tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg July 27, 2019 1:00pm-1:30pm EDT
david: how has humor changed? are people laughing at the same things or are there certain things you can make fun of now and couldn't? lorne: there is almost nothing i did in the 1970's i could do now. david: are you ever worried there is a guest host not up to the task? lorne: yeah. david: how do you coach them to be ready? lorne: you can get almost anyone through it. david: what does it take to be a leader? lorne: if you are in power, everyone knows you're in a power, so don't ever have to explain you're in power. >> would you fix your tie, please? david: people wouldn't recognize me, but ok. just leave it this way? all right. ♪
david: i don't consider myself a journalist. nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? did you think at the beginning that you were going to change television history and the history of comedy when you were starting that show in 1975? lorne: i don't think i thought of it in those terms, but i thought if we got on the air, and did the show, that the people who were doing the show would stay home to watch. i thought there were enough people like us, because we all come from the audience. i was probably the person who had the most experience in
television, but most people, it was the first time they had been on television. david: you were only 30 years old? the others were in their 20's? lorne: i think dan aykroyd was 22, john belushi was 24. chevy was a little older than me. david: why would a 30-year-old be picked to produce this show? what was your background that enabled somebody to think you would have experience to do this? lorne: i think first it was very low stakes. late-night doesn't average in primetime ratings, so it was no one's real responsibility. carson was on five nights a week. that was doing really well. so when i had done television, and i had done television in los angeles, both in the late 1960's and then when i moved back in 1972, and the more ambitious things that i would suggest, or go in and meet about, they always said it wouldn't work in primetime.
in those days, you needed a 40 share of the audience to stay on the air. david: it means 40% of thee -- lorne: 40% of the audience is watching you. they would say it wouldn't work or it would just work on the coast i was from canada, and i . kind of knew what was in between the coasts. i thought there were plenty of people like me out there. it was a different generation, and if we could -- we were at the beginning of the baby boom. i had worked on shows like "laugh in," done several shows with lily tomlin, richard pryor, which were always specials. and i had done enough that i sort of knew how you did it. and it was a question of putting together a show which was on some level new wine in old
bottles. we took elements of variety shows and knew that we would be different because we would be doing it. david: you grew up in toronto? did you grow up and say i want to be a lawyer or doctor, like all nice, young jewish boys? lorne: no, i think it was my grandparents owned a movie theater, and i think from an early age, if asked in like the third grade what i wanted to do, i probably would have said lawyer because that is what you said or something like that, but i would have wanted to be in the movies. david: at one point, did you say i want to make my career in canada or the big-time is in the united states? lorne: i felt that the time -- 1967 was the 100th birthday of canada, the centennial. there was a new spirit in the country and i thought i would be perfectly happy to be here the rest of my life.
and then got an opportunity to do a show in california called "the beautiful phyllis diller show." a variety show. i was working with a partner, and we would write and perform and wrote some stand-up for various -- woody allen, joan rivers, not that we influenced their careers, but we had had enough experience and we performed. david: you picked him as people -- a number of famous people that later went on to great fame and fortune. the first show goes on. when it is over, are you convinced you have a great hit forever or you are not sure? lorne: when we were beginning, i often -- i had all of the ingredients, i didn't have the recipe. between the first show and the second show, we changed. second show was paul simon. third show was rob reiner with penny marshall.
by the fourth show we found the burgen, thedy show that resembles the show today. david: the original idea was to have a cast of characters and a host. lorne: a different host every week. david: who was the first host? lorne: george carlin. david: was he so funny in those days you knew it would be a hit? lorne: he had monologues that worked and i thought he was funny. the biggest controversy in the first show was the network wanted him to wear a suit, jacket and tie. and he didn't want to. he wanted to wear a t-shirt. it was not the biggest thing in my life. let him wear whatever he wants, but the compromise which took up a lot of time on show day was he wore a suit with a t-shirt. perfect solution. david: did you have to have a censor?
