SNL cast member tells story of road to late-night fame

It took one comedy-club dare and four auditions for Finesse Mitchell to land a spot on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Performing his stand-up act at USF on Saturday, Mitchell, who graduated from the University of Miami with a marketing degree, said he didn’t expect to be telling jokes for a living.

It started with a spontaneous approach to a comedy contest in 1995.

“It was more so just a dare at the time. I was at a comedy club with some friends and they dared me to go on stage and tell a joke,” Mitchell said. “But you know, I felt so comfortable up there and the (club’s host) said ‘you need to get into this.'”

Needless to say, Mitchell’s joke won first place, opening up opportunities to perform on BET’s Comic View and at the Miami Improv and Hollywood Improv.

Mitchell’s routine on Saturday was based on college life, with jokes about having sex in the dorms, roommate situations and stalking.

Mitchell also performed the act he used when auditioning for SNL. The act is based in a movie-theater showing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Mitchell mocks the loud women at a birthday party in the theater who struggle to read subtitles and point their fingers in the air following the subtitles as they would under sentences in a book.

The opportunity to be a featured player on SNL came after his manager sent Mitchell’s tape to the studio.

“It just came out of nowhere,” Mitchell said.

Along with Kenan Thompson, Mitchell and about 10 others auditioned for four available spots. Mitchell received a call back, and had to audition an additional two times before producer Lorne Michaels signed him along with Thompson.

“I had watched the show when Eddie Murphy was there, but I stopped watching so I didn’t even know who was on (SNL),” Mitchell said. “I had to read the book to find out who was on there.”

Mitchell wouldn’t discuss specifics of his contract, but said he would like to see a career develop out of SNL.

“I’m going to treat it like college. I want to stick around for four years and see if it could lead to any movie deals,” Mitchell said. “I went into this with no prior sketch experience so every day on TV I’m doing something I’ve never done before and learning.”

Mitchell’s impressions on SNL include Andre 3000 from Outkast, 50 cent, Venus Williams and singer Kelis.

“I have had the most fun with Andre. Now that was a lot of fun,” Mitchell said. “But before I came (to USF) we shot a sketch about American Idol’s worst singers and they had me do Kelis with the Milkshake song, I was like ‘I’m not dressing like that again.'”

Because SNL has been in production for 30 years, Mitchell said cast members have to take a new angle with sketches.

“It’s up to us to find that character and make it funny or they’ll put you in a dress,” Mitchell said.

A typical week for Mitchell begins Monday when the cast meets with SNL’s host for the week to pitch ideas. Tuesday sketches are written, Wednesday the cast reads sketches aloud and the best 15 are chosen for rehearsal. Friday and Saturday are rehearsal, and Michaels usually cuts the sketches down to 10 before live taping at 11:30 p.m.