Pop Culture

Meet SNL’s Killer New Crew

Clockwise from top left Marcello Hernández Michael Longfellow Molly Kearney Devon Walker Sarah Sherman James Austin...

Clockwise from top left: Marcello Hernández, Michael Longfellow, Molly Kearney, Devon Walker, Sarah Sherman, James Austin Johnson.
After a slew of exits, Saturday Night Live is reloading—with a squad of young comics that could form the nucleus of the show for years to come.

GQ Hype: It’s the big story of right now.

Saturday Night Live is a little like your favorite college sports team: Lorne Michaels is the beloved coach, his stars churn out viral clips, and then…they get drafted. Or graduate. Or burn out. Which is what happened this past year, as nine of the show’s most familiar faces exited the show, including Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson. When the new season began in October, the program found itself in its biggest rebuilding year in decades—four new cast members joined two other recent arrivals for a very refreshed lineup. 

Shake-ups are, of course, par for the course at NBC’s late-night-comedy juggernaut, which has persisted for the past 48 years thanks to this very cycle of rebirth. Still, a reloading on this scale is rare: The last comparable overhaul came before the 1995–1996 season, when the likes of Adam Sandler and Mike Myers were replaced by a class headlined by Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri. 

The latest turnover marks a new era—one in which rookies will likely have more meaningful airtime than their predecessors. Personas are already emerging. Michael Longfellow, a stand-up from Phoenix, has earned comparisons to Bill Hader, while Miami native Marcello Hernández, the show’s first Gen Z’er, is establishing himself as the flirty new class clown. Molly Kearney, a boisterous and exuberant presence, happens to be SNL’s first nonbinary cast member. And Devon Walker, the show’s resident chill dude, doesn’t see the Pete Davidson resemblance the internet keeps going on about, but he doesn’t mind it either: “People want to fuck that guy, so I guess that’s nice.” 

These newcomers join sophomores James Austin Johnson, known for his Instagram impressions of Trump, and Sarah Sherman, who’s swiftly become a fan favorite with her gonzo spin on sketch comedy. In a departure from recent improv-heavy hiring sprees, all six of SNL’s current featured players are stand-ups. That might explain why the group exudes what Sherman calls a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Translation: a movie-star-in-the-making swagger. We gathered the six Prime-Time Players at the show’s famed Studio 8H to chat about the terror of live television, the surprising effects of teamwork, and the torch they’re now carrying at America’s most important comedy club.


Typically, it takes a while for new cast members to find meaningful airtime, but you all were immediately thrust into the spotlight in a way that’s almost unprecedented in the show’s recent history. What was it like going from intimate comedy clubs to an audience of millions almost overnight?

Molly Kearney: The first couple weeks we were trying to learn how to get out of the building.

Sarah Sherman: It’s funny that learning here is doing a voice that you’ve never done before on television in front of millions of people.

Devon Walker: I’m trying to take exactly what’s in front of me and figure out how to do that thing, and then move from there. I try not to get lost in the grandiosity of it because it is so huge. Sarah gave me a good piece of advice when I first got hired—

Marcello Hernández: And that’s weird to me because Sarah’s literally never given me any advice in my entire career.

Walker: Her advice was basically, “Dude, it’s just people.” You know how to perform in front of a room. Don’t think about the millions of people behind the camera. Just think about this room right now, and you know how to make a room full of people laugh.

Sherman: Okay, I literally have chills.

Kearney: Yeah, you’re just wearing a wig!

Michael Longfellow: It seems like a very good year to be a new cast member. All the cast is cool and we all got to come in together.

Walker: I feel like if we would’ve come in four, five, six, seven years ago, it would’ve been a lot tougher to be starting out. Especially for four new people to start out at once. I feel like it would’ve been harder. That’s the cool thing about being here for this transitional period.

James Austin Johnson: It’s a friendly group, you know what I mean?

Kearney: I think the hard part was going from stand-up and writing for yourself, versus now you’re a character and you gotta write all these other characters. It’s like trying to change my brain to write for multiple people and not just my own point of view.

Walker: Stand-up is such a solo sport.

Kearney: Yeah, it’s team sports now!

Johnson: It’s team golf. We’re all playing golf at the same time.

Name: Sarah Sherman  Age: 29  Hometown: Great Neck, NY  Favorite SNL sketch: Dana Carvey’s “Massive Head Wound Harry” (1991): “What lives rent-free in my head is this moment of the dog biting the prosthetic off and it looks like it’s biting his brain.”

