Saturday Night Live paid the audience at its season 46 premiere

Saturday Night Live paid audience members in order to follow state guidelines related to the pandemic

Saturday Night Live returned to Studio 8H last Saturday and did so in front of a live audience that was paid to be there. It was all part of SNL’s solution to working around New York state health guidelines.

After its last live show of season 45 in March, SNL produced three episodes of Saturday Night Live at Home. Save for a remote audience listening to the first “Weekend Update” (which was quickly scrapped), there was no audience reaction to any of the sketches.

Late-night shows such as The Tonight ShowJimmy Kimmel Live!, and Late Night with Seth Meyers have since returned to their studios. The audience for those programs consists of members of the crew and writing staff, allowing for at least some audible reaction to the monologues and interviews.

Saturday Night Live wanted a live audience for its season 46 premiere hosted by Chris Rock. So to abide by state guidelines for audiences, SNL paid those in attendance as if they were employees of the show. It allowed for genuine reactions from the audience and ensured SNL followed New York’s policy regulating television show live audiences to only paid employees, cast, and crew.

Many of those audience members were first responders honored by the show for their work during the pandemic. Host Chris Rock made sure to acknowledge them in his monologue:

Having a live audience helped Saturday Night Live’s return to television

Lorne Michaels made it clear that he wanted season 46 of Saturday Night Live to be as close to normal as possible. He understands the increased attention that will be on the show and how important it was for SNL to project a sense of normalcy while also demonstrating safe behavior.

The remote laughter used for “Weekend Update” during last season’s first at home episode was a mistake. It was awkward and the sound quality was distracting, especially when only a handful of people were mic’d up.

SNL could have followed the example set by late-night shows but that had the potential to be just as bad. The staff and crew at SNL hear these sketches at pitch meetings, read-throughs, and rehearsals. So the likelihood of getting a big reaction from the cold open or any other sketch would be next to zero.

So one of the most creative shows on television found a creative solution to the problem. According to the New York Times report, audience members were paid $150 for attending the premiere but had no idea they’d be compensated when they reserved tickets.

While the audience wasn’t at full capacity, there were still enough people in the crowd to make it feel like a normal SNL episode. It’s safe to say that the cast prefers performing in front of a live audience and hearing the instant feedback. It also makes for a better viewing experience at home, confirming that paying the audience was the right decision.

Related Story: Here's how SNL is keeping Studio 8H safe

Were you glad that Saturday Night Live had an audience in the studio? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.