I dropped the ball on the 40-year anniversary of Saturday Night Live, I’m embarrassed to admit. I sort of forgot it was happening until my man said, “SNL’s 40-year reunion is on tonight, we should watch it."
I am kind of ashamed, considering comedy is something I sweat, bleed, and break myself a little more each day over — it’s my dream, my obsession, my passion, my self-imposed torture. But I gotta pay the bills, so I can get distracted. If I’d been paying attention earlier, I might have even been able to make a few calls and watch from the audience, instead of at home, in my jogging pants, on the couch.
You see, I’m a professional party crasher.
It started out from an innocent enough place. While interning for MTV in college, my “job” was to write about bands for the website. Sometimes I’d get sent to a show out in the back woods of New Jersey or somewhere in the middle of PA that required two buses and a train, just to find that my contact hadn’t put me on the guest list as I should have been, and then I’d get stuck having to shell out my scarce college dollars for a ticket to a show I didn’t necessarily want to see. I observed pretty, confident girls getting waved in by the door man and decided, shuh, I can do that . . . . And I never paid for another unnecessary concert ticket ever again.
After graduating, I moved to New York City and started doing stand-up comedy. I met so many comedians during those formative years. Dave Chappelle complimented me one night and later put me in the "Chappelle Show" pilot. Jim Norton let me crash on his couch while I was apartment-seeking and we would play chess late into the night. Kurt Metzger was my fiancé at the time, and Jay Oakerson and Kevin Hart were our friends and early ambassadors into the comedy world. Chelsea Peretti, Nick Kroll, and Neil Brennan and I used to trudge around to the open mics together. Patrice O’Neal used to give me comedy and life advice after he heard how I’d hitch-hiked to perform at the Montreal Comedy Festival and saved me from sleeping on a friend’s floor by giving me a bed in Jay Oakerson’s room. They have all gone on to major fame, or elsewhere. I miss them all. I have gone on to do some things too, but, well, if anyone is keeping tabs, it’s pretty clear who is leading the boards.
As I took in the reunion show — which by the way I thought was pretty good — I felt that old urge, tugging away.
“You can probably get into the SNL after party,” it whispered to me.
“Nah,” I said back. “Beyonce, the Queen B is there,” I said to it.
“C’mon, Delfino! Where’s that fighting spirit? Since when can you not get into a party?”
I had to give into the urge. It was right.
Anyone who lives in NYC finds themselves at a crazy dope party every so often. It’s a rite of passage of living here. But I do it as a sport. I was at Howard Stern’s birthday bash (I was given a ticket by a friend who works at SiriusXM), Mayor DeBlasio’s Inner Circle Dinner (I was invited by a journalist friend), The Beach Boy’s 50th Anniversary backstage party (my pretty friend and I strong armed our way in), I’ve hit up SNL after parties and after-after parties a bunch of times. I even went to a party at a U.N. Consulate’s private home once. I don’t know how I got invited.
I’ve lived in NYC for over a decade, and it’s exciting to me that my circle of friends extends far enough to make partying with the best of ‘em doable to me.
The night of the 40th anniversary show, I picked up my phone and scrolled through my contacts. I texted a few friends who work at SNL, thinking, there’s no way that this is going to fly. Any party crasher worth their salt knows that the best crashes have to be planned, some weeks in advance. You can’t just roll in. You gotta get your hair did and your legs shaved and make sure you have a red carpet-worthy outfit clean and ready to go. You have to give your hook-up time to work out the details.
But on this cold night, I wouldn’t have time for all that. Luck winked at me — a friend of a musician who works with the show texted back with party details.
“I can’t promise anything,” she said. “But come and I’ll see what I can do.” It was all I needed. “Come now,” she added.
I went into stealth party mode, running from one side of the apartment to the other, opening drawers in one room and a closet in another, looking for the things I’d need — a clutch, those cute black heels, my Mac Red lipstick — then I flung myself into the shower for a record fast body cleaning. I called a car. I knew it’d cost a little more than a taxi but I didn’t have time to blow looking for a cab.
With an important crash, every precious minute counts.
I learned that the hard way at VICE’s 20-year anniversary shindig. I had a special bracelet, an invite in a little black envelope that I had to send a messenger to go pick up at a special location on a certain day at a certain time and everything. They made attendees jump through so many hoops.
But I had a show to perform that night. So by the time I got there three hours after doors opened, I was told to wait because they were “at capacity.” I called friends, I tried all my hook-ups but nothing was working. So I waited. In the pouring rain. For three hours.
