This Just In: ‘SNL’ Star Colin Jost Is Seriously Bookish

Posted by Cybil on July 1, 2020
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You might know comedian Colin Jost from his work as the co-anchor of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, or perhaps you know him as Scarlett Johansson’s fiancé. 

Well, consider this an introduction to Colin Jost, the author. Jost has just written his first book, the memoir A Very Punchable Face. In it he talks about his childhood growing up in a family of firefighters on Staten Island, his Harvard education, and his work as head writer on the iconic sketch comedy show.

Jost talked with Goodreads about his love of Russian literature and the importance of books in his life, and he tells us who’s the most well-read of his Saturday Night Live colleagues.


Goodreads: It takes you exactly one paragraph into your memoir before you declare your love for books. Tell us a bit about the role books and reading has played in your life.

Colin Jost: Reading was always a big part of my life, even beyond school. I loved learning about other places that weren’t my hometown and I was always drawn to a great story, the same way I’m drawn to a great hook in a song.

And even when I was young, I liked books that had something dark or grotesque about them, starting with Stephen King and eventually moving to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Angela Carter, and Cormac McCarthy. Even the authors I thought were the funniest, like Kurt Vonnegut, Evelyn Waugh, and George Saunders, definitely wrote darker comedy. I was also drawn to authors who used history as a backdrop in their work, like Michael Crichton, Joseph Conrad, and Michael Shaara.

GR: Tell us about the experience of writing your memoir.

CJ: I started by jotting down topics or moments in my life that I knew I wanted to write about. I kept a big running file for a few years without worrying about how to organize it yet. Then I wrote most of the book over the past two summers, when I could wake up and write every morning (sometimes straight through until late in the evening).

I set a goal of 2,000 words a day and didn’t go back and start editing until I was done with the entire book. I wrote around 500 pages, then edited it down to 320.

GR: Are you at all concerned that titling your memoir A Very Punchable Face might not bode well for your book tour?

CJ: My parents are very concerned about someone actually punching me. They keep sending me “alternate titles” even though the book was sent to the printer months ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went from bookstore to bookstore crossing out the title and writing “A Nice Boy” instead.

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GR: Are there any memoirs that helped inform your approach to writing your story?

CJ: I loved Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s memoirs, so those were definitely on my mind, and David Spade’s from last year really made me laugh. I also reread Paul Auster’s memoir, The Invention of Solitude, and Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. And I’ve always loved David Sedaris, so I wanted each chapter in my book to stand alone as its own story the way his do.

GR: In your book, you talk about going to Harvard and majoring in the history and literature of Russia and Britain, adding, “Which really just means: ‘I read a bunch of books and learned that Stalin was maybe Not a Great Guy After All.’” Tell us about your love of Russian literature, and is it still a passion?

CJ: Russian literature will always have a place in my heart, even though I rarely have time now to sit and “casually” read a Dostoyevsky novel. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is still one of my favorite books of all time; I reread it every couple of years. And I wrote my senior thesis on Vladimir Nabokov, so I’d love to go back and read his books again 15 years later. (If my brain can still handle it.)
 
As for Stalin, there’s a fantastic book called Koba the Dread by Martin Amis with tons of wonderful and terrifying details about his time in power.

GR: What’s the secret to writing a great joke?

CJ: There’s no real secret, but if there were, I certainly wouldn’t share it with anyone.

GR: Of your SNL co-workers, who would you say is the most bookish? Ever find yourself discussing books with any other cast members?

CJ: Kate McKinnon loves books, and before she was on SNL, she was a ghostwriter for a number of YA fantasy series. Bill Hader would always come by my office with new book recommendations, too. He’s constantly discovering great books. The truth is, when we’re at work we don’t have a ton of time to sit around discussing literature, but when we all retire hundreds of years from now, maybe we’ll start a book club!

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GR: Writing for SNL must require you to keep your finger on the pulse of the times. What would you say you’ve learned about the viewing audience during your career at the show? How has that changed your writing style?

CJ: I just want to point out that the phrase “the pulse of the times” doesn’t sound like it’s got its finger on the pulse of the times.
 
I’m always learning more about how to write for performers (which is its own peculiar skill), and I’ve learned to listen to performers because they often know what lines or ideas will “work” with an audience better than the writer does.

GR: You say that you’re mentally preparing to leave SNL in the near future. What would you like to be doing next?

CJ: Fingers crossed it’ll be time travel, but I need a couple of solid days off so I can finish the machine.

GR: What are you currently reading and recommending to friends?

CJ: I’ve been recommending The Son by Philipp Meyer (after reading about how much John Waters loved it) and The North Water by Ian McGuire (which is immediately gripping and unsettling). I also loved all of Jennifer Egan’s books, especially A Visit from the Goon Squad.
 
