Melissa McCarthy is squinting through a prosthetic face with under eye bags as she stands atop a modified podium that moves like a Segway and essentially careens toward a group of seated actors.
The defenseless ensemble of fake reporters sit on plastic chairs designed to not hurt “if you hit one,” as longtime “Saturday Night Live” production designer Eugene Lee explained to HuffPost. “Or at least hurts you less,” he added with a laugh.
Though McCarthy zoomed straight at the actors, everyone survived her now-infamous magical podium attack.
Lee has been with “SNL” since the very beginning, and he’s gotten all sorts of requests from the writers over the years. Often, as with the popular David S. Pumpkins sketch starring Tom Hanks, the requested set makes no sense at first. “It was a big hit anyway, so all is forgiven,” said Lee, who spoke to HuffPost as he is up for Emmy consideration with his work on Season 42. “Occasionally we just don’t understand what’s going on.”
But the Sean Spicer sketch that starred McCarthy was a new challenge. Normally, the podium (or technically a lectern, although the “Spicer podium” has become a term as popular in “SNL” prop lore as the cowbell) is on an “18-inch high stage” according to Lee, so the team had to drop the set to the floor. Then, of course, the podium had to move.
Before McCarthy could start charging the podium forward like a cavalry unit in battle, the prop department had to find those lighter chairs. They didn’t want to portray Donald Trump’s press secretary actually hurting people.
The varied intricacies of this sketch took the combined efforts of many “SNL” teams. “It’s the prop people, it’s the costume people, it’s the lighting people,” Lee listed out. Just to get this podium to move brought this enormous staff together, including actors, writers, special effects editors and more. “It’s kind of great actually,” said Lee.
Lee doesn’t consider himself to be “much of a political person,” but believes the rise of Trump is “very strange.” Particularly, knowing that the president may be watching ― and hating ― their show adds a weird twist.
“Well, we laugh about it, we talk about it,” said Lee of the president tuning in to “SNL.” “But we don’t know [for sure] if he watches or not. I mean, c’mon, it’s all very bizarre. The whole thing.”
To make the connection even more convoluted, Lee actually worked with Trump and other “SNL” personnel in the mid-2000s, as they tried to create a musical called “The Trump Follies.” Darrell Hammond was going to play Trump, but the idea fell through.
Trump has also hosted the NBC show twice, with his second stint garnering controversy as he was perceived by many fans of the show to be an offensive candidate for the presidency.
“We had some meetings early on about a failed project that didn’t happen,” said Lee. “The last time he was on, he said, ‘Hello’ ... he’s always been very friendly.” Despite the in-person niceties over the years, though, Lee is certainly no fan of Trump the president. “He can get you terribly upset,” she said. “It’s, I don’t know ― this can’t be good.”
And after a year of having to create Trump-related sets over and over and over again, Lee now has a go-to plan of sorts for the prop team. “Well, get out the marble and the gold paint.” Lee laughed, “That’s all.”
Watch the Spicer sketch with the Segway-esque podium below:
This article has been updated to note the involvement of Monkey Boys Productions and to clarify the podium was not technically a “Segway,” but was in fact a modified electric wheelchair.