Katie Rich has one of the most New York jobs in show business: writing jokes for Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” But she’s managing to do it without becoming a New Yorker.
The comedian, who grew up near 80th and Pulaski and performed for years at iO and Second City, still keeps her home base in Chicago, commuting to 30 Rock for a few weeks at a time when “SNL” is in production.
“I just fly back and forth,” she said.
To Rich, it makes perfect sense to spend as much time as she can in the town where her husband and parents still live. The transient life feels pretty normal once you’ve skipped across the country with a Second City touring company, as she did.
With “SNL” wrapped for the season, she’s home for the summer and available for a gig Wednesday night at Snubfest, the annual Chicago festival for sketch and stand-up performers who were rejected by other festivals.
The Zanies show will feature 11 up-and-coming comics in competition. As the judges deliberate after their sets, Rich will step up to recite some of the jokes she wrote for Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che that didn’t make the air.
“We [each] write 200 jokes a week, and maybe two if we’re lucky will see the light of day,” she said. So giving them a second life in a show like this is “a way to combat the pointlessness of it all.”
With 11 comedians and special guest Katie Rich
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday (part of Snubfest, continuing through Sunday)
Where: Zanies, 1548 N. Wells
They aren’t necessarily bad jokes, but “they’re jokes that very much sound like me. They’re not very well written for Colin or Che. They’re definitely just, like, my thoughts. Or they’re jokes that a man should not tell.”
Rich was hired at “SNL” in December 2013 after being in the casts that wrote and performed three Second City mainstage shows. While some newcomers struggle to find their groove in the famously frantic “SNL” machine, Rich arrived at a time when several familiar faces from Chicago were writing and performing there.
“It wasn’t like they would explain how things worked,” she said. “It was more like they were people I could make eye contact with. Or hug if I felt like I was drowning. And that really helped so much. I think it would have been a different transition if I’d had literally no one.”
As one of four writers who put together Update along with two producers and the two anchors, she keeps a close watch on the news and uses her improv training to come up with gags right up until “Live from New York” is uttered.
One of her one-liners that did make the air is a point of pride: “China has banned its soldiers from wearing the new Apple watch over concerns of cyber security. Said one Chinese soldier: ‘But my daughter made it for me.’ ” At a recent New York museum exhibition about “SNL,” it was one of the jokes chosen to play on a continuous video loop.
“I was just really proud of that joke because it had a lot of layers to it,” Rich said. “It had a point but was also a joke, and that’s hard to do.”
More than two years of this work has a way of rubbing off into day-to-day life. “You find in conversation that you’ll be talking in joke form,” she said. “Someone will say something and you’ll be like, ‘To be fair … ‘ or ‘But in actuality ….’ But that’s mostly after like three weeks of shows. And you snap out of it.”
The upside is the way “SNL” has been a springboard into other writing gigs. Rich was part of the team writing the monologue delivered by Cecily Strong (a friend and fellow Chicagoan) at last year’s White House Correspondents Dinner — and she got a selfie with the president in the process.
Soon she’ll head to Los Angeles to write for the July 13 ESPY Awards — a particular thrill for the lifelong sports fan who grew up in a home that reveled in the Bears, the Hawks, the Cubs and the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.
Sports is “very synonymous with my family,” she said, “and it’s great to geek out on that for a job.”
Rich has become so used to being on the move that, even in New York, she has no permanent home. Since losing a furnished apartment on the Upper West Side, she’s been crashing the traveler’s way: with Airbnb. And loving it.
“I get to live in all different parts of the city,” she said, “and you have someone telling you already what’s great about the neighborhood so you’re not even trying to get to know it.”
Packing light (as a writer, “you don’t need that much”), she flits from place to place during the “SNL” season, staying for stretches of two to four weeks.
“The last place I was in, the guy across the hall had this parrot, and he would get home drunk and talk to it,” Rich said. “If I really lived there, that would be a full nightmare. But the fact that it was a temporary thing, I was like, ‘Isn’t it funny?’ “