By David Leo Schultz
"Chase your dreams, but don't let them define you" - David Leo Schultz
Yesterday I found out from my manager that I will NOT be flying to NYC to do a live audition for SNL.
After I had heard the news, I went out to celebrate.But I had just been given "bad news," why would I celebrate? To understand why you need to know the full story.
I must have been around eight or nine years old when my mom put in a VHS tape of a movie called "The Blues Brothers." For the next few weeks, if I was watching a movie, I was watching "Blues Brothers." My mom wisely said, "Hey, if you like these guys---then you'll love Saturday Night Live." My mom and I have never really gotten along in life, and life growing up was, to be honest, mostly hell, but damn---she sure was right about my love for Saturday Night Live.
She told me. "It's still on the air...but you can't start watching now. You have to start from the beginning." When you are pulling memories from the past, I'm not sure chronology has much relevance. It's not the details that matter as much as the life-changing impact of seemingly inconsequential events.
My mom drove me to a local drug store where they also rented VHS tapes. There was a tape called the best of SNL 1975-1976. This was volume one. There were four more volumes. I devoured those tapes. I'd practice falling like Chevy Chase, dancing like Jake & Elwood Blues, speed talking like Aykroyd, yelling like Belushi, being a kid like Gilda Radner, and wild & crazy like Steve Martin.
Next thing I know I was in love. Every Saturday Night, I would sit in front of our Big Box TV, and I'd watch Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, & David Spade. They would bring me to tears with belly laughter.These tears were refreshing. Especially juxtaposed with the tears that were typically shed in my house. SNL was my escape from my reality of fear and hell into one of comedy and laughter.
I remember in elementary school I was painfully shy. I was even picked on by a few bullies. Nothing terrible. But I was made fun of a lot. I can't remember what was said, but I remember the feeling of turning the tables on some kid picking on me---and I had the whole class laughing at him. Revenge was sweet AND funny.
In some ways, Comedy was the first friend I ever had.
In the coming years, I would make videos with my classmates like I was Chevy Chase as their "substitute teacher "---a bumbling idiot who would fall a lot. I would make my loved ones laugh pretending to be Chris Farley's character "Matt Foley," showing up at family gatherings unannounced. I would make my Grandma Roanna cry from laughing when I would walk into the kitchen on Sunday Morning pretending to be speed talking like Eddie Murphy, "Grandma where are my eggs? You told me I was gonna get eggs, and I got my ass out of bed, for church, because you said before I went to church I would get some eggs, but guess what Grandma---no eggs!" And for Halloween, I would always want to be a "Ghostbuster." Every year. Every single year. My cousins still make fun of me for it---as they should.In High School and College while everyone else was busy with sports and studies I was busy making people laugh with my sketch team, The Color Green. I never took comedy too seriously until after college. I had done Comedy Sportz in Indianapolis and even auditioned for the Second City touring company up in Chicago for an understudy position. But it wasn't until after college and after I shipwrecked my life and found myself driving across the country leaving Indiana in my rearview---that I would discover my passion for comedy transforming into an obsession.
Shortly after arriving in the city of Angels I dove head first into my self-made comedic University comprised of classes from Groundlings, Improv Olympic, and sketch writing from an original SNL writer---Anne Beatts. Anne, for a small time, would become family to me. I even house sat for her once. Now this is before "Youtube"...and I about shit my pants when I saw an old VHS tape that was simply labeled "Auditions." I put the tape in her VCR and sure enough...it was the original group, the "Beatles of Comedy," screen testing for the show. Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garret Morris, and Chevy Chase. I think Andy Kaufman was on there, even. But my favorite was Bill Murray. Even then you could hear everyone dying behind the camera. I felt like I was traveling through time seeing something that very few people have ever or will ever see---especially when I heard someone yell---"Do that lounge singer character?" And Bill obliged.
The tape ended. Then came the static. So I went to eject the tape from the VCR. And it was stuck. A million thoughts ran through my head of how screwed I would be if I ruined this tape. I remember I had an embarrassingly stupid and funny thought, "What if this was the only copy...and it's being passed back and forth between all the original gang ... and I just BROKE IT! Like, what if Lorne Michaels mailed his copy to Anne and then she was supposed to send it back. If that's true, I'm FUCKED!"Don't worry, I eventually got the tape out of the VCR and was able to stop the world from coming to an end.
