“Chicago Improv” Is Dick Wolf’s Latest Show–At Least According to SNL

Comedy Features Saturday Night Live
“Chicago Improv” Is Dick Wolf’s Latest Show–At Least According to SNL

You’re dialed in on one node of the ceaselessly whirring internet content machine entirely too early on a Sunday morning between the months of September and May, which can only mean one thing: SNL did something.

SNL did a lot of somethings tonight, as it celebrated the end of its 43rd season with special guest host Tina Fey and musical guest Nicki Minaj. Did you know that it had some famous people on it? It totally did. It even made it into a whole thing, where the joke was not anything that could actually be considered a joke but the simple fact that the show acknowledged the frequent complaints over its reliance on celebrity cameos. I don’t know if reference anti-comedy is real but there were some references tonight and they definitely weren’t comedy as most folks would recognize it so yeah sure that thing probably does exist.

But hey: let’s talk about one specific sketch in particular right now. It’s not even a sketch, but a pretape, one whose humor is entirely dependent on your familiarity with or sympathies towards the network of improv theaters that exploit struggling, naive comedians nationwide. “Chicago Improv” makes one thing out of two things—those things being Dick Wolf’s post-Law & Order empire of Chicago-based NBC procedurals, and Chicago’s long and pivotal history of improvisational comedy theaters—and that one thing might legitimately be the highlight of an otherwise especially unmemorable episode.

The video posits itself as absolute insider baseball—as you’ll see, the joke of its critical blurbs is that nobody gets the jargon—but it’s the year 2018 and you don’t have to have ever done a lick of improv to know what a Harold team is or recognize the logo of Chicago’s iO Theatre. (Seriously—I have not a second of improv experience but by dint of my sheer professionalism I know all of the things and nod sagely at all of the references.) It’s not a stretch to imagine Lorne Michaels letting Fey and the show’s writers and performers put this video together as an end-of-season gift—a kind of benevolently tolerated senior prank—largely unaware that the language of improv is well-established enough for the video’s fake, confused New York Times and Wall Street Journal quotes to feel utterly unrealistic.

Anyway. Hey! Here’s the video. I embedded it for you. I’m here to make things as easy as possible for you. Your job is long and hard and unforgiving, whereas my job is drunkenly cranking out rambling intros to mediocre comedy sketches from moribund institutions. It’s clear which one of us took the right path, and however cool this job might seem, it’s not the guy whose livelihood depends on tweet galleries and videogame cheat guides.

Oh, one last thought: barring a miracle, this is the last anybody will ever see of Luke Null on Saturday Night Live. Poor guy. I’m pretty sure he got less screen time in his first (and presumably last) season than Ben Stiller did. And I don’t mean the Ben Stiller of 1989, who left SNL after only four episodes, but the Ben Stiller of 2018, who in three cameos as Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made more of an impact than Null did over an entire season. I would like to complain about the absolute lack of any opportunity afforded to Null during what will almost definitely be his short tenure on the show, but his presence was so nonexistent over the last year that I have absolutely no idea if his talents deserved any more of a chance. This isn’t a Michael O’Brien, Tim Robinson or Michaela Watkins situation—where somebody who cut a distinctive figure and flashed great comedy faculties was still fired after far too brief of a stint. Befitting his name, Null is the most faceless and forgettable cast member since John Milhiser, who was one of the mass casualties of the weirdly overstaffed 2013-2014 season. It’s probably not his fault—when he was given a part he was usually about as fine as could be at it—but the fact remains that Null barely even appeared on screen during the 21 episodes that he ostensibly starred in. He was basically invisible. That’s a bummer. Sorry, bud. Take solace in the large number of notable comedians who didn’t even make it onto the cast despite trying out, including recent hosts John Mulaney and Donald Glover. Robinson, O’Brien, Watkins, Noël Wells and more have gone on to bigger and brighter things after blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em SNL careers, and maybe Luke Null will too.

Anyway: “Chicago Improv.” It is absolutely an idea. And you can watch it above. Click the button, if you’d like.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.

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