The Big Picture
- Saturday Night Live‘s Please Don’t Destroy trio is gaining popularity with their witty and original pre-recorded sketches, reminiscent of The Lonely Island.
- Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy started performing comedy together in college.
- Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain is available to stream on Peacock.
Since its premiere in 1975, Saturday Night Live has been the jumping-off point for dozens of extremely talented writers and performers. Often starting from a place of anonymity outside of the comedy scene, cast members on Lorne Michaels’ sketch series have the chance to become household Hollywood names. Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Seth Meyers, Kristen Wiig, and Adam Sandler are just a small sampling of the comedy powerhouses that have emerged after a tenure at Studio 8H.
Now in Season 49, there’s a trio of extremely talented up-and-comers that are destined to be on that list. Known collectively as Please Don’t Destroy, writers Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy are in their third season and continue to impress with their witty, absurd, and highly original pre-recorded sketches that they also star in. The comedy group developed a cult following during the pandemic thanks to the videos they’d upload to Twitter, and it was only a matter of time before people at SNL took notice and Lorne Michaels stopped by one of their live shows to see what all the fuss was about.
Please Don’t Destroy is reminiscent of SNL’s trailblazing and musically-inclined The Lonely Island, which consists of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. Similar to the early 2000s era of Digital Shorts, audiences hope for a new Please Don’t Destroy video each week, which have included Taylor Swift, Paul Rudd, Steve Martin, Molly Shannon, Jenna Ortega, and Brendan Gleeson. During our conversation, Marshall, Herlihy, and Higgins chatted from their SNL office about how they first met, what it was like crafting a longer narrative with their new movie Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain, improvising songs with Hacks star Megan Stalter, and how they pulled off the old woman stunt in their sketch with Travis Kelce.
COLLIDER: I’m going to start with one that’s hopefully not too overwhelming, but if you could do a video with any SNL recurring character from the beginning of SNL, who would you want to do a video with?
JOHN HIGGINS: This may not be an interesting answer because it just means I just want to see another one of these sketches, it would be Debbie Downer. Those sketches are some of my favorite sketches of all time, and Rachel Dratch is so funny. So if that means like, we have to figure out some way where we’re doing it with her, fine, but I just want to see Debbie Downer sketches again.
BEN MARSHALL: I agree.
MARTIN HERLIHY: Unfrozen caveman lawyer.
HIGGINS: Unfrozen caveman lawyer! I mean, there’s so many, but Debbie Downer, I’m not ashamed to say is mine.
The movie gives a really great origin story for the three of you, which I want to be true, but I know it’s not, because I know you met in college. Do you remember the moment before you guys started working together that you were like, “I want to get to know that guy!”
MARSHALL: John and I were on the NYU sketch group Hammerkatz together. And I think we just realized that we had similar sensibilities and started really making each other laugh.
MARSHALL: So we just kind of naturally became friends and started writing stuff together. I was a senior when Martin was a freshman, we met doing stand up and I just thought he was super funny, and we would go to open mics together and just kind of became friends and then started the show together. And it was just me and Martin at first, but then we asked John to join. Which we like to remind him of.
HIGGINS: Yeah. “You just remember that, bud.” [Laughs]
‘Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain’ Was a Fun Creative Challenge
And you started writing this movie before you got SNL. How much of it changed? Was it always an adventure story or did it totally take a bunch of different shapes as it went along?
HIGGINS: What remained the same was that it was an adventure treasure movie and our names were Ben, John, and Martin, and then all of the rest of it is different.
Was that fun or more challenging?
HIGGINS: It was both, it was challenging and fun.
HERLIHY: The way that we work, we would have kept changing to expand whatever time, you know, like if it had shot a year later or whatever, it would have been a totally different movie then, too.
MARSHALL: Very much the SNL way of “the show doesn’t go on when it’s done, it goes on at 11:30.”
Please Don’t Destroy Brings an Edge to ‘Saturday Night Live’
One of the things that impresses me about your comedy is that you have a lot of stunts. It’s like “whiplash comedy.” The audience thinks they know what you are doing, but then are wonderfully surprised by something absurd. Was there a stunt in one of your SNL videos that you didn’t think you’d pull off, but you managed to, and you don’t know how you possibly could have done it?
MARSHALL: I have an answer. I didn’t think we’re gonna pull this off in an audience way but in the video that we made with Travis Kelce [Laughs] there’s an old woman spinning bullets doing Russian roulette and then I come and slam her into a glass cabinet and I was really worried that the audience was going to gasp or be like, “Oh my God, you’re a bad person.” But she had become such a villain at that point in the video already that they were happy to see her go down.
