The Comedy IssueSeptember 7, 2015

Snap-Stick Comedy: SNL's Colin Jost

Saturday Night Live's Colin Jost seizes any chance to tell a golf joke

For four decades "Saturday Night Live" has been the leading comedy institution of our nation. The sketches parodying politics and contemporary culture are consistently spot-on, and the list of Hollywood stars who trace their origins to SNL reads like a who's who of humor. Because the cast perpetually turns over, we had to ask the show's public-relations department who currently occupies the title of most avid golfer. The answer was Colin Jost, co-anchor of Weekend Update, the segment pioneered by Chevy Chase in 1975. Might this young talent follow the spike marks of his predecessor and help create the next great golf movie? Before you answer, keep on the lookout for a short video he created with Golf Digest.

GOT ANY GOOD GOLF JOKES?As a matter of fact, the first joke I ever told on stage was a golf joke. It was a comedy club in downtown Manhattan, and I opened with this story about playing golf with my dad on a family trip to Arizona. The course was built around Native American land, and certain out-of-bounds was marked as burial ground. Signs read, "If you hit a golf ball into the sacred burial ground, please leave it as a sign of respect." This struck me as so funny and ridiculous. As in, a chieftain spirit could get bonked in the head with a golf ball and be like, Thank you, this is such a nice token of your affection. Or if you're going to hit a minority with a golf ball, at least let them keep the ball. The bit got a good laugh. I kept telling it for a while.

Photo by Andrew Hetherington

YOU DELIVERED THIS LINE ON WEEKEND UPDATE: "GOLF DIGEST MAGAZINE HAS CREATED A CONTROVERSY OVER A NEW COVER FEATURING 20-YEAR-OLD GOLFER LEXI THOMPSON, POSING WITH ONLY A TOWEL COVERING HER BREASTS. BUT BEFORE YOU CALL THEM SEXIST, THEY DID THE SAME THING LAST MONTH WITH ARNOLD PALMER."

Yeah, and then we showed a mock cover with a naked Arnie. As pretty much the only golfer on the cast, I'm usually fighting hard when there's an opportunity to do a golf joke. I was really glad that made it on air. Each week we might write 500 jokes for Weekend Update, and ultimately we can only do about 10.

YOU'RE THE LATEST WEEKEND UPDATE ANCHOR CONNECTED TO GOLF: CHEVY CHASE, KEVIN NEALON, NORM MACDONALD ...Wow, Kevin plays golf? I didn't know that. Chevy, of course. Norm and I talked about getting a game when he was back this year for the 40th anniversary. Somebody should just go ahead and make Norm a golf commentator already. He posts so many dry updates on Twitter. Either you love it, or you have to unfollow him during tournaments.

WHAT'S A TYPICAL DAY IN THE OFFICE AT SNL?It's more of a night. We're usually there from noon to 2 a.m. It's like hanging out in a college dorm. A lot of lounging around just trying to make each other laugh, hoping that translates to something. But in the back of your mind you know you have to hand work in, so it's stressful. Learning to be your natural self in front of five cameras and a silent studio takes time. Trying to be funny under duress is probably a lot like trying to play golf relaxed under pressure.

DO COMEDIANS HAVE COACHES TO HELP WITH THAT?The closest I have is our producer, Lorne Michaels. If something's not working, he'll be the first to tell you. He once came up to me in this very Chevy Chase/Ty Webb moment. About maneuvering on stage with other actors, Lorne said, "Let them come to you. Just be there, and let them come." I was like, Great, I'll try to process that.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR GOLF GAME.I'm a 12-handicap. I recently joined Richmond County Country Club. I don't have a regular group because my hours are all over the place, so I'll usually just bring a guest. Or I'll play alone and zip around and play 18 in two hours. My best friend is a scratch, so when I play with him I live vicariously. We grew up together on Staten Island, both really close to Silver Lake Golf Course, which we could play for $7 as juniors. But I commuted to a high school in Manhattan that didn't have a golf team, so I missed those formational years. In winter we'd go sledding at Silver Lake, and in summer we'd have keg parties at La Tourette. Almost all the golf courses in Staten Island double as something else.

CONGRATULATIONS ON WRITING YOUR FIRST MOVIE, "STATEN ISLAND SUMMER." THE PROTAGONIST IS A KID WHO'S WORKING AS A LIFEGUARD THE SUMMER BEFORE HE GOES TO HARVARD. THAT WAS YOU. WAS IT AWKWARD BORROWING FROM YOUR LIFE?Not at all. For research, it was really fun purposefully getting together with old friends to remember stories. Shooting the movie, which we did in 21 days, was way better than the writing. On set, the problems are in front of you, where you can see them. When you're holed up in a room writing, the problems only exist in your head. That's a lot harder to deal with.

DO YOU FOLLOW PROFESSIONAL GOLF?I'm really excited about Jordan Spieth. Like a great in any sport, when the moment is the biggest, he performs his best. I'm hopeful that Tiger returns to form. After the scandal, it was Donald Trump, of all people, who said that Tiger should come back as the villain and just own it. This idea of Tiger having a second career under a different persona, WWF-style, intrigues me. He could bring women to tournaments, maybe have different ones caddie for him. He'd no longer be chasing the old version of himself. I think that's a move he can always go to. Rickie Fowler is also fascinating. That he seems very serious while wearing orange pants, I just really like that combination.

HARDEST YOU'VE EVER LAUGHED ON A GOLF COURSE?Easy. The year our high school debate team went to the state championships in Albany, and we decided to have a golf outing. This kid loses control of the golf cart and drives straight into a ball washer. The whole thing explodes like it was straight out of a movie scene.

Read Colin's 9 Essential Bunker Shots >

"Trying to be funny under duress is probably a lot like trying to play golf relaxed under pressure."