SNL was inspired by a show Lorne Michaels did at summer camp

Saturday Night Live is marking an incredible television milestone with a live 40th anniversary special tonight at 8 p.m. eastern time on NBC.

But the show’s origins actually date back even longer than 40 years to a summer camp in Ontario.

It was there at Camp Timberlane that a 15-year-old Lorne Michaels and his younger friend Howard Shore as campers and later as counselors were involved in the production of standard summer camp stage productions like Guys and Dolls and The Fantasticks and began experimenting with a different type of production.

Shore, SNL’s music director for the first five years and more recently an Academy Award-winning film composer of The Lord of the Rings fame, explains in the 2014 book Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live:

“On Saturday nights, we did ‘The Fast Show,’ a show Lorne and I put together quickly-hence the title. We did comedy, we did sketches, we had kind of a repertory company and some musicians. If you think about it truly was the beginning of Saturday Night Live, because it was a show we put on every Saturday night, and it was a live show, and it was improvisational, with comedy and music. We had a bunch of people around us who were writers and actors even at that age. And that kind of progressed from summer camp to other things that Lorne and I wrote together.”

If Michaels was 15 when “The Fast Show” debuted at Camp Timberlane, that would mean that Saturday Night Live‘s origins can be traced back 55 years.

For his part, Michaels hasn’t said a whole lot publicly about his time at Camp Timberlane or “The Fast Show,” but fortunately Shore has been willing to keep this exciting summer camp origin story alive. Maybe someday someone will make a screenplay out of it. Think about it: a summer camp movie about a young Michaels, Shore and SNL writer Rosie Shuster goofing around making a variety show at summer camp in the late ’50s, early ’60s.

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I’m the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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