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POWER OF THE PEN

Want to learn how to get what you want? Read one man’s letter to SNL

By Sarah Todd

It is often hard to get what you want in life. The world is full of people who will tell you no. But with the power of persuasive writing on your side, it’s sometimes possible to get a joyful “yes.”

Consider my friend Jeremy, who decided this summer to enter the ticket lottery for Saturday Night Live‘s 2017-2018 season. The instructions read: “Please tell us why YOU would like to be a part of our studio audience. If you are selected you will receive two tickets to a random show date and time.”

The letter that Jeremy wrote, reprinted in full below, earned him and his wife, Jeni, a spot in the audience at this fall’s season premiere of SNL. I suspect there’s a simple reason his writing stood out from the crowd—and internalizing this lesson can help all of us learn to write more persuasively, whether the task at hand is a cover letter, a Facebook post on a social issue, or a grad-school application essay.

For a lot of people, even when we’re writing about a topic that’s important to us, we wind up relying on generalizations and banalities. I’m not sure why this is: Maybe it’s the scourge of the five-paragraph essay that gets drilled into every American high-school student, which suggests that argumentative writing is formulaic. Maybe it just seems safer to stick with familiar phrases and ideas than to take a risk on saying something new. Regardless, we wind up boring the very people we’re trying to make an impression upon.

There’s an easy way to avoid this pitfall: Use your writing to tell a story. Jeremy’s letter is striking because he’s willing to get personal and specific, describing how SNL shaped his childhood, his comedic sensibility, and his relationship with the woman who is now his wife. He uses details about specific SNL skits and cast members to show, not tell, how much he cares about SNL and understands its legacy. And he makes clear what’s at stake in his desire to sit in the studio audience: As he turns 40 and reflects on his next phase of life, he wants a chance to connect with the show that helped make him the person he is today. Who’s going to say no to that?

Here’s Jeremy’s letter, reprinted with his permission. Hopefully, it will serve as inspiration the next time you’re asking for something that means a lot to you.

With fandom being what it is these days, it’s hard for me to write of being the biggest fan of anything – but I can say unequivocally that I can’t imagine my life without Saturday Night Live. I find it nearly impossible to list the innumerable moments where the talented artists at SNL have impacted my life and the lives of the people closest to me. I have been a fan of the show for somewhere in the ball park of 30 years now, and every week, I continue to tune in to see what will happen next.

I’ve been watching the show ever since before it was probably okay for me to do so. As a kid, I remember my father trying to explain to me that the lines I had heard Garret Morris speak weren’t really appropriate for me to quote out of context. I also remember the VHS copy of the Best of Gilda Radner that my sister and I watched until it broke. In the summers, when we visited my grandparents in Maine, my sister and I would listen to NBC’s broadcast of SNL on our Walkman radios while laying on my grandparents’ porch. During the school year, we would tape the show on VHS every Saturday night and get up early to watch the whole thing before church on Sunday morning, so that we could talk about it with the older kids. I watched as Sinead O’Connor tore the portrait of the Pope. I watched as Martin Lawrence delivered a shocking opening monologue, and called my high school girlfriend immediately after to see if she had seen it too. And that’s the thing – Saturday Night Live hasn’t been a show I’ve just watched, it has always been a part of my life and my relationships.

How many times have I sat in front of a grill on a summer night, slapping down patties quoting John Belushi? Dan Aykroyd when using a blender? Hans and Franz? I was Wayne for Halloween to my good friend’s Garth.

Years later, on one of my first dates with my now-wife, she confessed something to me about SNL that had felt so resonant. She said that she teared up every time she watched the end of the show. When the host says goodnight, and the band starts to play, she felt the same way I always had – that we had been included in something spectacular. With performance work in both our pasts, we had always held some hope that we would be on that stage someday – that Studio 8H was in some way a home to us. Turns out my wife had been Garth for Halloween on more than one occasion too – a perfect match, right?

As artists like G.E. Smith gave way to Lenny Pickett. As musical talent like Madonna, Prince, and Nirvana became Kanye, Lady Gaga, and Chance the Rapper. As Phil Hartman, Tim Meadows, and Jan Hooks became Kenan Thompson, Fred Armisen, and Tina Fey – we both grew older.

Where we are now, in our lives and careers, we’ll never be on that stage, but it is my dream to be in the audience someday. That space in studio 8H is sacred to me, as Fenway was in my youth – as that lake and the porch in Norway, Maine. I turn 40 this fall, and seeing Saturday Night Live in person is the first item I’d like to check off my bucket list.

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you my love for the work done by the talent at SNL. Thank you for a lifetime of laughter, and best wishes in the important work you continue to do. I look forward to seeing what Season 43 will bring.

Best,

Jeremy Gates