Through Anne, I got to meet some cool SNL folks like Laraine Newman & Rosie Shuster. This wasn't my first brush with SNL folks, and it wouldn't be my last. In the fall of 2002, I went to NYC and stood outside one cold Friday Night in October trying to get a ticket for dress rehearsal. I did get in, and it was everything I hoped it would be. John McCain was hosting. I saw Chris Kattan doing some "Joe Hollywood" Character on Weekend Update. I saw the live show years later and realized that bit was cut ... I saw Maya Rudolph wish Chris Parnell luck before the opener. I saw a blonde actress that brought the house down. She was a new cast member. I think her name was Amy Poehler. I was in comedy heaven.On that trip, I got to meet both Chris Parnell and my hero Lorne Michaels. Chris was so kind with this nerdy SNL fan. He told me about Groundlings and how he was just "thankful to have a job." I got my picture with Lorne as he was on his way to his waiting car. Don't worry. I didn't give him an awkward hug or anything. I kept my cool. When I got to college, I bought a two-picture frame for the photos of me with Chris and Lorne. I still have it somewhere.
Around 2008 I was working with a manager, who shall remain nameless. But this person had worked with the show in the past to some slight degree, and they knew everyone. So we flew to NYC because this person was going to introduce me to everyone. They told me the plan was to introduce me as their client, and talk about my comedy and try to open some doors. We got to Rockefeller. And it was a surreal experience. I saw Lorne's Office. I saw the writers room. I even saw a miniature picture of Anne Beatts on the wall. Btw. It was the only picture on this otherwise empty wall. I smiled. And the nostalgia and history of that place were palpable. This time, I saw the live show. John Malkovich was hosting. It was Christmas time. And it was amazing. After the show, I was on the floor with the rest of the cast greeting their guests. I saw Will Forte & Kristen Wiig talking with some friends. And my manager and I waited for Ayala Cohen, a producer at the time and a friend of theirs.
We all got in a black town car and went from the show to the SNL after party. I had this feeling of what it would be like to be on the show traveling from 30 Rock to the after party. I daydreamed of being on the show myself and opening a blues bar like Aykroyd and Belushi did in the 70's. So after the after party we could go to the after-after party at my blues bar. Silly, I know. At the after party I got to talk with Ayala, and she was awesome. She was sweet, kind, and answered all of my fanfare questions with grace. She had been there since the Chris Farley days. I was pinching myself. I was living out what I had only previously imagined. I was in the midst of the culture of SNL.Then the king walked in. The King of Comedy. Lorne Michaels. He walked right up. Smiled this big smile and shook my hand. "Hi, good to see you." Now. I get he didn't know me from Adam. But I didn't care. It was an incredible feeling. And it would only get better, as I was on the level with the main cast. I talked with Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, and sheepishly waved at Bill Hader. But I must say, the nicest person I met that night was Jimmy Fallon. He talked to me like I was a somebody even though I was a nobody. I told him that I was excited to see his new talk show. And he said, "Man I'm just ready. We've worked so hard and rehearsed so much I'm just ready to do it. Ya know?" And I'm standing there thinking..."Jimmy Fallon is talking to me like I'm one of the gang". So I say back to Jimmy Fallon, "Yeah. I know." But what do I know?
Let me back up. A few months before this, out of the angst of being a struggling actor I had made a few movies. And in one we had Chevy Chase and the other Chris Kattan. And through that process, I talked to Bill Murray. Yes. THE Bill Murray. On the phone. It's a long story. But the short story is: I was on the toilet taking a shit and my cell phone rang. I answered and talked with Bill Murray. I flushed the toilet walked out of the bathroom and screamed at the top of my lungs in this production office, "THE MOST AMAZING THING OF MY LIFE JUST HAPPENED!"Making the movies was awesome. Talking with Chris Kattan about his SNL days. Rehearsing lines with Chevy Chase. And I had written and acted in both of these movies with some of my SNL heroes.
Now flash forward back to the SNL after party. I'm there with this manager and they introduce me to the producers of the show as a buddy that's going shopping with them in NYC, and we just stopped by. First, that was weird. Second, I was so destroyed. After all, I paid for the whole damn trip. But it wasn't about the money. They totally lied to me. "A friend?" You're my manager---you told me you were going to talk me up to them and tell them about me. I was devastated.Luckily Chris Kattan had texted Mike Shoemaker and Steve Higgins about me. So I got to chat with them for a second. But I'm horrible at self-promotion. I don't like patting myself on the back and despise the feeling of "selling myself." So, I didn't. I just said, "Chris Kattan says, 'Hello.'" I chatted with Shoemaker and Higgins for only a few more moments. I wanted to keep it short and sweet---as to not embarrass myself too badly. It wasn't a total loss, but I left New York with such a mixture of joy and depression.
I thought my dream of SNL was over. That is ... until my buddy David Murphy, the director of the Chevy Chase movie, sent an email to Chevy's manager, Erik Kritzer, asking if he would take a meeting with me. He asked for my reel. And I got the meeting.
Over the years Erik Kritzer has gone from manager to a true friend. In 2009 we got close to SNL, but neither of us knew if Lorne ever saw my tape. We kept hearing they were saying "no" to people. But with me, I was still in the running. Until eventually the "no" came.
