Liz Patrick wasn’t fazed by the immense pressure of walking into the legendary Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center when she took over as director of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the fall of 2021.
The Boston University graduate had spent decades preparing for just that moment, having once written in a school assignment that she pictured herself working on the show. She is one of only five directors in SNL‘s storied history, joining Dave Wilson, Paul Miller, Beth McCarthy-Miller, and Don Roy King.
Patrick has won seven Emmys for her work on Ellen: The Ellen Degeneres Show and she was nominated last year for directing Saturday Night Live — her very first year on the show. She actually won a DGA Award for Season 47, and she’s nominated for yet another Emmy for Season 48.
In just two seasons of leading the well-oiled machine of crew members who have worked at SNL for decades, Patrick has faced some unique challenges, including a COVID shutdown. She even co-directed the show from home when she came down with the virus herself.
Above the Line recently spoke with Liz Patrick about some of the incredible moments she has experienced in the control room, how her previous work prepared her to direct the show’s musical performances, and how even she can get star-struck at some of the show’s legendary afterparties.
Above the Line: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for directing, one of 10 that SNL received for Season 48. I know you’ve won seven Emmys as a director and producer, but how are you feeling about this year’s nomination?
Liz Patrick: First of all, thank you very much, very kind of you. I am absolutely thrilled and over the moon to be honored with it only being my second year at SNL. It’s just a huge honor to be recognized in this industry and for this show, and to be able to come in and take over and make it seem seamless, like no change has been made, and keep the boat afloat.
ATL: You are only the fifth director of Saturday Night Live in its entire 48-year history and just the second woman after Beth McCarthy-Miller. That’s wild…
Patrick: When I first got my start in television, it was at MTV, and Beth McCarthy happened to be our senior director. And to see a woman in charge and in power was just like, “Hey, this is amazing. This is great.” It wasn’t something I realized was rare until she left. And then I started working my way up. I started as a production assistant and then worked as an A.D. and as [a] stage manager [before] directing. She was very influential to me. And then to see her go on to SNL, I was just kind of in awe, and just was like, “Wow, if I could have a smidge of the success she has had, I’m gonna be very happy.” [laughs]
ATL: So you’re carrying on her legacy as well as the legacy of the other directors. But rewind and tell me how you got the job in the first place.
Patrick: I believe Don Roy King was going to retire and they started looking for candidates [who] could take over the show. My background was directing at MTV and I had a list of credits that ranged from music to live comedy to sketch comedy, award shows, red carpet shows — so a little bit of everything, which is basically combined into a variety show.
And I was at Ellen for 13 years, and I think my credits and my laundry list of everything I had done was appealing. At MTV, I was exposed to a lot of live television. So I’ve never been afraid of that. And SNL is a live beast. So they interviewed a few candidates and hopefully, I stuck out.
I feel like everything that I’ve done in my career has helped set me up for this, and it’s been something I’ve always wanted to do. In college, I studied film production and [made] a bunch of short films, [as] I wanted to get into either films or TV. I kind of grew up as a TV junkie, and I was a big fan of SNL. I [even] wrote a paper one day in a class that said I wanted to work on that show in some capacity, not knowing that one day I might actually get the opportunity to direct it. So it’s been a great honor. And I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity. And it’s been a fun run so far.
ATL: For Emmy consideration, you submitted the Christmas episode with Martin Short and Steve Martin. So what was it like directing those two SNL stalwarts?
Patrick: They’re comedy legends. They’re some of my comedy heroes. I grew up watching them on TV and I go back to being honored and grateful to work with them. It’s so interesting to see every comedian and every actor who has a different process. And so it’s adapting to what they need because it is such a short amount of time and such a short turnaround. So it’s like, “Okay, what do you need to make to make this run smoothly for you?” And then basically making them as comfortable as they can be. I have a lot of help with that from the producers and the writers.
ATL: How closely do you collaborate with Lorne [Michaels] and with the writers?
Patrick: The writers are the ones that dream up an idea, and then I may pitch them something that might help their idea or complement it or make it a little bit better. I feel like no idea is a bad idea. And I always just want to bring their ideas to life the best I can. So the idea’s already been dreamt up, and it’s basically adding to it and making it the best it can be.
ATL: Talk about the episode with Quinta Brunson, who was nominated as a guest actress, and the one with Pedro Pascal, nominated as a guest actor.
Patrick: Quinta was amazing. One of my favorite sketches in that episode was the traffic altercation sketch where she and Mikey Day were side by side in cars in a traffic jam and mouthing different statements and rude comments [laughs] toward one another. Quinta, I think, actually was involved in writing that as well. It just turned out to be a solid sketch, and it was somewhat technically challenging because we had so much green screen and it was finding backgrounds that worked and didn’t look completely fake.
That’s where you go to your research department and they’re finding footage for you to drop in. It’s a collaborative effort across the board to create a show like this. Quinta was a pro and so kind and open to many things. It was a fun show.
You mentioned Pedro Pascal. And he was a gem but unfortunately, I was home [laughs] with Covid for that episode. But I was co-directing from home on my couch with monitors and a headset and being able to talk to the crew and my A.D. and that was a crazy experience. But that was a great show.
