Along with a lot of Democrats, Seth Meyers watched the first presidential debate last week with a sinking feeling. "It’s boring enough when they’re talking about all this and how it will affect Americans, but when you’re sitting there trying to pull comedy out of it, it’s really bad," says Meyers, who acts as one of Saturday Night Live's head writers. SNL writer Jim Downey, who was tasked with writing this weekend's parody of the debate for the show, agrees, saying this debate was the hardest one he's ever had to turn into comedy. "I can never remember one that didn’t have something," he says. "Some kind of thing that was odd or weird."
The New York Times takes a rare behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating SNL's debate sketch, and reports that Lorne Michaels himself came up with the idea to poke fun at MSNBC's over-the-top reaction to the debate—during which "Rachel Maddow looked like she had just seen a terrible car accident," he says. Ultimately, Downey came up with the idea of playing President Obama as distracted by the fact that he forgot to buy Michelle an anniversary gift—and, of course, the altitude. But the script wasn't complete by the time the cast had its first run-through Friday, and cast members only received a final version some five hours before the show was taped. And then, of course, there was the matter of nailing down a certain key guest appearance: “There’s always all this swirl,” says Michaels, “and then you’re fighting to get Big Bird on the phone.”