Jacket, $1,475, by Moschino. Shirt, $1,600, and tights, $380, by Gucci. Pants, $1,200, by Vivienne Westwood. Tie, $125, by Polo Ralph Lauren. Shoes, $155, by G.H. Bass. Glasses, $393, by Andy Wolf. Hoop earrings, $225, by Jennifer Fisher. Heart earrings, $2,200, by Guita M.

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, could there be some downside to this group getting along so well? The popular conception is that this is a very cutthroat place. Does congeniality threaten to dull the comedy?

Sherman: In stand-up, you’re all alone. Everything feels bad. If you kill, it’s like, okay, great, then you’re just back in your hotel room watching South Park. If you bomb, okay, you have no one to blame but yourself. But when you’re with people and when you’re winning together, everything just feels…. I don’t think you gain anything out of negativity and being nasty.

Walker: You can be competitive and positive. There’s a toxic version of competitiveness.

Johnson: And there’s a productive competitiveness.

Walker: Everybody’s just trying to make their best shit and doing something that they feel like is going to be on the show. Everybody’s doing that, but nobody’s trying to tear each other down.

Longfellow: We just want the best show.

Hernández: But if you do walk into writers’ night [Tuesday] and it’s kind of early and you see somebody working diligently on a sketch, it does kind of piss you off.

Sherman: You’re talking about me?

Hernández: Yeah. [Group laughs.] It feels like school and it’s finals week and you haven’t studied and you look over and somebody’s like 10, 20 pages into a study guide and you’re like, I want to choke.

Longfellow: You don’t know if the study guide’s going to get deleted and changed three hours later. And not matter at all.

Sherman: There’s no amount of being prepared. I come in Tuesday with fully written shit and it doesn’t matter how prepared I am, I’m still up till four in the morning every Tuesday night.

Hernández: Sarah is the most prepared. Kobe Bryant. She literally treats this like football. I literally told her, I told her dad, I told her brothers this.

Sherman: Well, he said that I was batting a thousand and I told everyone that Marcello said I was batting a hundred and everyone was like, that’s bad….

Name: Marcello Hernández  Age: 25  Hometown: Miami  Favorite SNL sketches: Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider’s “Hub’s Gyros” (1993); Dana Carvey and Adam Sandler’s “Pepper Boy” (1994); Bill Hader and Fred Armisen’s “Renaldo and Alexi” (2012): “Whenever people have accents it makes me giggle.”

Jacket, $325, by Needles. Tank top, $46 for pack of three, by Calvin Klein. Pants, $470, by ERL. Sneakers, his own.

How many sketches would you say you write each week?

Johnson: Sarah Sherman, 99.

Hernández: It’s going to make me throw up when I hear this number.

Sherman: I write two sketches a week!

Kearney: I think two is average.

Hernández: I think my average is 0.5.

Where do your best sketch ideas come to you?

Hernández: In panic.

Longfellow: Standing in line at Starbucks. In the shower.

Kearney: In the middle of the night.

Johnson: Buying diapers.

Longfellow: Very rarely is it when you sit down, stare at the computer, and think of an idea.

Walker: Mine are all conversational.

Sherman: People come up to me and be like, “I have an idea for a sketch.” People don’t like that. I like that.

Have you ever used one?

Sherman: Yes!

Kearney: I have a huge family and they’re all funnier than me. Over the holidays we all stay in this one big house. There’s like 30 of us and my mom made a suggestion box.

Johnson: I didn’t learn till the second to last episode how to actually write an SNL sketch.

Kearney: I learned last week.

Name: Devon Walker  Age: 32  Hometown: Austin  Favorite SNL sketch: “Z-Shirt” with Tim Robinson and Kevin Hart (2013):“It’s not really following any rules…. There is sketch math and it doesn’t do the sketch math. It just is sort of a repetitive thing that is incredibly stupid. I think about it all the time.”

Sweater, $795, by Zankov. Pants, $1,125, by Versace. Chain necklace, $2,500, by Her Children. Pendant necklace, his own.

Lorne Michaels has said that he thinks this group could be at the center of the show for years. That’s uncharacteristically high praise. How does it make you feel?

Kearney: I think I wanna be here till I die.

Sherman: Period.

Kearney: I love it here so far. There’s ups and downs, but I just feel like everyone’s so sweet.

Longfellow: When it’s stressful, I feel like no matter what I’d be doing I’d be stressed. So might as well be stressed here.

Kearney: Health insurance alone.

Hernández: You guys got health insurance?

