Lawrence receives 'SNL' treatment

Jack Black sketch set at The Wheel penned by Kansan Sudeikis

The Oct. 4 season premiere of "Saturday Night Live" found host Jack Black indulging in his usual blend of music-tinged comedy. Only this time the "School of Rock" star's shtick hit rather close to home.

Midway through the broadcast, a sketch cropped up that featured the roly-poly Black as an amateur musician performing an acoustic set at a local bar.

A logo in the establishing shot revealed the place to be Lawrence hangout The Wheel, detailed with a little "Go Jayhawks!" icon in the corner.

What's up with that?

"I had just gotten this job, and that's the first one I wrote," says fledgling "SNL" writer Jason Sudeikis.

"I didn't go to KU, but I spent a lot of time in Lawrence because I'm from Overland Park. I called my sister Kristin who went to KU -- she was a Crimson Girl for a while -- I figured she would know where people go ... She gave me the name of a few different places, like The Crossing. The Wheel I had been to, so we made it The Wheel."

The sketch -- called "Cat's in the Cradle" after the Harry Chapin song -- wasn't just indiscriminately set in Lawrence. Sudeikis felt it was the ideal town in which Black's character would likely thrive.

"Besides basketball, the other thing that obviously attracts me to Lawrence is the local music scene," he says. "I've had a lot of friends who were in bands around Lawrence, like The Creature Comforts. In fact, I'm going to see The Belles tomorrow night (in New York).

"The idea was that Jack Black is a guy who is a couple years out of college. He probably hangs out at The Phil Zone or someplace like that, and he's trying to get into the local music scene. This is the first time his dad is getting to see him play music. So he dedicates the song 'Cat's in the Cradle' to him. And his dad embarrasses him and doesn't let him have his moment. Throughout the course of that you realize that Horatio Sanz -- who plays the dad -- is now married to Shelley Long from 'Cheers.' It's like three people starved for attention from different things."

Considering the sketch was the Shawnee Mission West graduate's first foray into network television, he had a lot riding on its success. He claims the jokes were well-received by the cast and viewers.

"The Shelley Long thing just came out of nowhere and made us laugh. That was a twist that more people responded to than anything else."

Surprisingly, very little changed between what Sudeikis initially wrote and what eventually aired -- with one exception.

"There was a gag that originally had Jack saying, "Dad, you've embarrassed me all my life. Like at my eighth-grade Halloween party you came downstairs in front of my friends and were naked and crying.'

"(Horatio's response) was going to be, 'I was dressed as Margot Kidder.'

"But (head writer) Tina Fey's note was that we really want to protect and let the Shelley Long thing be the only female '80s reference. That was a great note because it makes it stand out more. So we sat around for an hour thinking, and then we decided he was naked and had a top hat so it became, 'I was dressed as Abraham Drinkin'."

Sudeikis first got into the entertainment world performing at Comedy Sportz in Kansas City. In 1997 he moved to Chicago and became part of the celebrated improvisation troupe Second City. (His uncle is actually Second City alum and former "Cheers" star George Wendt.) Then it was on to the Las Vegas edition of SC that holds a permanent residence at The Flamingo. While there he was recruited by a talent agency that brought him to New York to be appraised by the "SNL" executives.

"I originally auditioned for the show three months ago," the 28-year-old explains. "They weren't hiring. But they liked me enough that they hired me as a writer."

Since "Cat's in the Cradle" aired, Sudeikis has been involved with several more sketches. He co-wrote one with comedian Robert Smigel centering on the Chicago Cubs for last week's Halle Berry-hosted episode. And for the Justin Timberlake show he concocted a parody of MTV's hidden-camera series "Punk'd."

None of these featured any Lawrence or KU references, yet Sudeikis insists more should surface in his material.

"There will be lots of little homages to people and shout-outs -- The Wheel is just one of them," he asserts. "I think I'm going to start using all my character names as players from the '88 national championship team. So keep your eye out for Kevin Pritchard and Milt Newton and all those guys."


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