Standing on his fireplace with a TV remote control pressed to his lips, 2-year-old Steven Castillo delivered his lines. Emulating Jay Leno, he noticed every time Leno said, “George Bush,” his family laughed. “I would speak in gibberish and then say, ‘George Bush.’ He was the punchline of all my jokes,” Castillo chuckled.
Transforming his gibberish into well-timed wit with a dash of silly, Steven Castillo (BA ’12) is a writer for Saturday Night Live. At TU, classmates knew him as Steven King, but to prevent confusion with the famous horror author, a stage name was in order.
At age 19, Castillo began his comedy career in Tulsa’s Loony Bin Comedy Club. While filming a documentary about stand-up comedy at Tulsa Community College, Castillo had an inkling that he could present funny lines. “I did my first open mic, and I did really well. I got addicted to it,” he said. “That became my thing.”
While studying film at TU, Castillo never did the expected. He directed the short film Hard Felt, which was an action movie with puppets. With his little brother creating the sound effects, they would work through the night at the Lorton Performance Center. “It was such a beautiful building. I felt like Belle in Beauty in the Beast; I had the whole castle to myself,” Castillo joked.
Hard Felt was premiered at TU’s film festival, and it was a crowd favorite. “We ended up winning best film and best audience award. That was the happiest moment at TU,” he said.
When TU brought in Chicago-based Second City touring company to not only do a show but also a workshop, Castillo was introduced to professional improvisation comedy. Second City launched the careers of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Steve Carell and many other famous comedians. “That workshop was an instrumental part of my life. It led to the path that I’m on right now,” Castillo said.
After graduation, there was only one place Castillo wanted to explore comedy — Chicago. For four years, he studied improvisation, filmed one-man shows and honed his performing skills. “It basically became my graduate school for comedy,” he said.
Castillo is a Kanye West fan, but more for his ridiculous self-aggrandizement than his musical prowess. He filmed Steezus a multimedia parody concert of West’s Life of Pablo. During his concerts, West will bless a man dressed as Jesus, or he’ll complain about the media in auto tune. “He will just say anything, and if he says it loud and confident, he can get away with it,” Castillo laughed. “This is a gold mine for comedy.”
After Castillo performed in Just for Laughs, a famous Montreal comedy show, Saturday Night Live took notice. SNL asked him to audition three times. The first audition involved a live show, and the second tryout was in front of Lorne Michaels, SNL’s producer and writer. For his skit, Castillo played a dancer who rips off his break-away pants. Afterward, Michaels shook everyone’s hands. “He was shaking my hand, and I was still only wearing my underwear,” Castillo laughed. “Well that’s a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
During his first week at SNL, Castillo was ready to pitch his skit ideas to the host, but nothing could prepare him for Ryan Gosling. “It was nerve-wracking” he admitted. Castillo explained a typical SNL week.
- Monday – Writers pitch skit concepts to Lorne Michaels and the host.
- Tuesday – “It’s like a giant sleepover,” he described. Writers script two sketches.
- Wednesday – Of the 80 to 90 sketches, they cut it down to 35. “The host and producer pick nine of those to go in the show,” Castillo said.
- Thursday & Friday – These are rewrite days where the cast and writers refine their skits.
- Saturday – “It is the fun day because you’ve practically done all the work as the writer, and you get to enjoy the show,” he said.
Castillo has collaborated on several skits, which made it into the show. His favorite was the skit “Close Encounters,” which included Kate McKinnon and Ryan Gosling, who broke character in fits of laughter. SNL takes comedy seriously. The cold opens are written and rewritten to ensure their timeliness and relevance. “I am surrounded by not only the funniest people but some of the smartest people,” he said.
Every once in a while, Castillo has to pinch himself to guarantee this is reality. “All of a sudden, you’ll see Jon Hamm hanging out with Steven Spielberg, and I think ‘what has my life become,’” he said. The surreal moments are nonstop. While prepping for the cast to attend Six Flag’s Fright Fest together, Castillo and Kenan Thompson were on snack duty.” I am in the grocery store with Kenan. This guy has been in my childhood for my whole life,” Castillo said. “I can’t believe now I am shopping for chips and beer with him.”
From his toddler stand-up days to sitting around the SNL writer’s table, Steve Castillo knows how to provoke a laugh, but when he received that momentous SNL phone call telling him he got the job, Castillo knew this was no joke: “I knew that my life was going to change forever.”