Focus on: Michael Che

He's in the big league of American prime-time comedy writing. Why bother with the Fringe?

feature | Read in About 3 minutes
Published 31 Jul 2015

As Michael Che now knows all too well, fame is not necessarily fun. Last October the native New Yorker had just secured one of American TV’s most coveted comedy jobs, on Saturday Night Live, when a viral video became big news. You might have seen it: a woman secretly films herself being catcalled by guys while walking around NYC. Bemused by the outraged responses, Che defended some of the guys, and became instantly infamous too. His subsequent mock apology—“Sometimes I forget that I belong to all of you now”—was telling, and by January he’d quit Twitter. Now that unforeseen furore forms the background for an Edinburgh show.

“It’s not finished, but it’s about being wrong,” says Che, of the optimistically-titled Six Stars. “People are writing a lot about things that seem wrong, but that I don’t think are wrong. There’s a lot of outrage in the world, different news stories where people will just jump on the side that’s kind of everybody’s side. This is [me] playing devil’s advocate.”

It’s an interesting change of tone for Che, who was never really an ‘issues’ comic before winning a couple of newsy TV roles. A prodigious SNL writer, he joined the Daily Show as a correspondent in April 2014, but then headed back in September as the new host of 'Weekend Update', one of SNL’s prime bits. If he’d stayed, might Che have been a contender to replace John Stewart?

“No. Probably it’d be great for the first month or two, then I’d want to shoot myself. It’s a really heavy grind. It’s a lot of work that John has every day, which is why he’s so amazing at it. To follow that, it’s pretty tough. It’s a very tough gig.”

SNL is famously tough too. How did Che succeed, where so many big names have failed? “It’s a lot like sport, it’s a lot of streaks,” he says. “Sometimes you get a sketch on every week, sometimes you just can’t get anything on.” SNL has longer seasons than most, but “after three or four months you feel drained,” Che admits. “You feel like you’ve said every idea that you’re ever gonna have.”

Even so, he looks set to continue next season: “We’re finished until about September, then we come back.”  In the meantime there’s this second Edinburgh stint, after his 2013 debut. Why bother?

“I really wanted to get sharp: it’s a good way to work out material, every single day,” he says. “And it’s good to get out of a comfortable environment. To make sure this stuff is really funny.”

Not that the Fringe has gone easy on him. During that 2013 run one venerable audience member so vehemently criticised his cursing that he lined up a special clean show. Then she relented.

“She came three days later and begged me not to do it,” he says. “I would’ve done it. A lot of the time you just forget that comedy is fun. It’s all about development and trying new things."