I just finished Zadie Smith’s excellent short-story collection Grand Union. I’m currently reading The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson and Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others (one of which was the basis for the film Arrival).

GR: Do you think you’d write another book? If so, what would be the topic?

CJ: I would love to write another memoir someday, but I need to live another memoir first. I’ve done a lot of research and planning for a fantasy book, but I need a real chunk of time to finish it. (Hence the time machine.)
 

Colin Jost’s A Very Punchable Face will be available in the U.S. on July 14. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-47 of 47 (47 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Is it just me or is his face not actually very punchable?


message 2: by Eixo (new)

Eixo
...when we all retire hundreds of years from now...


Only Kenan will still be there hundreds of years from now.


message 3: by Elyse (new)

Elyse I love him, he's adorable.


message 4: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Oh, Colin.. you're such a cutie. I'm looking forward to reading this.


message 5: by Dara (new)

Dara When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page.


message 6: by S (new)

S Mama is a lizard


message 7: by Ronnie (new)

Ronnie Tiner I agree with the sentiment that "Stalin was maybe Not a Great Guy After All." Just finished reading The Master and Margarita last week. Great book. I can't imagine how Mikhail Bulgakov was not purged after requesting that Stalin allow him to emigrate if the Soviet Union could not find a use for him as a writer. We are lucky that this book survived to be published.


message 8: by Cara (new)

Cara Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

OldManYellsAtCloud.gif


message 9: by Molly (new)

Molly i just love him and I wouldn't punch him at all!


message 10: by Nullifidian (last edited Jul 10, 2020 10:08AM) (new)

Nullifidian Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

At least this article recommends authors who wrote/write for adults like Mikhail Bulgakov, Paul Auster, Joseph Conrad, George Saunders, Evelyn Waugh, Zadie Smith, Vladimir Nabokov, Fëodor Dostoyevsky, etc. It's not an endless enumeration of the same barely distinguishable "young adult" novels that are coming out this week/month/year.

In general, however, I agree that Goodreads would do well to remember that not all of its users read books for children. A little nod to the worlds of literary fiction and small press publishing wouldn't come amiss once in a while. That's why I'm a little more forgiving of this article because it does actually cover that to an extent, though not with any authors whose names or works are new to me.


message 11: by Dan (new)

Dan If only he learned from the Russians


message 12: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Taylor Unfortunately, SNL doesn't really have stars any more so almost nobody even knows who this dude is


message 13: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Tall Manning Welcome to the world of writers!!


message 14: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

I just turned 46, was happy to read this interview, and look forward to reading his memoir. Just because it's not of interest to you doesn't mean it isn't of interest to everyone in a specific age range.


message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael Ray It's too bad he's always so abusive to Michael Che.


Jenny (Reading Envy) This book was more interesting than I expected. I called it Gilmore Girls meets Rescue Me. Hehehehe.


message 17: by Max (new)

Max why does he not have a personal goodreads profile?? i wanna know all the books he's read!


message 18: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

I know ... Dostoevsky, Vonnegut, Conrad ... totally for the kids.


message 19: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Christopher wrote: "Unfortunately, SNL doesn't really have stars any more so almost nobody even knows who this dude is"

I think his having a job on SNL for several years, and sleeping next to Scarlet Johansson every night, makes him both well-known and unlikely to be crying into his pillow because you're not a fan.


message 20: by DeadWeight (new)

DeadWeight Damn, so that's why SNL sucks.


message 21: by Scott (new)

Scott Soltys-Curry If you’re so mad, why leave it in the comments? Do you want everyone to be mad and angry with you? Do you think a ‘mad & angry’ club sounds FUN?

Let people enjoy things, ffs. If it doesn’t interest you, keep scrolling. It’s the whole point of the internet. There’s something for everyone.


message 22: by Marta (new)

Marta Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

Ok, boomer.

(BTW I am way over 35, but I could not resist.)


message 23: by TJ (new)

TJ Who gives a fuck... White straight dude who reads, OMG... Such propaganda


message 24: by Holden (new)

Holden TJ 202017 wrote: "Who gives a fuck... White straight dude who reads, OMG... Such propaganda"

You're such a joke..


message 25: by Emmett (new)

Emmett Grogan I like reading author profiles where an author talks about books they have read, because I can always discover at least one writer I have not yet spent any time with: and if an author feels strongly enough about a writer to drop their name into the interview, yeah, why not go check it out? I might come away with a new favourite book.


message 26: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Williams Michelle wrote: "Christopher wrote: "Unfortunately, SNL doesn't really have stars any more so almost nobody even knows who this dude is"

I think his having a job on SNL for several years, and sleeping next to Scar..."


Any tears he sheds, Scarlett Johansen can wipe them away with hundred dollar bills.


message 27: by Seamus (new)

Seamus David wrote: "Is it just me or is his face not actually very punchable?"

