The Lorne Supremacy: how Lorne Michaels reshaped the world of comedy

The Lorne Supremacy: how Lorne Michaels reshaped the world of comedy

The Lorne Supremacy: how Lorne Michaels reshaped the world of comedy

The Saturday Night Live honcho is the ultimate Hollywood kingmaker. Here, a who’s who of his star system

The Lorne Supremacy

Lorne Michaels, the Toronto-raised creator of Saturday Night Live, has plucked dozens of unknowns from obscurity and turned them into stars. He’s created box office heavyweights like Will Ferrell and Mike Myers, whose films can net $200 million worldwide. He transforms people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler into prime-time icons. And last month, he took over The Tonight Show—a comedic brass ring—and placed his protégé Jimmy Fallon in the host’s chair. Here, the people who owe their careers to the prescient producer.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons

The Lorne Supremacy: Blockbuster Stars


SNL Blockbuster Stars: Will Ferrell

Will Ferrell (SNL, 1995–2002)

One of Michaels’ most popular finds. His latest movie, Anchorman 2, netted over $100 million at the box office.


SNL Blockbuster Stars: Mike Myers

Mike Myers (SNL, 1989–1995)

Myers managed to bypass the SNL audition process—Michaels hired him after just an interview.


Blockbuster Stars: Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler (SNL, 1990–1995)

Michaels defended Sandler’s juvenile humour to the NBC brass. The network eventually fired him.


Blockbuster Stars: Chris Rock

Chris Rock (SNL, 1990–1993)

Michaels hired Rock and Adam Sandler on the same day. Rock later left for In Living Color.


Blockbuster Stars: Steve Carell

Steve Carell (SNL, 1996–2007)

Before Carell starred on The Office, Michaels used his voice talents in SNL’s “Ambiguously Gay Duo” sketch.


Blockbuster Stars: Damon Wayans

Damon Wayans (SNL, 1985–1986)

Wayans got his start on SNL, but blew his relationship with Michaels after he deliberately threw an on-air sketch. Michaels fired him mid-show.


Blockbuster Stars: Adam McKay

Adam McKay (SNL, 1995–2001)

Michaels hired McKay as SNL head writer in the ’90s. Later, McKay created the website Funny or Die and directed the Anchorman series.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons

The Lorne Supremacy: Late-Night Kings


Late-Night Kings: Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon (SNL, 1998–2004)

When Michaels started producing The Tonight Show this year, he hired Fallon as host.


Late-Night Kings: Conan O'Brien

Conan O’Brien (SNL, 1987–1991)

Michaels tapped O’Brien to host Late Night from 1993 to 2009. He now hosts his own show on TBS.


Late-Night Kings: Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert (SNL, 1996–2007)

Before the Report, Michaels hired Colbert to voice Ace in SNL’s “Ambiguously Gay Duo” sketch.


Late-Night Kings: Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers (SNL, 2001–2014)

Michaels selected the former SNL head writer to replace the outgoing Jimmy Fallon on Late Night.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons

The Lorne Supremacy: Classic Comedy


Classic Comedy: Bill Murray

Bill Murray (SNL, 1977–1980)

Michaels cut him from SNL’s first season for budget reasons, but hired him to replace Chevy Chase in season two.


Classic Comedy: Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase (SNL, 1975–1976)

Michaels’ original “Weekend Update” host left after one season. He’s regretted it ever since.


Classic Comedy: John Belushi

John Belushi (SNL, 1975–1979)

Michaels almost passed on Belushi—Gilda  Radner had to beg him to hire the comic.


Classic Comedy: Billy Crystal

Billy Crystal

Michaels hired Crystal as a recurring guest star throughout SNL’s first season, but cut him after the first dress rehearsal.


Classic Comedy: Martin Short

Martin Short (Three Amigos, 1986)

Michaels cast Short in his feature film writing debut. They reunite this year for John Mulaney’s self-titled sitcom.


Classic Comedy: Dan Aykroyd

Dan Aykroyd (SNL, 1975–1979)

Michaels hired his countryman Aykroyd as one of seven original cast members.


Classic Comedy: Ivan Reitman

Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, 1984)

The Canadian filmmaker broke out directing Michaels-minted stars Aykroyd and Murray in Ghostbusters.


Classic Comedy: The Kids in the Hall

The Kids in the Hall (Kids in the Hall, 1985–1986)

Michaels hired Bruce  McCulloch and Mark  McKinney as SNL writers, then produced the Kids’ show on CBC.


Classic Comedy: The Muppets

The Muppets (SNL, 1975–1976)

Michaels wrote Jim Henson’s puppets into SNL’s first season, after which Henson’s manager leveraged the exposure to get him his own show.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons

The Lorne Supremacy: Critical Darlings


Critical Darlings: Tina Fey

Tina Fey (SNL, 1997–2006)

When Michaels appointed Tina Fey head writer in 1999, he ushered in a new golden era for SNL. After she left, Michaels produced 30 Rock.


