How Please Don’t Destroy Became Saturday Night Live’s Viral Weapon

October 9, 2021, is the day everything changes for Please Don’t Destroy.

That’s when a trio of videos went viral – Ben Marshall (ginger man, 27), John Higgins (dwarf, 26) and Martin Herlihy (glasses, 23) – from Twitter’s only fame becoming sudden stars latest breaking of Saturday night liveon a critically acclaimed episode hosted by Kim Kardashian.

The sketch, filmed in a cramped office by 30 Rock (their actual workspace), forged the popularity of new-flavor hard-select machines from JCPenney and Jiffy Lube. It’s a simple premise provided by three undaunted comedy nerds.

In doing so, they remind a pandemic-weary world that good comedy doesn’t require reinventing the wheel – it just needs to be funny.

The trio had joined the show as writers a few months earlier. Before that, Marshall was working at 14 Y Street as an after-school counselor, Higgins was looking to work for an event company, and Herlihy was scooping ice cream at a Van Leeuwen store.

But with the success of the seltzer sketch, the three suddenly find themselves sitting on the hottest piece of funny real estate in the business: a weekly three-minute showcase on SNL.

Not two months later, they will be starring alongside Pete Davidson and Taylor Swift in a rap video. (For fear that their heads were too big, the song, rapped by Davidson, was called “Three Sad Virgins.”)

The trio met on the NYU comedy scene in 2017; Marshall and Herlihy enrolled there as film students, while Higgins majored in acting and English. It was Marshall who first introduced Herlihy to Higgins, feeling the two shared a comic ability. Unbeknownst to him, they shared more than that – both Herlihy and Higgins are sons of SNL write legends.

Herlihy’s father was Tim Herlihy, a major writer during his career in the 1990s. He was responsible for many of Adam Sandler’s classic sketches – later going on to write or co-write all of the works. Sandler’s comedy, from 1995 Billy Madison until 2020 Hubie Halloween.

Higgins, meanwhile, is the son of Steve Higgins, another former lead screenwriter who joined the show in 1995 and has notably been with it ever since – in addition to taking on the duties of a side announcer. blame Tonight’s Show Stars Jimmy Fallon since its 2014 debut, however, following in the footsteps of their father’s sketch comedy, it’s far from happening.

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“My father tried to actively prevent me from running the show business,” says Higgins.

Herlihy adds: “I feel like both of our dads are like, ‘It’s rough.

Undeterred, the three continued to perform together. They cooked up their own sketch/indie combo show called Please don’t destroy my farm and mounted it at the People’s Innovation Theater (PIT) in Gramercy.

“It was a weird, high-concept indie show where I was an evil businessman who came to destroy Martin’s ranch,” explains Marshall. “We’re going to host other comedians, but this weird team situation will be my team versus Martin’s team. Everyone wanted Martin’s team to win. No one wants the evil businessman’s team to win.”

Higgins, meanwhile, is enlisted to play a dumb cow. “It’s more complicated than it needs to be,” Herlihy admitted.

***

In the end, they dropped the bill – and “my farm” from the title – and focused on sketches, performing at Brooklyn venues like Union Hall and The Bell House.

Loosely sketched performance (scenes arranged with plenty of room for improvisation, à la Curb your enthusiasm) quickly found a devoted audience at a NoHo spot called Von — “That’s where we really cut our power,” says Marshall — where it ran regularly starting in early 2019 .

Then the pandemic hit. With just a handful of sketches on YouTube, the team — Marshall and Herlihy were roommates on the Upper West Side and Higgins lived down the street — got around creating shorter-form videos, about a minute long, for they share on Twitter and TikTok.

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The recipe is Improvement 101: Each video starts with an absurd premise (e.g. Marshall has the same facial tattoos as Post Malone). These people then keep increasing the bet until it turns into anarchy. That Twitter video format was adapted for TV with the help of SNL Directed by Paul Briganti.

“He really helped us figure out how to translate our style into something that could be played in front of a studio audience, sometimes requiring a little tighter fists or bigger movements,” says Marshall. , more clearly,” Marshall said. “We’re still figuring it out.”

“They feel completely new and classic at the same time,” says Briganti. “We stick together because of our love of comedic timing and working overtime to edit.”

It was Briganti who pushed Lorne Michaels to hire Please Don’t Destroy as SNL writers. After the ban was lifted in 2021 and New York saw a cautious return to live comedy, the group held an hour-long sketch show at Asylum (formerly) is the space of the Upright Citizens Brigade) in Chelsea.

On a chilly September night, about two weeks before the current season premiered, they were informed that Michaels was in the crowd.

“It was the scariest show we’ve ever done,” Herlihy said.

“I remember exactly where he was sitting, in the upper left corner,” said Higgins, who added that Michaels laughed throughout the show, contrasting with his reputation for deadpan. Later, Michaels went backstage and told the trio, “I’m sure I’ll see you guys soon.” Then he turned and left.

“Somehow, in our brains, that became ‘That’s not going to happen,'” Herlihy recalls.

“We said, ‘Damn it, man. Marshall said. “And we don’t know why.”

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Of course, they didn’t blow it up. Michaels hired the trio and they were immediately put to work among the show’s 20 scriptwriters. There’s nothing specific in their contract about making the video; Briganti himself suggested that they try shooting something loose in their office.

“Then we made our first video, the hard seltzer video,” says Marshall. “And it worked, thank God. So we have to do some more work. “

Not all of their videos are broadcast. For example, someone with Rami Malek claiming compensation for good behaviour, had their time cut but still shown on YouTube. In their most recent popular video, Lizzo orders them to immediately write her a new song. (“Lizzo shakes,” Herlihy noted.)

They also write sketches for other performers and tend to attract newer actors like Sarah Sherman, who collaborated with the boys on her “Weekend Update” appearances. roast Colin Jost.

As for the future, maybe Please Don’t Destroy will follow in the footsteps of colleagues SNL video pioneers, the Lonely Island guys looking for snacks, by starring in their movies?

“Perhaps someday,” Marshall said with a smile.

“Open dreams,” added Herlihy.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter May 17 issue. Click here to subscribe.

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