Hell yeah, Shane


message 28: by Julian (last edited Jul 10, 2020 10:08PM) (new)

Julian Dunn Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

I don't understand why people feel the need to complain out loud about everything that they don't like. I don't go around moaning that half the stories on the front page of the New York Times don't interest me. Keep your negativity to yourself and let those of us who like reading these interviews enjoy them.


message 29: by Eydie (new)

Eydie sanders When I first saw him on SNL, I remarked to my son that Colin looked like he belonged in the Osmond family. He has an Osmond face and Osmond teeth. He's a very, very funny guy. Can't wait to read his book. Also, I'll be hitching a ride on his time travel machine.


message 30: by Eydie (new)

Eydie sanders Christopher wrote: "Unfortunately, SNL doesn't really have stars any more so almost nobody even knows who this dude is" I don't know what cave you live in, but everyone knows who Colin Jost is if they are even remotely culturally aware.


message 31: by Scott (new)

Scott Jerry i really enjoyed reading this book


message 32: by Scott (new)

Scott Jerry I use my free time to read this books and I understand a lot when reading


message 33: by Ryan (new)

Ryan Christopher wrote: "Unfortunately, SNL doesn't really have stars any more so almost nobody even knows who this dude is"

That would then explain why, before today, I never knew he even existed.


message 34: by Ryan (new)

Ryan TJ 202017 wrote: "Who gives a fuck... White straight dude who reads, OMG... Such propaganda"

It is advisable to use one's cognitive powers whilst writing a comment on these kinds of posts. To which, as can be seen, you have forgotten altogether.


message 35: by Linda (new)

Linda I am ordering this book today! Colin is one of my favorites on SNL. I have been a big fan of SNL since the late 70's. I started watching when i was pretty young! When the original cast was on! Can't wait to get this book!


message 36: by Susan K. Hawkins (new)

Susan K. Hawkins Dara wrote: "When Goodreads has something interesting for people over 35, let me know. I don't need this tripe on my home page."

Maybe read before commenting? For example, Colin recommended Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile, which is an excellent tome about Churchill during the Blitz. His recommendations are hardly tripe. They're fairly interesting for most college-educated adults, and intellectually curious others, from what I can tell. He was educared at Harvard, so he's not some lightweight.


message 37: by Marianne (new)

Marianne I’m looking forward to reading Jost’s book because he is a favorite. I try to just skip interviews I don’t find interesting without complaining-too many complaints these days.


message 38: by Tashia (new)

Tashia DeadWeight wrote: "Damn, so that's why SNL sucks."

Please, stop telling everybody how braindead you are. Being edgy is boring and moronic.


message 39: by Tashia (new)

Tashia Michelle wrote: "Christopher wrote: "Unfortunately, SNL doesn't really have stars any more so almost nobody even knows who this dude is"

I think his having a job on SNL for several years, and sleeping next to Scar..."

Amen!


message 40: by Donna (new)

Donna Thank you for posting. Splendid and the Vile meant nothing to me. Now I've added it to the list of books I'd like to read


message 41: by Mike (new)

Mike Panagakos Seems rather young for a memoir.


Patricia A. Connelly It is no wonder this country is in this
state of affairs.
I believe people write these comments to hear themselves think. Peop!e over 35 need to read whatever they choose and not knock so many people who choose their own venues, and stop knocking Goodreads


message 43: by C. (new)

C. Carlson i fail to see how this article is 'related' to any page i was previously on.


message 44: by Laura (new)

Laura Capelete So nice to know that Kate is into books, I love her! Also (about Colin) I think think it is necessary to be a little booksmart when it comes to write such short set ups and punchlines as it is done on Weekend Update. A lot of cleverness as well!


message 45: by Mark (new)

Mark David wrote: "Is it just me or is his face not actually very punchable?"

This just in: The united states doesn't appreciate its writers and has a completely skewed view of how literate the average television writer is.

Rather than acknowledge these writers must understand tone and timing better than virtually everyone in the country, and that the person must understand all the aspects of story telling better than anyone save for maybe novelists, we view them as sad clowns who cry in their backrooms.

Because if there's anything we can't stand, it's that the man standing on the center of the stage wearing long johns with pants around his ankles making fart sound could extemporaneously deliver multiple minute monologues from Shakespeare and Beckett and Moliere with virtually no preperation except an audience member calling out the first line of the play, AND WHAT"s MORE they've managed to market this skill to become relatively wealthy, while the president literally can't spell coffee correctly.


message 46: by Ryan (new)

Ryan Mike wrote: "Seems rather young for a memoir."

Well, it's a lot better than Nietzsche's first memoir. He wrote that at 14.


message 47: by Scotty (new)

Scotty the world needs more memoirs. and more sodastreams.


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