Until I gave up and went home, a waterlogged loser.
Yes, if a crash matters, I would prefer to take my time to make sure I have back ups for my back ups. But tonight I had no time. Another important rule to party crashing is this — going alone is lame. Not only is it always more fun to roll into a party with a posse, wing men and women are vital to helping you blend and mingle with a crowd, your very own cheerleader, of sorts, and vice versa.
Now, you might think that it’d be easy to get someone to come with me to this party, but it was starting at midnight on a Sunday, and it was sub-zero outside with dangerous windchill factors of -20.
Plus most of my friends are in their 30s and married with kids or not as available on a moment’s notice as they used to be. Now and then, you will get a call from me, saying, “You up? Let’s hit this party,” and you will have to at times, get out of bed and be red carpet ready in 20 minutes or less.
Could you do it? Would you do it?
My friend, comedian Sandip Buch rose to the occasion. I texted, “Let’s hit the after-party” and he responded within 30 seconds, “Ready in five."
He’s one of my favorite party friends. He knows the deal with these fancy schmancy parties. He knows like me, that there’s a good chance we won’t get in, guest list, friends on the staff or no. He knows his role, and I know mine. I’m not a VIP, I’m just another party body. I know that I may be told to amscray.
It used to be a scary part of the adventure, but once you make peace with that hurdle, it loses its power. Big deal, you don’t get in, so ya just go home.
But Sandip is always willing to take that chance with me and that’s why I love him. My own husband said, “No thanks,” as I toweled off my hair, insisting I probably wouldn’t be able to get in.
Though I knew there was a good chance he was right, I also knew it was worth taking the risk. You only turn 40 once, unless you’re an actress. I had to try.
I raced outside into the night. The air was so cold, it was like inhaling plastic wrap. I didn’t order a black SUV, but one sat waiting for me. They knew. They just knew.
I hopped in and greeted my driver, giving him directions to Sandip’s. We went straight up 3 Avenue and picked him up near Union Square.
“Sandip,” I exclaimed and gave him a hug. “Are you ready?” I asked. “I’m ready,” he said.
“How is this going to work?” he asked. “I have a slim chance hook-up,” I said. “But listen, I want to spend five minutes trying to get in. If we don’t get in, we go home, no big deal. Okay?” I said.
As a pro crasher, I understand that a disconnect is necessary. There’s no need to get upset over it all. There’s a 50/50 chance you’ll get in, and blindly enjoying the adventure and the odds is part of the fun. We discussed strategy. “Since it’s my hook-up, I’ll do the talking,” I said. “You hang back. You know what to do."
When we arrived close to 1 a.m., we were dumped into a sea of black SUVs and quickly made our way through the biting winds and cold to the front door of the Plaza just to be immediately dismissed by a security guard, saying the room was at capacity.
I believed him, it was absolutely mobbed. I thanked him, ignored him, and walked directly to the guest list table. I gave my name to the clerk. She looked me up and confirmed I wasn’t on the list.
“Okay, let’s go,” I said to Sandip. We hung back for a minute, and then I saw my friend. She grabbed my hand. “Come on!” she said, pulling me past the crowd, holding up her party bracelet like a beacon. Sandip knew to move close to us, his face buried in his phone. My friend reached into her pocket. When we got past the crowd, we ducked off to the side.
“I only have one,” she said, pulling out a bracelet, but it didn’t matter. We were already in. We took our coats off fast and headed for the bar. In minutes, we were sipping martinis, grinning from ear to ear at each other, stunned and satisfied.
The room was electric.
Literally every direction I turned in, I bumped into a celebrity. The room was brimming with A-listers.
But this time it was different. Sometimes when I crash a party, I can’t help but feel dirty, like I am doing something wrong. Like, I shouldn’t be there, and if I should be there, I would have been invited.
But the truth is, many of the very same celebrities in that room were not invited. They, like me, wanted to go to the party, so they called a friend, or a publicist and asked for an invitation. I belonged there just as much as anyone.
I spent the last 15 years of my life in New York City, a daily contributor to the comedy scene. I moved here right before 9/11. I lived in 17-story walk ups and studios with ungrateful, broke, sponging boyfriends, schlepped all over the city, night after night, hustling for spots and dedicating hours to writing jokes and songs and stories and making video and content and producing shows and scrounging for the money for subway tickets and bus tickets and plane tickets and hitchhiking to gigs and being told I wasn’t good enough or that I was absolutely brilliant in the roller coaster ride that is the life of a comedian.
