In a New York Times interview today, Michaels was asked whether the death of the beloved Supreme Court Justice will mean the end of McKinnon’s recurring impersonation. “I doubt it,” was Michael’s cryptic response.
The NBC sketch show returns Oct. 3 with guest host Chris Rock and musical guest Megan Thee Stallion. Unlike last spring, the cast will appear live in front of a studio audience rather than zoom in with taped or remotely performed bits.
Exactly who will be watching in Studio 8H remains to be determined, Michaels indicated. Asked whether the studio audience will be drawn from the general public or restricted to NBC colleagues and family members, Michaels said, “That’s all still being sorted out.”
The producer also addressed coronavirus safety protocols – performers, writers and behind-the-scenes staff will undergo rapid COVID testing, and any positive result will put everyone into quarantine for two weeks. Asked whether he was concerned for his own health and safety (the show’s longtime musical coordinator Hal Willner died in April from the coronavirus), Michaels responded, “Yes, is the answer. And I’m not alone. And we don’t know that we’re going to be able to pull it off. We’re going to be as surprised as everyone else when it actually goes on. We just have to stay clean and focused until Oct. 3. And then we do five shows in a row.”
With Rock hosting SNL‘s season 46 premiere, Michaels was asked about the recent controversy over Jimmy Fallon’s 20-year-old SNL impersonation, in blackface, of Rock (Fallon apologized).
“Chris has talked about it and so has Jimmy,” Michaels said. “I wish I remembered better. I’ve seen the photo, but it was 20 years ago, so Jimmy was in his 20s. He’d done Chris Rock in his audition, as he had done Adam Sandler, both of which were stunning. I think someone gave him bad advice. He was trying to do an impression, and there’s nothing mean in what Jimmy does. It was of the time. I know we’re in a granular period now where every decision you’ve made in your life is up for reassessment. But there was no malice in it, I can tell you that.”
“If you go back over the history of the show,” Michaels continued, “you’re going to find lots of examples of things — I don’t think Gilda Radner could do Roseanne Roseannadanna and John [Belushi] could definitely not do the Samurai. Garrett Morris could not do News for the Hard of Hearing. I could go on and on. Steve [Martin] and Danny [Aykroyd] could not be Czech brothers because they’re not Czech. That criteria is not the greatest soil for comedy to thrive on. I’m not saying comedy should be the dominant thing in our lives. I’m just saying it’s important it exists because, in addition to everything, it’s a safety valve.”