version I wrote and put him back in it. I went into his dressing room like, “Can you get these lines right?” I told him about being from Michigan and Flint — he said, “Yeah, come on in, I can do this.” Then he was really into it and was really serious about being funny and doing the dance.

I want to talk about your work with Craig Robinson and, specifically, “Somebody’s Fuckin’ My Lady,” which you performed on Real Time With Bill Maher in 2003. Craig landed Darryl on The Office soon after.
I auditioned for Jim — I thought I did pretty good! They went a different way. [Laughs.] Someone took a picture of the call sheet, and it was everyone in L.A. I was a big fan of the show before then.

I’m not sure about The Office, but there was another role Craig did that I was not able to do because I was doing a sitcom, and it opened up a lot of stuff for Craig: Walk Hard. I was supposed to do that movie and had actually shot some stuff, then I couldn’t get out of my schedule. It was a musician part, and they were like, “Well, Craig does this thing. Could he do it?” So Craig ended up doing it, and that’s where he met Seth Rogen, and then he worked for him as the bouncer in Knocked Up.

“Somebody’s Fuckin’ My Lady,” as crass it is, is one of those things where it’s a perfect comedy bit. We came up with it one night at his apartment. Craig and I were friends in Chicago, but I had lost contact with him when we both moved to L.A. I knew he played the keyboard. All I had was the title. It was R. Kelly and the guy from the Isley Brothers, Mr. Biggs, their duets which preceded the In the Closet thing. We worked on it one night, did it the next time at Largo, and Bill Maher happened to be in the audience and was like, “Hey, I got fired from ABC, I’ve got this new HBO show, I can do stuff like this.” By the next week, we were doing it on Bill Maher and continued to do it on all these other shows. It always worked — it was always great no matter what audience we put it in front of: Black, white, alternative, whatever.

When we did it for the Comedy Central awards, they were going to give a lifetime award to Rodney Dangerfield. Adam Sandler brought him — it was a few months before he died. He was sitting in the audience watching us rehearse. I saw him get up after we got done. He asked Sandler to help him up out of his seat. I thought he hated it. He came toward us and said, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in my whole life.” I was like, I’m done!

And Al Sharpton is still around — your impression holds up!
Remember Darrell Hammond in blackface? [Laughs.] I told him not to do it. It wasn’t that long ago. I told him, “The first time I saw you do Jesse Jackson was so good, and you didn’t do it with any makeup on. That’s what I loved about it.” He was just like, “But I’m sitting next to you now. Makes the impression not as good.”

My thing always was, because it wasn’t the only time I advised someone not to do blackface, Years later, somebody is going to see this, and they’re not going to get the context of whatever you were doing. All you see is a picture of it.

Jimmy Fallon as Chris Rock comes to mind.
He did a pretty good impression of him! I tried to explain that to him. You see that picture and you have no concept that he was doing Chris Rock. All you see is him in blackface.

Any other memorable moments at the show?
I did a character called Willie Sluggs. I didn’t do the original sketch that I wrote. I ended up doing a second sketch. The original was the funniest. I did it for the read-through and it didn’t get on. For some reason, you couldn’t repeat sketches, so I did the same character, different sketch. That was my favorite character to do — it was really silly. It didn’t make sense if you didn’t know about the first one, so I don’t know why Lorne put the second one on.

Any hosts or anyone there that especially blew you away working with them or pitching jokes?
Eminem. U2 — I was pretty blown away when they played. They went out into the audience in that show, and I got to hang out with them a little bit.

I’ve stayed friends with a lot of people who were on the show. I’m pretty good friends with J.Lo’s ex-husband, Cris Judd. I directed a show at Second City in Chicago this summer, and I had him come and choreograph it. Her episode at SNL was the beginning of their relationship. She was still dating Puff Daddy as far as we knew. That was the coming out. He was her backup dancer, and she brought him to the read-through, sitting on his lap. Diddy came to the show that week and confronted Cris. He got into 30 Rock somehow with his security. He came into their dressing room and was like, “I want to talk to you!” He didn’t threaten him or anything. Cris was like, “What are you going to do, beat me up?” They had this big argument about it.

You did only one season at the show. It feels like you were a victim of circumstance.
My experience wasn’t as fun as it could have been. I should’ve relaxed more. I came from Mr. Show and a background where I already worked in sketch comedy and saw you didn’t have to stay up late at night and do it more efficiently. I always thought, Why are we doing it this way?

Everyone told me I would feel that way, too, but I didn’t believe it until I got there. So I was kind of frustrated when I arrived. The cast seemed bloated. It was hard to get stage time. I felt like I’d already built momentum for myself, and I had to start all over again and wait and write. If I could do it all over again, I’d relax and have fun, take it for what it is, and not try so hard to get on air.

You appeared in so many great comedies once you left SNL. Does something like Anchorman come about because you knew Will Ferrell from the cast?
Adam McKay, yeah. Actually, there were so many things I got cut out of in that movie that were supposed to be in. There was a whole story line: the bear, the son being kidnapped by a radical leftist group. When Judd and Adam were working on that, a few of us he knew — friends from Chicago — got together and improvised a lot of those scenes. They were going to cast me in that part but ended up casting Chuck D from Public Enemy as a radical, which made sense. Then they were going to cast me in another part in that story line, and that whole thing got cut.

So Adam ended up bringing me in as the bassist and said, “Hopefully we can put this in somewhere. Just do whatever.” I ended up improvising a whole scene between me and Will that ended up getting cut. I helped out a lot — I did read-throughs, table reads for the movie from the very beginning, went to a bunch of the screenings, and since I was friends with Adam, I gave a lot of notes throughout the course of the thing. And that scene ended up intact right until opening. I think it’s still on the DVD.

How did your Eastbound & Down role come up?
McKay again had showed those guys some tape of me and really wanted me involved somehow. I think they never really came up with a good idea, they just wanted me involved. They had some ideas for where that character could go that never really went anywhere. It was still fun to do.

I love that you pop up in I Love You, Man when Paul Rudd pukes all over Jon Favreau.
That was a replacement scene. John Hamburg called me up the night before and said, “Hey, we have to shoot this scene tomorrow, can you be in it? We’re going to end up improvising a lot of stuff.” I knew John through a lot of the Mr. Show guys and met him years before. I’d see him a lot at Largo — we were acquaintances through that.

What’s next for you?
I want to start directing. It’s one of the reasons I went back to Chicago this summer. That’s where my concentration and all my efforts are: getting me in the directing path.

SNL is currently in one of its classic transition periods. Advice for the current cast?
Oh, I don’t have any advice — I was only there for a year! I’ve heard that before, when other people have gotten hired, “Hey, want to talk to them about what it’s like?” No! Don’t do what I did!

It’s not a really efficient, good way to do a show. It’ll be tough for a new cast, but they’ll get into it. Right now, it’s going to be rocky because it’s a hard way to do a show, but it’s traditionally been done that way, and it’s fun.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jerry Minor’s Ride From Flint to Mr. Show, SNL, and Beyond