Over the years we'd try with no real success. I was in the Groundlings school and was devastated when I wasn't even voted into Sunday Company. I blew that opportunity. But it was a good lesson. I was trying so hard to be a "Groundling" and to be what people wanted me to be. Instead of being me and doing what I thought was funny. I was self-aware and full of fear. Not a good recipe for comedy.
For no other reason than, "Why the hell not"... I decided to make one final tape for SNL this summer. Lessons learned from my failure at Groundlings. I decided to make a tape that was whatever I thought was funny. And my kick ass manager made me do it again and again until it was as sharp as it could be. I'm so glad he did.About a month ago, Erik called me, and I swear I've never heard him so excited. He had just gotten off the phone with the fine folks at Saturday Night Live. And they talked about ME. Me? David Leo Schultz? A kid from Indiana? I'll be honest. Call me a wimp if you want, but I got off the phone and cried. Why? Because 13 years ago I drove across the country with only one real goal: I just wanted to be on SNL. And Live Audition or no Live Audition. Booking the show or not booking the show. I felt at that moment that my dream had finally come true. The Impossible had become Possible.
The folks at SNL asked us to send a release for my audition tape. And that's exactly what we did. A week or two went by. "No decisions yet." Another week or two went by. "Sorry, still nothing."
And then we waited, and waited, and waited ... until the call that I had a feeling was coming eventually came. I am NOT going to get a live audition this year. But the bitterness and disappointment came with a silver lining.
Lorne gave a message to be passed along to my manager. "Lorne is only seeing new people this year, but wants you to know that he has seen David's material and has seen his stuff before and thinks David is very funny and talented."
I guess if you are going to get a "No." It's probably the best type of no you can get. Am I bummed? Sure. I'm bummed. But receiving word that my hero, Lorne Michaels, has seen my work---I finally felt like I had peace. Why? Because I felt like I had finally crossed the finish line. A marathon that had begun almost 30 years ago, in a living room on the east side of Indianapolis, was finally coming to an end. A dream that drove me to drive thousands of miles from my home to a lonely city called Los Angeles. A dream that, frankly, almost killed me. A dream that cost me blood, sweat, and tears. But it was a dream that was worth every single moment. I don't regret a single second I spent. But, why?
Let me tell you why I celebrate this failure. I celebrate because I finished the race. I won't ever wonder "What would have happened if...?" What would have happened if I got Groundlings?...What would have happened if I got Second City ...? Then would I have had my shot for SNL?I got my shot. I got my shot without Groundlings, Second City, IO, or UCB. Although, in a way, I did get my shot because of them. Because of ALL of them. The training provided at these places is invaluable. They all have a slice of the comedy training pie. And I would encourage any newcomer to not just do one of these fine institutions. But to do all of them. I sure am glad I did. My only regret is that I didn't do UCB sooner.
And, yes, it's a "No" to SNL. But guess what? I know. I don't have to wonder if Lorne saw me or if it was passed over by someone else. Unlike so many comedians before me and after me will have to do. I don't have to wonder. Don't hear me wrong. I'm not bragging. That's not pride you hear. That's gratitude.
I made it to the top of the mountain.
Like Steve Martin said, "Perseverance is a great substitute for talent."
Or like Calvin Coolidge said, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
I didn't get here alone. It was the training I received from UCB, Groundlings, IO, UCB, Anne Beatts, the countless number of comedians who working with and besides have sharpened me and pushed me to be better. It was two of my best friends BJ Bales and my lovely wife, Amy, always encouraging me not to give up. And my manager turned friend Erik Kritzer who made me a promise---and kept it. Kritzer---thanks for believing in me and for your friendship. Thank you for getting me to the top of the mountain. I hope I can make both of us millions one day. Until then, I'll keep going. I will persevere.And finally to Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live---thank you for making a kid from Indiana laugh. I'm a kid that needed it. In some ways the comedy you created saved me. At the very least it was a friend in the loneliest and hellish moments of my childhood. And I'll be forever grateful. And thank you for giving me an impossible dream. Yes, a dream that didn't come completely true. But that's okay, the pursuit of the impossible has made me stronger and more fearless. And it's taught me that it's not the destination that's the most important part of the journey. But who you are along the way. It has taught me not to give up. But to persevere. To dream and chase the impossible. After all, no one has ever made history by sitting on their couch.
Watch David's Actor Reel and SNL Audition Tape below:
---About the author: David Leo Schultz is an actor, comedian, writer, and director. He is best known for directing and co-writing the movie Ragamuffin, which can be currently seen on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon. Back in 2012, David was also featured in the Sundance Film, Safety Not Guaranteed, directed by Colin Trevorrow who went on to direct Jurassic World. David's next film, in which he wrote, directed, and stars, Brennan, has been screened all over the country and is going to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 12, 2016. David also speaks all over the country and recently released a book called "Sinners, Saints, and The Furious Love of God" which is available on Amazon. David is repped by Erik Kritzer at LINK ENTERTAINMENT.