for words that might not be appropriate? lorne: we had a lot of discussions about what we could do and could not do. and what you could do at 11:30 and what you could do at midnight. i think that we sort of -- all those phrases from the 1970's, like "cutting edge" and "pushing the envelope," we were trying to reflect life as we were living it. also 1975, the end of the vietnam war. the president resigned. new york city was bankrupt. it was a little window that opened where it wasn't business as usual. david: from 1975 to late 1970's or early 1980's, how has humor changed? do people laugh at the same kind of things? are there certain things you could make fun of now, you couldn't or vice versa? lorne: there is almost nothing
we did in the 1970's? gilda ratdner could not have rosanna rosanna danna, the -- values change. i said between the movie "arthur" and the movie "arthur 2", alcoholism became a disease. no one wanted to laugh at drunks, whereas for 200 years, they laughed at drunks. david: anything that makes you so uproariously that you lost control? lorne: there is always something in the show i am proud of and also comedy is a disruptive thing. people don't plan to laugh. they are taught when to applaud, but not taught when to laugh. ♪
david: let's take people how the show is produced. on a monday, do you recover from the previous week and do you go to work on monday? lorne: everybody has to show up on monday. i have a meeting i have had since the beginning of 5:00 on mondays which has all the writing staff, all the cast, the host, people from the music department, film department. we all gather in my office --
they gather, i am behind a desk. i go around the room and ask everybody what their idea is. david: in your 45 years of doing this have you ever had a private , equity person as a guest host? not yet? lorne: it has been suggested, but we haven't done it. david: maybe there is opportunity at some point. tuesday and wednesday you are writing. you have a dinner, then you do dress rehearsals? lorne: we choose the show on wednesday. we read 40 to 45 pieces, looking for 13 or 14. once that is chosen, the designers begin designing the sets. then, those plans go to the shop late that night and they start. the film unit goes off to figure out how they are going to shoot the two or three pieces we are shooting. we are always assessing who has not as much to do as we'd like. we have left the opening of the show and generally one or two
spots open for anything that happens. david: have you ever gotten worried you picked a guest host who is not up to the task? lorne: yeah. david: how do you coach them? lorne: you can get almost anyone through it. it is an odd hybrid because you are on stage. there are lots of people who are very good at that, and there is also cameras and the script is constantly changing up until the last minute. it takes a level of focus. there is a point which the host really gives up and goes, you have to trust it at this point that it will all come together. david: in anticipation of my getting a chance to do this with you, you invited me to come to one of the shows recently, and i was surprised how small the studio actually is. this is a studio that arturo tuscanini conducted the nbc orchestra at one point.
lorne: it was built on springs. the nbc symphony orchestra, it was that important. rockefeller center had been built so they put this in between floors so the subway noise would not affect it. a lot of it was changed when television came in because they thought sound wouldn't matter. turns out it did. david: i noticed you walking around the set, and sometimes when i watch on tv or staring at what is going on. you don't smile that much when you are doing this. do you ever think this isn't going as well as i thought, so you tell people fix it or do something different in the middle of a show? lorne: no. there is some of that, but mostly it is about time. the casts are good enough that if you are running a minute or two long, you can go -- and they understand, pick it up. go faster. or we take a page out of something. david: there are cases were you think you had a really funny sketch and all of a sudden people aren't laughing in the studio, or the reverse is you
are not sure it is funny and it suddenly becomes funny? lorne: yes. you choose the pieces on wednesday, rehearse them thursday and friday, and again saturday afternoon in costume and makeup. then you do the dress rehearsal, which is the first time 300, 400 people come in and see it. whatever you thought, if they disagree, they are right. that.l -- we just from things you thought were surefire don't play and things that -- a lot of it is placement, where they were in the show. like if it is a harder piece, if you play it early, it probably won't work. it is where you play things, running order and also topicality. david: you don't get people calling you from the network -- nbc is owned by comcast now -- saying, you are being too tough on a political figure?
they just leave you alone? lorne: they leave us alone and the comcast people have been brilliant. one, i don't think they want to be doing the show themselves, so there's that. and also it has been stephen burke, brian roberts, unwavering support. david: when you are not doing "saturday night live," you are also producing other shows. you are producing "late night." lorne: i did "the tonight show with seth meyers," late-night show. in all of those, "30 rock" is a perfect example. tina fey was a brilliant head writer on "snl" and then cast member and did update. she wanted to do a series. we did "mean girls" together. she wanted to do a television series. it ended up being "30 rock." what i will do is i will be all over it at the beginning to make
sure that it is both on track and the best version of what it could be. and then once it is sort of going, or going well enough, i will tiptoe out of the room and go back to my other job which is "snl." most of my focus is "snl" because it is compelling and because you don't know what is happening minute to minute. with "the tonight show with jimmy fallon," and seth meyers on late-night, these are people i worked with and we have a shorthand. i have faith in them. and so you can sort of see that process. david: sometimes humor is so funny on your show you can't stop laughing. lorne: they do eventually. david: is there something that makes you laugh so uproariously that you cannot control your own laughing? lorne: there is always something i am proud of and comedy is a disruptive thing. people don't plan to laugh. they are not taught when to
laugh. -- there is something that is always surprising. when you see the pairing of really good writing and a brilliant performance, when they are locked in, it is thrilling. david: when people are made famous by your show and go wants something that is always to reach great fame and fortune, do they ever say thank you for everything you did, i could not have done it without you or do they forget to do that? lorne: i think there is strong feelings on both sides. when we did the 40th anniversary a couple years ago, i think everyone, all the people were invited who worked on the show, plus people who hosted. when people looked around the room and saw all the different generations of people who had done it, it was -- people realized what we had done was important. recently, a couple weeks ago
adam sandler was hosting the show. he did a song about chris farley. i did a lot of work with chris farley, and adam and he were very close. what happened was he was doing this tribute and he looked around the studio and the crew were the same crew, the people in design were the same people, and you sort of saw people tearing up and you realized it is an important thing. on that stage, in that room, where everyone has been working forever, it had real power. david: are there things you would like to do with the show you have not done yet? lorne: i think the show continues to morph. since the last election, it has been much more political because the audience can follow it. there are times -- there were times in the mid-1990's if you asked one of the cast members
david: on your lapel, you are wearing a pin which i guess is the order of canada? signifies the highest order you -- honor you can get is a citizen of canada? lorne: you can be elected prime minister, i suppose. david: people would rather have that. you received that as -- you are a canadian and american citizen, but you have also received the highest civilian honor our country can give which is the presidential medal of freedom. you got it from president obama. what was that like?