HIGGINS: Yeah, they cheered! [Laughs] That was my answer, too. We were like, “Can we throw an old woman through a glass case and have them be happy with us?”
HERLIHY: There’s no reason for like the last 30 seconds of that video, except that we really liked it.
Yeah, screw her, man.
HIGGINS: What would she say? “You want to play a game?” [Laughs] She was amazing.
That was a very fun one.
HIGGINS: Nobody brings that up! We do stunts all the time.
That’s all I think about! I’m like, “How did they pull that off?” I thought of Paul Dano under the couch.
HIGGINS: Oh, yeah. We raised the couch, I think, and then snuck him in there and shot.
John Higgins and Megan Stalter Have Hilarious Chemistry
Going to the movie a little bit, John, you and Meg Stalter just crushed it.
HIGGINS: I love her.
She’s one of my favorites, and I was so excited to see her. I’m excited to see her in whatever she’s doing. But one thing that I really liked was the tent scene. I noticed it was more sweet than raunchy and I feel like the easy route would have been to make it raunchy. Was it always going to be that kind of tender, silly way from the beginning or was there a lot of improv?
HIGGINS: Those songs were improvised, definitely. As you could probably tell. [Laughs] I don’t think you could write that and be like, “That’s good!” There were definitely versions of it where it was extremely raunchy, probably. And then just kind of throughout filming, which we did on a lot of scenes, we developed a relationship, you know what I mean? Just with each other, that felt like that wasn’t the funniest or realist thing. Going the sweeter route was, yeah, just better, I think. I’m glad we did that.
I like it when you first meet and she was like, “Am I in love with him!?” That was so Stalter and it was just so good.
HIGGINS: I mean, she’s amazing. You didn’t have to give her much for her to make it funny and real.
I love how you each got your chance to shine. Martin, were you always going to be the one getting adult baptized or did that switch around a lot? The gift bags alone… that was fantastic. I hope you all have one.
HIGGINS: Gift bags [Laughs] I forgot about that. That was always Martin’s lane.
HERLIHY: I think so, yeah.
MARSHALL: I just want to shout out Nichole Sakura for making that storyline so funny.
HIGGINS: She’s so awesome.
HERLIHY: She’s so funny and just likable. That character was kind of like a weird balancing act. The comedy is how afraid of her I am, but she pulls it off in a way that’s sweet and makes it feel like I’m being insane.
Nature Was a Beast While Filming ‘Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain’
Was there one thing you thought was going to be easy to do and then ended up being really difficult? How did you get through that?
MARSHALL: Well, we had a stretch where it would thunderstorm every afternoon for like, two weeks straight. The throat punch scene I think took four days to shoot or something. We just would keep starting and stopping. It was also stuff where it was like a simple scene of us walking through the woods where it’d be like, “Ok, guys, this is where the wasps are burrowed under the ground.” And we would be stepping on wasps.
HIGGINS: Ben in the wingsuit we knew was probably going to be pretty hard, but it was even harder than we thought because it was the hottest day, it was like 102 degrees.
MARSHALL: Hottest day. I was up in a crane in the wingsuit which traps all the heat in. I can’t hear anybody with the big fans going. They would have to lower me down and it was crazy.
HIGGINS: Everything in the woods was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
It’s so true, I feel like no one goes outside anymore.
HIGGINS: I know!
Seeing so much nature, I’m like, “So this counts as me being outside, cool.”
HIGGINS, HERLIHY, MARSHALL: [Laughs]
Do you ever have ideas over the summer that you wish you could do? Have you ever banked a bunch of sketches over the summer or is it usually just pretty last-minute stuff?
HERLIHY: We always do and it never works.
HIGGINS: We try.
MARSHALL: Some kind of weird voodoo curse where you can’t work ahead of time at SNL. I mean, I guess we have a list of ideas that we’ve kind of worked on over the summer and sometimes we’ll pull from them for just the start of them. But a lot of times it’ll just be a setup and then we’ll come up with the real idea together.
HIGGINS: For sure.
Travis Kelce’s Please Don’t Destroy ‘SNL’ Sketch Was Risky
Of the three of you, is there ever one of you that you have to rein in, like the idea is so far-fetched?
HERLIHY: I think that role will swap around.
MARSHALL: We all have our moments.
HIGGINS: Grandma and Travis Kelce, we were like, “I don’t know, man.” [Laughs]
MARSHALL: I think that was Gary’s idea.