Not only that, I had spent much of my life watching SNL, year after year. My friends worked there — they wrote the sketches and acted in the sketches and made the music and produced the show and cast actors and were extras and took photos and ran tech and interned. I belonged there as much as, and maybe even more than some of the party goers, in fact.
And where I might previously normally feel out of sorts, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong or like I was an outsider at all that night. I felt like I was right at home.
In addition, the vibe in the room was incredibly inviting. Everyone was all smiles, happy and friendly. I said hi to Jerry Seinfeld, squirming a little bit inside over a snarky comedic piece I’d written in the Daily News about his marriage, and to Chris Rock who I’d met at the Comedy Cellar many times over the years, I shook hands with Bill Murray, who is a personal hero and in my top five favorite comedians of all time. I got a big hug from Dave Chappelle and a good squeeze from Cheri Oteri, who I’d met in LA a few months earlier when she happened to be at Uncabaret where I performed my rape whistle song.
I chatted with Tom Green and together, we marveled over the beauty of the room’s architecture which was breathtaking, maybe even more so than the company present.
I felt like a tipsy Eloise.
I fearlessly shook hands with and congratulated Lorne Michaels on a fantastic show, evening, and career. He put his arm around me for a moment, and together, we surveyed the beauty of the room. I watched Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Patty Smith, Blondie, and another one of my heroes, goddamn PRINCE, among many others rock the intimate stage while the crowd went wild. It was amazing to see a packed house of celebrities all with their cellphones out, filming and taking photos. They were shameless! Even Jimmy Fallon, who hosted the impromptu mini rock concert was taken aback by it all.
It was really just too much — like a human fireworks display.
I said hi to some comedian friends who were also there, wandering around, probably in the same boat as me — a friend hooked ‘em up, and there they were.
My head was literally spinning and it wasn’t the booze. I took a breather on a luxurious couch with legendary SNL music supervisor Hal Willner who told me about a trip he’d be taking to Australia in just a few hours, laughed along as Adam Sandler joked around with his friends, and watched the parade of pretty, accomplished people.
Paris Hilton, obviously all the SNL cast members, Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Bradley Cooper, Ed Norton, and so many more slipped past me, made eye contact with me like they knew me (or maybe more like, “I should know you, right?”), smiled at or said hi to me and I just took it all in with so much joy. Everyone was so friendly and so happy. It was a special night and everyone knew it.
I thought, I’m in the coolest place in the world right now. I ran into old pals and made new ones.
Around 3 a.m., I began to fade. My party pal and I slipped out of the shindig which was winding down and accidentally found ourselves on the red carpet with Joe Piscopo. He was playful and chatty, and insisted my friend take our photo. It was the perfect ending to a perfect night.
As we left, we were handed an SNL T-shirt keepsake tied up with a black ribbon. Should I eBay it? I thought. But I can’t, I am too sentimental about that stuff. Plus, I’m building up a pretty badass comedy party T-shirt collection. Among my favorites are a gray one that says “Broad Fucking City” that I got at a Comedy Central party last year at SXSW.
This was not just a party. It was a life-changing event. That might sound like hyperbole, but I mean it.
I’m not as successful as I’d like to be in terms of TV credits, but I breathe the same air as all my heroes sometimes and that somehow feels like it’s putting me closer to that intangible thing I lust after day after day.
But something transcendent happened on Sunday. It occurred to me that I’m so much closer than I know. For years I have been watching my comedy comrades hit the lotto, get their own shows, have their posters plastered all over the MTA . . . it’s humbling. But on Sunday I realized that any of us — you, me, that other person who you know who performs now and then — could be thrust into the limelight at a moment’s notice, and it’s not that hard, and it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s partially luck, partially stamina, partially drive-based, and it’s reachable.
It’s crazy that I’ve dedicated my life to this pursuit, but it’s not unattainable. It’s just not.
My friend and I rode back to our homes in a cab, mostly silent, astounded at the awesomeness of the evening. As buildings flew by, it played back in my head like it was a fairy tale — the story of a girl who moved to New York 15 years ago to realize her dreams. And though her dreams were unrealistic, a bit slippery, and didn’t quite unfold the way she wanted them to all the time, her fairy godmother, New York City, always nestled her in its arms, kept her in good company, schooled her, and gave her shimmering memories that would glow and warm her for the rest of her days.
You see, I had to go. I had to try to get in. I wasn’t sure when I walked out the door of my apartment if I’d be able to get in, or if I deserved to be there, or if I’d ever be at a party like that again.
But I left the party knowing I sure as shit did deserve to be there, and feeling more confident than ever who I am, what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what it all means.