Johnson: Saturday is my favorite day because the relaxing part for me is doing the show. Finally just doing the comedy is fun.

Sherman: Oh, my God. I literally thought I was going to die this Saturday. And I wanted to die actually. Like everyone works so hard on your sketches. Everyone puts so much work and kills themselves for your sketch and then you just have to bring it home. So it’s like, yeah, I guess, no pressure.

Kearney: It’s game day.

Johnson: You have to delete all of your bad memories from things not going your way. If you’ve messed up one line in your sketch, you’re obsessed with that until Monday starts and you’re moving on to the next show.

Name: James Austin Johnson  Age: 33  Hometown: Nashville  Favorite SNL sketch: “The Bjelland Brothers” with Fred Armisen and Bryan Cranston (2010): “‘I sent a bottle of sparkling apple juice to your house…. Did you get it?’ They sing that maybe 200 times through. That’s my favorite SNL sketch of all time.”

Shirt, $435, and tie, $155, by Kenzo. Pants, $30, by Dickies. Sneakers, $90, by Converse. Socks, his own. Glasses, $295, by Kimeze.

It generally takes a while for new cast members to find their footing. Would you agree that this group already has a kind of swagger to it?

Johnson: I don’t know. Do we have the swagger? Is there a swagger?

Longfellow: I mean, I don’t think I’m, like…un-swaggy.

Johnson: I think all of us are in our geek mode right now.

Kearney: I’ve actually never been a bigger geek than this year.

Sherman: I had a martini on Saturday after the show and I’m still hungover.

Name: Molly Kearney Age: 32  Hometown: Cleveland  Favorite SNL sketch: Amy Poehler’s “Kaitlin” (2003–2007): “The costume and the braces…. Amy Poehler’s fully not in there. It’s beautiful.”

Cardigan, $265, by No Nationality at Nordstrom. Shirt, $410, by Denzil Patrick. Pants, $790, by Palm Angels at Nordstrom. Tie, $100, by Comme des Garçons. Their own shoes, by Crocs x SZA.

Not to get too earnest, but SNL is less than two years away from its 50th anniversary. Why does SNL matter?

Sherman: Live comedy is amazing. The pandemic isolated us and alienated every single person on the planet in different ways. And live comedy is important because being in a room with a lot of people and laughing is important.

Kearney: When you’re watching it, you have to remember that it’s all created in a week. I think people are like, Oh, SNL isn’t good this year. I’m like, No, it is. Because they do this in three days. It’s magic.

Walker: The fact that the show happens at all is a miracle every week.

Johnson: Everyone takes it so for granted, because it’s such a part of American culture that people don’t recognize the sheer amount of work and manpower it takes to get here. They just expect it to happen.

Kearney: It’s like a Jenga and it never falls.

Walker: That’s why it matte

rs. Nothing else like this has ever existed in our country’s history. And it’s still here.

Kearney: And we’re on it!

Longfellow: My grandparents know what this is and there’s nothing else in comedy like that. I thought they would die just thinking I was this crazy guy doing something weird. But they actually recognize this, and it’s the one thing like that.

Walker: It’s one of the only things that means something to 12-year-olds and 60-year-olds. It’s like us and basketball.

Kearney: It’s the Super Bowl every Saturday, baby.

Johnson: I call it the Comedy Supreme Court. It’s like this really exclusive club. There are apparently more astronauts than there are people who’ve been on SNL. It’s this thing that only a very small sliver of even the comedy industry got to do.

Sherman: It’s the comedy Olympics and I’m batting 100.

Name: Michael Longfellow  Age: 29  Hometown: Phoenix Favorite SNL Sketch: Will Ferrell’s “Jeffrey’s” with Sean Hayes and Jimmy Fallon (2001): “Will Ferrell enters on one of those little scooters and he stands up and pulls out an extremely tiny cell phone. And then he says, ‘We’re going to the fashion show in Milan.’ Everyone was breaking because of his tiny cell phone.”

Cardigan, $365, and T-shirt, $225, by Guest in Residence. Pants, $795, by Kenzo. Socks, $30, by London Sock Co.

Luke Leifeste is GQ’s senior entertainment editor.

A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of GQ with the title “Weekend Update”


PRODUCTION CREDITS:
Photographs by Tyrell Hampton
Styled by Brandon Tan
Hair by Gina Ferrucci and Brittany Hartman
Makeup by Young Bek
Skin by Jason Milani
Tailoring by Ksenia Golub and Jessica Yuen

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