By Jason Tanamor
“I’m the funniest mother fucker people don’t know about. I was so hot on BET’s “Comic View,” I had a following. On my last show I was going to tell people I was leaving for SNL, but I didn’t do the last show. I never got that chance to tell people,” said Finesse Mitchell, about his transition from cable television to the network juggernaut that is Saturday Night Live (SNL). After that, Mitchell said, people started to show up to the tapings.
The comedian started SNL in 2003, hearing about the audition because of an incident at home. “My girlfriend and I were having an argument. I left the house at 1 AM and went to a comedy club to hang out,” Mitchell said. “All of a sudden, I hear people talking about SNL auditions. The show was looking for the new black guy on SNL because Tracy Morgan was leaving.” Jumping on this chance, Mitchell had his manager send in a video tape to the show’s producers. “They saw my tape and invited me to audition. I was in the third group of 25 black guys. They narrowed it down to four and after five more auditions, I was offered the job,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell’s career seemed like it happened overnight, which it kind of did. After all, before SNL, Mitchell had only been doing stand-up comedy since 1997. And this was only part-time. He didn’t quit his full-time job selling financial services like mutual funds and health insurance until 2000. “At the latter part of my career (finance), I worked in Florida trying to sell insurance to old people. Every house I went into was a funny story, there was something comical every time. There’d be a black guy with two Jewish guys or something,” said Mitchell. “I told this to people at work. A lady at the office asked me why I came to work every day, saying I should quit because I could be a star. She said this to me every day for a year and a half.”
Taking this advice, Mitchell started doing open mikes. It went so well the first time, he thought it was easy. “Then I went back again and got booed off the stage,” Mitchell said. “That’s when I became addicted to it. I thought, ‘How dare you boo me.’”
And with this addiction, Mitchell soon found himself on a national stage. But, if you ask him, he doesn’t let it go to his head. “It’s great being on SNL. You can still think like a comic. You can still go out and do gigs. I’m either booked and all of a sudden I gotta go, or I can’t go because I have to rehearse,” said Mitchell. “I tried to do at least 50 stand-up shows a year. That’s when I was a comedian. But, from October to May, I was a comic/actor on SNL.”
But even being able to think like a comic, Mitchell had to manage the business end of being on a network show. “SNL is a Jimmy Fallon-type show. A lot of sketches are already eaten up. Every once in a while, you could sneak a sketch in to get air time, but mainly, we collaborated on sketches,” said Mitchell. “There were about 15 writers and 16 cast members. Everyone collaborated with the writers or the writers came up with stuff or we came up with stuff. You could add one joke to an entire sketch and your name would go on that sketch, but mainly it was a collab.”
As quick as Mitchell’s career progressed from the financial services industry to stand-up comedy, he saw the same progression on SNL, starting off as a featured player and graduating a regular cast member. The main difference, according to Mitchell, was more money as a regular. He credited this “promotion” because of people, like Fallon, leaving. “All of a sudden there was a new cast starting.”
With this sudden success, however, Mitchell still takes it all in stride. “I just want to be happy, with whatever comes up next. I don’t have to be Will Smith, thinking this is a great time in my life so I have to get a sitcom or movie or something,” said Mitchell. “I don’t think about capitalizing on this great time I’m in. That stuff is handed to you on the way if you’re good or stand out. I’m just trying to stand out.”
And stand out he has. And although the comic/actor is no longer on SNL, I had to ask him about the legendary SNL after parties, and if they’re as wild as rumored to be. “They can be. We leave the show at one (PM). It takes about 45 minutes to get there and then we have dinner, which lasts until 3:30. The after party starts around three in the morning and lasts until like seven or eight in the morning,” said Mitchell. “It’s always at a different location. They pass out tickets; you have to know someone to get a ticket. And by the time we get to the party, it’s already packed. People must set alarms to go to the party.”
Mitchell currently writes for “Essence” magazine. To learn more about Finesse Mitchell, you can go to his website at: www.finessemitchell.com.
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jason Tanamor