HIGGINS: Gary and Tucker.
HERLIHY: Oh, yeah, Bryan Tucker.
MARSHALL: It trades off.
HIGGINS: Yeah, it trades off.
When you first got to SNL, what was your first week like? Was there anything you didn’t anticipate?
MARSHALL: We were really lucky because when we got hired, seven other new writers got hired, so it felt like a whole incoming freshman class.
MARSHALL: And also three new cast members were hired, so it felt like we were just a part of a larger group. I remember being shocked by, like, how quickly they’ll just give you access to the hosts and stuff. I remember we were pitching to Owen Wilson the first week, and the sketch didn’t end up going through, but I was just like, “Wow, like, how do they trust us to do this?” [Laughs] We’re all totally green and new but they’re just very trusting with their writers here, just being like, “You could figure it out.”
I always get excited when I see your office, but do you like the videos that go on the streets or do you prefer to stick in the office?
HIGGINS: I think it’s idea dependent honestly, but there were times definitely when it’s like, “Oh, dude, I need to get out of here.” Because we spend all of our time here actually. And then our video’s in here, so then it becomes a lot. But then you’ll have something like that Travis Kelce idea. That’s so fun to get out and do something different.
MARSHALL: You also have stuff like the Bad Bunny Shrek thing where we were like, “Gotta be in here.”
MARSHALL: That makes it so fun and feel kind of like DIY and scrappy. So there’s benefits to both.
HERLIHY: It is also so easy shooting in here.
HIGGINS: There’s only so many places we can sit.
With the movie, you could do callbacks, which I really appreciated. Did you like that challenge of getting to tell a longer story?
MARSHALL: It was really fun. I think a lot of, I don’t know, at least when I started in comedy, the goal it felt like for most people was to do a pilot or a TV series and, I think, I mean, we obviously love TV too, but we all grew up on comedy movies and there are not that many comedy movies now. So it was really fun to be able to do a contained stand-alone, longer story.
MARSHALL: But it was definitely like, it’s more things to hold in your brain. A lot of times we’ll just say a joke where the reality changes in our videos. You know what I mean? Whereas in this, it was like, “Oh, that might have consequences for a later scene.” So it’s harder.
HERLIHY: Like you can’t do an insane, we figured out, we can’t do an insane joke like two-thirds into the movie because people are like, well, we care about what’s going on.
HIGGINS: [Laughs] Yeah, like you can’t just change the premise of the movie at minute 70.
I was writing down different lines, I think my favorite might be “I don’t want to talk about John Grisham.” What are some of your favorite lines that you’ve come up with? Are they usually at like 2 a.m. that the craziest stuff comes out?
MARSHALL: It’s also funny when it’s like 9 a.m. and you just woke up and you’re just at your keyboard like an office worker, but you’re writing something fucking insane.
HIGGINS: I think, yeah, it’s probably a mixture of both. But a lot of our sketches are written at two o’clock in the morning.
MARSHALL: One of my favorite lines from the movie is something Conan [O’Brien] improvised, which was, “I think you’re seeing the glass as having not enough water in it as opposed to having more than an adequate amount of water in it.” And I’m like, “That’s not how the saying goes.” And he’s like, “Well, your generation has to shorten everything so it makes no fucking sense.”
What Do the Please Don’t Destroy Guys Want to Accomplish on ‘SNL’?
And then, Ben, when you said that you think you “seriously bruised” your taint in the tree was pretty great, also. What’s something you hope to do this season on SNL that you haven’t done yet?
HIGGINS: Host the show, which is probably…
MARSHALL: Just you or all of us?
HIGGINS: Well, just me. No [Laughs] I don’t know. Bad Bunny’s sketch was really, like, I’m really glad that early on into the season we have something we’re like…
MARSHALL: Proud of.
HIGGINS: Yeah, a lot of the times you’re just going for, “not ashamed.” But to feel actually, like, “Wow, I really like that,” is really fun.
MARSHALL: Something that I’ve been thinking about is writing a live sketch where people break.
MARSHALL: Not on purpose, but I just want it to happen naturally.
HIGGINS: That’s a really good goal.
MARSHALL: Because that’s always such a fun live thing that is actively discouraged here.
I feel like Lisa from Temecula would be a good spot.
MARSHALL: So, so funny.
HIGGINS: It’s just so fun. Yeah that’s a great goal.
Thank you guys again for talking!
MARSHALL: Thank you so much, this was awesome!
HIGGINS: Yeah, thank you, Emily!
Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain is available to stream on Peacock and Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm EST on NBC.
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