lorne: thrilling. my family was there. it was just thrilling to be there. when i got the call telling me that i was to receive it, i was in the middle of working out, then i sort of took it in and i went, "oh." valerie jarred, who called me, said appreciate you not talking about it. there was a month i knew before it was going to be announced and i took it very seriously about not talking to people about it. david: when you are as prominent as you are and have been doing it for as long as you, are there young people in their 20's who say this is funny and you say no and they argue with you? lorne: no. it's 3:00 in the morning, you see two writers in the hall -- and in the 1970's, it would have been seamless but now they just
stopped talking as i get closer. but i think if they suggest an idea, and i am thinking well, we have done that eight or 10 times, i wrote it three times, it has never worked. but if you ever said it won't work, they think he doesn't get it. which is infuriating. but, they have to be able to write it, and hope springs eternal maybe this time it will work. there is no idea that somebody really is not able to pull off, so we are always hopeful. david: today as you look at next season and so forth, are there things you would like to do with the show you have not done yet? lorne: i think the show just continues to morph. since the last election, it has been much more political because the audience can follow it.
there are times -- there were times in the mid-1990's where if you would ask one of the cast members who the senate majority leader is, they wouldn't know. so politics becomes, obviously post-watergate, politics is very important, and to the baby boom generation remained important. and then in good times, it sort of recedes. we are always just doing what is topical. might be politics -- right now it is. david: if somebody says i want to be like lorne michaels, a successful producer, master of television, what are the qualities this person should have? hard work, smart, good sense of humor, nobody get along with people, motivate people? what are the qualities that are the most important ones? lorne: i would not advise anybody on it, but i think that
leadership in this field is the ability to change your mind. and quite often change your mind. if a better idea comes in from a first-year writer, we will go with that and it is a culture that thrives on it. it is not status or hierarchy that determines it. people the audience is dying to see in the cast could end up in one piece because the pieces got chosen. everyone has heard them play at readthrough. there isn't a week where someone is not seriously unhappy. it is not fun walking past people after you cut their piece because we are running long and that is the piece that got cut. but there is always next week. i think you just keep moving forward and you try and create a culture where everyone feels they are heard.
david: final question of a like to ask you is this -- very often i ask people what it take to be a leader? you are a leader in your area. the skill set to be a leader -- your observation of other people or your own life, the qualities you have seen that make people ineffective leader? lorne: if you are in power, i think everybody knows you are in power so don't ever have to explain you are in power. i think that when you are in a room with talented people, you don't make many suggestions. almost everything you are going to suggest has been covered by someone. so, it is more about -- you more lead by example. it is what you stand for and what your taste is. mostly, it is about being right more often than you are not.
also pushing people forward because in my case, i think people know that all that matters for me is whether the show is good or not, and i will be ruthless in the search for that. that is what i am seeing. if you have not caught up with it on some level why i am doing something, i won't have time to explain but after a while, you will see a pattern because we have 45 minutes between dress and hair to figure it out. i go around the room and go, what do you think, what do you think? would it be better if we put this here and everybody speaks. , ultimately, the decision is technically mine, but you can feel consensus, and they are all people who just wanted to be good. david: thank you for letting us talk to you and thank you for not making fun of private equity in all the shows you have done.
david: he calls himself a full-time nomad, born of a german father and a puerto rican mother in hempstead, new york, he took his phd in economics to asia in the middle of the vietnam war, doing research in markets largely ignored by the west. mark mobius turned to investing after he correctly predicted a downturn in the hong kong stock exchange, and by 1997 he was running a successful business in taiwan. that's where he was when john templeton asked him to start the first emerging markets equity fund in history, starting at $100 million, and growing into $50 billion over the next 25 years.