“Diner Lobster”: How a Weird “Saturday Night Live” Sketch can Change Your Tuesday Afternoon

While Monday brings out the phantom quarterbacks in a lot of offices, we often spend a portion of our Monday playing armchair comedians and debating the sketches on “Saturday Night Live.” It’s mostly just for fun and a good way to ease into the week ahead. But it’s also a way to talk about what we do: How to tell stories that engage a wide swath of people in a short period of time.

The conversations also turn into the general work of making something people might love. Or as is often the case with SNL, something people will love 20 years from now.  This week, we all ended up talking about a particularly weird sketch loaded with lessons that might lead us all into a more productive Tuesday afternoon, the “Diner Lobster.” If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re welcome: 

Here are a few reminders for all of us from this weirdness:

Combine creatively: The sketch plays out like the result of picking two disparate things picked out of a hat. This is also a famous way to push through creative blocks: Look for the unexpected. What happens when two things that shouldn’t work together have to work together? This may be just as useful in personnel problem-solving as it is in creative work.

Commit in the Present: You can say a lot about this five minutes of television but you cannot say they didn’t give it their all. They bring out the whole cast, an elaborate set piece, several costume options, and giant musical numbers. If anyone in this moment rolls their eyes or only gives half their heart, this sketch is done. But they all decide to play along with the sincerity of Anne Hathaway singing for her Oscar in an actual Les Mis production.

Commit over Time: According to legend, and tweets from John Mulaney, this sketch was rejected for several years and never made it past the brainstorming stage. Maybe it made it because they figured out some key element. Or maybe it made it onto the show because Mulaney as host has credibility–and power– he didn’t have in his early years as a writer. Maybe he’s coasting on the delightful funny fumes of the Stephon bits he writes for SNL and their enormous popularity. Either way, it’s a lesson in endurance.