ATL: When you look back at the season as a whole, what are some of the highlights for you?
Patrick: The Quinta traffic altercation scene, and the two sketches that Pedro did when he played a mother and he was yelling at Marcello [Hernández]. I just thought that was amazing. And when he had amnesia, that was a great sketch. And then when Sarah Paulson came out, and it was a great cameo, and the audience just went nuts. Other highlights from this year, I feel like Ego [Nwodim] with “Lisa from Temecula” was a hit.
Sarah Sherman had a nice sketch where she had been on a rollercoaster too long and then came on to do her bit on the news and her hair and her mouth were stuck in a high-rise position. It was a fun sketch and it was challenging for hair and makeup. I loved Austin Butler doing “Jewish Elvis” with Sarah Sherman. [laughs]
I feel like Heidi [Gardner] had such a great show with Travis Kelce. She’s from Kansas City and he played for the Kansas City Chiefs and they clicked and they had fun, and she had some great ideas that week. It’s just a really cool experience to see these ideas and see what they become. It’s just been a fun season.
ATL: What is the mood like when former cast members like Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Molly Shannon, and Kristen Wiig come back to host, and which ones have come back during your tenure?
Patrick: I had the pleasure of meeting Tina Fey when she came in. So it was going to be Paul Rudd, who was hosting our Christmas episode in Season 47, my first season. And that was that was the show got shut down with Covid and a lot of our cast went down. So Tina came in and I got to talk to her backstage. She was one of the first that I met and [she was] just kind and gracious. And they understand the craziness because they basically come from that mold. They grew up there. So in a way, it’s almost like a former teammate coming back to a team and checking it out or a former sorority member or a fraternity member coming back to school.
Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte came to host and they understand the whole process. And when Jason was there, I was just starting to take over that was one of my first episodes that I slowly started doing sketches, and then it would grow. One week I’d do four sketches, the next week I’d do six sketches and I’d do music.
It was just a nice experience. They understand the pressure that we’re under, I understand the pressure they’re under, but it’s also like this cool moment of, “We get it.” A lot of nice words and complimentary words of like, “Hey, you’re doing a great job.””I was very appreciative of that. And they’re all so amazing and I’ve been a fan of all of ’em, so it was a pleasure to work with them.
ATL: It’s exciting for the viewers too when a previous cast member comes back. But let’s shift gears. Tell me about some of the most interesting musical guests during your time on the show.
Patrick: Well, my first musical performance that I did there was Brandi Carlile from Season 47. And I’ve been a Brandy fan for a long time and worked with her at Ellen. So to have her here at SNL for my first performance just was a cool thing.
Billie Eilish always comes [in] with ideas. And I had worked with her at Ellen on some elaborate ideas where she performed in water. And so continuing that theme when she came to SNL, she talked about wanting to perform on one of the sets and then ending up on the performance stage.
And we said to her that there’s no guarantee which set is going to end up in the show. So in a way, we almost need to create your own set that would look like you’re on a sketch, and then it would open up to you on the performance stage. So we did that with her.
Kendrick Lamar came in with a cool set where the walls slowly closed in on his environment. Coming from MTV, I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with artists and bringing their ideas to life.
I’ve been lucky in my career to work at some really cool pop culture places, [laughs] working at MTV, working at Ellen, and now working at SNL.
ATL: What are some of the most unpredictable things that have happened live over the course of your career?
Patrick: You can plan all you want and then if it changes or somebody goes off script, you just kind of go into live zone coverage mode of handling it. But so far nothing really crazy has happened for me. I think Steve Martin and Martin Short were sometimes a little loose. And so it’s trying to listen and follow them and not cut away from them on a moment like that and not just sticking straight to the script. So that keeps you on your toes.
A lot of crazy things have happened in music. I feel like there’s a dress rehearsal and suddenly the Pro Tools guy played the wrong song. It was just out of order, [laughs], oops. But the artist accommodated. And we were like, “Oh, well, all right,” and we just follow suit as well. But you’re only as good as your team [laughs].
ATL: Do you want to tell me anything about the after parties, such as which have been the wildest and most memorable?
Patrick: Am I allowed to talk about this [laughs]?
ATL: Only if you want to.
Patrick: I don’t know if I’ve seen anything wild. But it’s just a cool experience. I mean, Molly Shannon’s after party, you see so many other people that have come to support her. Talk about a highlight, Molly Shannon as Sally O’Malley with the Jonas Brothers. I am a huge Molly Shannon fan, and I was a huge Sally O’Malley and Mary Katherine Gallagher fan. So working with her was a joy.
But at her afterparty, I caught a glimpse of Drew Barrymore and I was like, “Oh my God, there’s Drew.” Zoë Kravitz was at her party and I ran into Ilana Glazer, and I’m a huge Broad City fan, both of her and Abbi [Jacobson]. One of my producers introduced me to her, and we were chatting and she asked me what I did on the show. And I’m like, “Oh, I just took over. I’m directing.” She’s like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing. How did you get here? What’d you do?”
It’s just a cool vibe and just a classic New York thing, right?
All 48 seasons of Saturday Night Live are streaming on Peacock.