Saturday Night Live is perhaps the most famous late-night comedy show of all time. After running, very successfully, for four decades, receiving an inhuman amount of awards, the show is still going strong.
Just what do writers for Saturday Night Live, as one of the longest-running TV shows in history, tend to earn per year? If you are an aspiring TV comedy writer, how could you land a gig writing for SNL — or even become a staff writer?
Average Salary for SNL Writers
To provide some background information, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the median annual salary for writers and authors in the United States currently stands at $67,120. The lowest earners make less than $34,000 per year, while the most successful writers can bring home more than $133,000 on an annual basis.
Writers who work in “performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries” make an above-average yearly salary, at $82,350 per year.
What might writers who work for this show earn? Given the fact that the prestigious job title of SNL writer is very different than the title of, say, web content writer or medical writer, we cannot simply turn to popular salary-tracking platforms to get answers.
Glassdoor does tell us that television writers earn an average annual salary of $59,091, while the average yearly wage for comedy writers is estimated to be $54,581. Since that does not offer specific rates for SNL writers, we can also examine other sources:
- The Writers Guild of America, which represents numerous TV writers, including those working for Saturday Night Live, has a basic agreement in place that represents minimum rates for their members. For prime time television shows that last 90 minutes, such as SNL, that rate is $21,248 per episode.
- Celebrity Net Worth reports that Michael Che, one of the show’s head writers, earns $15,000 per episode. This amounts to more than $300,000 per season.
Some Saturday Night Live writers are simultaneously performers, which would increase their earnings.
It is almost universally reported that the compensation an SNL writer receives rises as they spend more time working with the show; while some would earn the minimum rates, the most famous writers can make significantly more.
What Do SNL Writers Make Per Hour?
Saturday Night Live writers are paid per episode. Their minimum earnings are subject to the basic agreement in place as a result of negotiations conducted on their behalf by the Writers Guild of America union.
Since no clear information is available that would indicate how much time a writer spends on producing a single episode, either alone or as pat of a team, it is impossible to break the WGA’s minimum rates down into hourly rates.
Crafting excellent comedy writing, which will make huge numbers of people laugh episode after episode, is a real challenge. It would not be surprising if Saturday Night Live writers themselves have no idea how much time they take to write an episode or a part thereof. These writers likely think of potential material nearly every minute of their waking days — and maybe even as they are asleep.
Salary Based on Experience
All available evidence indicates that experience pays on Saturday Night Live. Those SNL writers who have worked on the show for the longest get paid more, per episode, than new writers.
It appears that most of the head writers on Saturday Night Live — who will usually have been with the prime time TV show for a long time — earn around $15,000 per episode. We should note, however, that this information is largely anecdotal. Neither popular salary-tracking platforms like PayScale or Indeed, nor the Bureau of Labor Statistics, offer any solid information.
Salary Based on Education
While no clear data is available to indicate how formal education may impact the earnings of a TV writer working on Saturday Night Live, we can look at the educational background of some of the current writers. This may offer a closer look at the type of background required to become a Saturday Night Live writer.
- Michael Che started his career in comedy as a stand-up comedian. He graduated from the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.
- Colin Jost majored in history and literature at Harvard. He has experience as a reporter as well as briefly being a writer for an animated show called Kappa Mikey.
- Anna Drezen worked as a writer and editor, including for a feminist humor platform called Reductress, before being hired as a Saturday Night Live writer.
These head writers are certainly not the only writers who work on Saturday Night Live, but their personal backgrounds do tell a story. A person’s odds of becoming a Saturday Night Live writer do not depend on having a college degree.
Some SNL writers have completed degrees, while others have not. Talent and exposure matter far more than formal qualifications.
Top Paying States
As the famous line goes, “Live from New York”! Saturday Night Live writers will typically be based in New York. Aspiring SNL writers should be willing to move there. It is not necessary to live in New York to be noticed by the Saturday Night Live team and be offered a job as a writer there, however.
The outlook for Saturday Night Live writers is excellent. These writers can expect to bring in impressive earnings while gaining the admiration, or wrath, of the nation.
The overall outlook for TV writers and comedy writers is far less clear. Aspiring TV or comedy writers should be aware that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of nine percent in this sector over the coming decade.
Of those who aspire to become successful TV comedy writers, perhaps working for a successful prime time show like Saturday Night Live one day, some will achieve their goals. Many will not. Those who do become successful will not necessarily end up working on the one show they hoped to write for.
That does not mean that cannot have a satisfying and successful career, however — and the lucky few will get noticed by the Saturday Night Live team and may ultimately even get a job offer.
What Exactly Does an SNL Writer Do?
Saturday Night Live writers have an enormous responsibility. They have the privilege of working on one of the longest-running TV shows in history, and need to consistently have the ability to produce quality TV that will make the nation laugh.
As part of their job description, an SNL writer can expect to:
- Participate in pitch meetings where SNL writers share and brainstorm ideas for upcoming episodes.
- Write, revise, edit, and perfect sketches, possibly gaining feedback from other team members and hosts in the process.
- Participate in meetings in which the sketches that will further be developed, ultimately to air, are decided. Any individual SNL writer’s scripts may be cut, or selected for further development.
- Take part in rehearsals as well as costume and set design meetings, during which further rewrites may be decided on.
Because Saturday Night Live offers comedic social commentary on current affairs and the news moves fast, SNL writers will be writing and rewriting constantly. An SNL writer is part of a very large and dynamic team, and will have to be able to work well with other team members.
How to Become an SNL Writer?
As we have seen, the current team of Saturday Night Live writers have diverse and eclectic backgrounds. While becoming an SNL writer can easily be considered the pinnacle of any comedy writer’s career, ambitious people who would very much like to have a job at Saturday Night Live one day can:
- Hone their creative writing skills in a wide variety of different ways, including by pursuing careers as script writers, TV writers, or comedy writers. Completing a degree in a field such as creative writing or English may help with this. As we have seen, however, formal qualifications are not the most important deciding factor.
- Gain experience as comedians, including by doing stand-up comedy. Some SNL writers began their careers in this way.
- Hope to be noticed by Saturday Night Live producers and be offered a job. Industry connections may help with this.
Qualifications to Be an SNL Writer
No formal qualifications are required to be an SNL writer. Some current Saturday Night Live writers have attended Harvard to complete multiple degrees, while others have no formal education beyond high school but a great deal of experience as stand-up comedians.
Skills to Be an SNL Writer
Saturday Night Live writers need to:
- Be extremely talented creative writers.
- Have the consistent ability to make the nation laugh.
- Have a keen interest in current affairs, in order to develop effective sketches around the latest news.
- Be strong team players.
Can You Be an SNL Writer Without a Degree?
Yes. Some Saturday Night Live writers have no formal qualifications beyond completing high school. A degree is not a must for aspiring SNL writers.