Those seeking the ultimate skeletons-in-the-closet tell-all about SNL will be a little disappointed with Gasping for Airtime. The book does have some candid details about some cast members and writers. But usually, Jay Mohr will couch a criticism or abusive behavior with some kind of praise. Take this note on Janeane Garofalo: “Though Janeane’s very funny and a talented actress, she was a drag when she worked at SNL.”
Similar stuff is said about Rob Schneider, Al Franken and, of course, Lorne Michaels. The only cast member Jay entirely dismisses is Ellen Cleghorne, and even then he at least gives her credit for hating him to his face.
More interesting then is his focus on the show’s insane pitching and writing schedule. Monday has everyone throwing spitballs at the host, which often involves lying about not having an idea or having ideas you have no intention of actually writing. Tuesday is an insane all nighter for anyone who wants to get a sketch on the show that week. A bleary-eyed Wednesday read through of 40 sketches leads to a another til-dawn rewriting session for the sketches that survive. And even then, during rehearsal, your sketch might go. The politics of what sketches get picked, with unfunny hosts (who Jay happily trashes) providing resistance at bizarre intervals, seems to have worked against Jay Mohr.
One of the things I always hear when discussing SNL with somebody is, “Why don’t they just cut a half hour out of the show?” The last half hour of the program is kind of a waste, but you still get the competition to be seen that Jay describes (and that would be even if you cut the cast in half… there’s sometimes 16 people including featured players). If there is a flaw in the show, this book has convinced me it’s not the length.