Critical Darlings: Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler (SNL, 2001–2010)

Michaels found Poehler at the UCB improv group in Chicago, which has since become one of his favourite comedy feeding farms.


Critical Darlings: Louis CK

Louis CK (Late Night, 1993–1994)

Michaels passed on CK at his 1993 SNL audition, but the comic was quickly hired to write for Late Night.


Critical Darlings: Kristin Wiig

Kristin Wiig (SNL, 2005–2012)

Michaels decided to cast Wiig less than a minute into her SNL audition.


Critical Darlings: Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan (SNL, 1996–2003)

Michaels pulled Morgan out of poverty in the Bronx to star on SNL. “It’s like auditioning in front of Darth Vader,” Morgan has said.


Critical Darlings: Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin (30 Rock, 2006–2013)

Tina Fey was terrified to ask Baldwin to star in 30 Rock. When Michaels asked, he said yes immediately.


Critical Darlings: Maya Rudolph

Maya Rudolph (SNL, 2000–2011)

Michaels is producing Rudolph’s new variety show, which premiered in February.


Critical Darlings: Fred Armisen

Fred Armisen (SNL, 2002–2013)

Michaels produces Armisen’s hipster-spoofing sketch show, Portlandia.


Critical Darlings: Will Arnett

Will Arnett (Up All Night, 2011–2012)

Michaels was so impressed by Arnett’s guest role on 30 Rock, he cast him in his sitcom UpAll Night.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons

The Lorne Supremacy: Next Wave


Next Wave: Andy Samberg

Andy Samberg (SNL, 2005–2012)

Under Michaels, Samberg became famous for his Digital Short videos. He won a Golden Globe for his role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.


Next Wave: Jorma Taccone

Jorma Taccone (SNL, 2005–2012)

Since working in Michaels’ writers’ room, Taccone has gone on to act on the HBO comedy Girls and FX’s The League.


Next Wave: Akiva Schaffer

Akiva Schaffer (SNL, 2005–2011)

Michaels hired Schaffer, Samberg and Taccone (the Lonely Island) after Jimmy Fallon introduced him to their work.


Next Wave: Cecily Strong

Cecily Strong (SNL, 2012–now)

Michaels chose Strong to co-host “Weekend Update.” Past hosts include mega-stars Fey, Fallon and Poehler.


Next Wave: Donald Glover

Donald Glover (30 Rock, 2006–2009)

In 2006, Michaels and Tina Fey plucked the future Community star out of UCB to write for 30 Rock.


Next Wave: Simon Rich

Simon Rich (SNL, 2007–2011)

Rich was just 23 when Michaels hired him. Now both Jason Reitman and Seth Rogen have bought film rights to his work.


Next Wave: John Mulaney

John Mulaney (SNL, 2008–2013)

Michaels will produce a self-titled sitcom from his former SNL writer, known for creating Stefon, the “Weekend Update” nightclub correspondent.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons

The Lorne Supremacy: Behind the Scenes


Behind the Scenes: Jim Downey

Jim Downey (SNL, 1977–2013)

Until his retirement in 2013, Michaels’ right-hand man was SNL’s top political satirist.


Behind the Scenes: Robert Smigel

Robert Smigel (SNL, 1985–2008)

When Michaels returned to SNL after a five-year absence, he brought Smigel with him.


Behind the Scenes: Bob Odenkirk

Bob Odenkirk (SNL, 1987–1995)

Odenkirk wrote for Michaels in the ’80s and ’90s, creating Chris Farley’s most famous character: the guy who lives in a van down by the river.


Behind the Scenes: Greg Daniels

Greg Daniels (SNL, 1987–1990)

After a stint under Michaels, Daniels went on to produce The Office and Parks and Rec.


Behind the Scenes: Steve Higgins

Steve Higgins (SNL, 1995–now)

Michaels’ co-producer moonlights as Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show announcer.


Behind the Scenes: Michael Schur

Michael Schur (SNL, 1997–2004)

Michaels’ former SNL writer recently teamed up with Andy Samberg for the Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine.


Photographs: Michaels courtesy of NBC; Meyers, Rock, Crystal, Morgan, CK, Arnett, Samberg by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; McKay, Wayans, Daniels, Schur, Odenkirk, Smigel, Kids, Short, Aykroyd, Rich, Strong, Glover, Mulaney, Taccone by Getty Images; Fallon by Montclair Film Festival, Colbert by Steamoc, O’Brien by Mrlaugh, Myers by Caroline Bonarde Ucci; Ferrell and Carell by Eva Rinaldi, Sandler by Angela George, Chase by Jesse Chang, Reitman by Skeezix, Murray by George Biard, Rudolph by Media TV Network, Poehler by Peabody Awards, Wiig by Rachel Sklar, Baldwin by Tomdog, Fey by Gage Skidmore, Schaffer by Awesometown, All Wikimedia Commons