Why Some ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Members Use Cue Cards

Kate McKinnon and Colin Jost
Kate McKinnon and Colin Jost on Saturday Night Live | NBC

Saturday Night Live is not an easy show to do. Even if you manage to do it you might get banned from the show. So there are some safety nets the show offers like cue cards. You might have noticed some actors on the show looking off-camera because they are reading lines. Why is that necessary? This is why some cast members use cue cards and why some don’t.

It’s hard to memorize all of the scripts so cue cards are used

Saturday Night Live is new every week and there is a quick turnaround. On Monday writers and cast members pitch jokes and Tuesday is when sketches are written, according to Business Insider. Although those are the designated days for that, the show still might add new material based on current events.

That doesn’t give actors much time to memorize and prepare like they normally would for a movie or television show. So the cue cards come in handy. Some actors still try to memorize however and that doesn’t always work out.

Janeane Garofalo would try to memorize her lines on Saturday Night Live, according to New York magazine. But she still had trouble remembering which then affected her acting partners. A source claimed Al Franken had an angry outburst when this happened. “Al went sh*thouse,” a witness reportedly said. “‘Read the f*cking cue cards!’ And afterward, he goes to Janeane and says, real condescending, ‘Um, Janeane, I appreciate that you want to memorize your lines. But do everyone a favor—just read the cue cards.’”

Macaulay Culkin also didn’t use cue cards when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1991. But that wasn’t really his choice. He said on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF With Marc Maron:

My father was such a crazy person about it. I had to do the whole episode without cue cards. Yeah, so also that meant every other person in the cast couldn’t have cue cards either, in any scene that I was in. No cue cards whatsoever. Because he didn’t like it when people glanced off [and looked at] cue cards kind of thing.

Other Saturday Night Live cast members and hosts who haven’t use cue cards couldn’t for very specific reasons.

Chris Farley and Chris Rock couldn’t read cue cards

Chris Farley and Deion Sanders on Saturday Night Live
Chris Farley and Deion Sanders on Saturday Night Live | NBC

Although the cue cards are there as a backup for actors, they don’t work for everyone. “When Chris Rock was on the show, it was hard for him to read cue cards,” explained Wally Feresten, who has worked as the show’s cue card man, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I think that’s one of the reasons why he said they didn’t use him enough. Chris Farley was the same way.”

He also revealed that when Lara Flynn Boyle was on Saturday Night Live she “came in nearsighted, dyslexic and colorblind. She told me up front, ‘This is going to be a challenge for you.'”

So cue cards are definitely helpful for everyone on the show to be able to say their lines. But some still try not to use them or they can’t due to sight issues.

Read more: ‘Saturday Night Live’: How Many Times Has Alec Baldwin Hosted?

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