Making Laughs: Exploring Social Networks from Second City and Saturday Night Live


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Chicago's Second City has a long history of producing comedy superstars, many of whom followed alums John Belushi, Dan Aykyrod, and Gilda Radner to NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL). SNL alums, in turn, have also gone on to large screen success. Mike Myers, Tina Fey, and Steve Carrell are just a few of the recent Second City and SNL alums to enjoy such success. In this talk, I'll use the casts of the Second City Chicago and Saturday Night Live to examine the role of social networks in the production of comedy. Actors and their networks are often used to illustrate network phenomena such as "small worlds" or as fodder for party games such as "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon". In this talk, we'll look specifically at comedy actors and explore whether their associations in one area (e.g., on stage) impact their associations or success in another (e.g., Hollywood).

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  • Who am I?Previous researchEducational background
  • Node size = degreeEdge size = edge weightTakeaways = Second City has influence throughout the 37 seasons, strongest in the late 70’s and early 90’s
  • Includes only 2+ connectionsColored by Clauset-Newman-Moore clustersThey end up corresponding roughly to producer erasJulia Louis-Dreyfus marks the period while Lorne Michaels was gone, Jean Duomanian and Mike Ebersol ran the showMichaels times go around counter clockwise from the start of the show until nowBill Murray story about
  • Node size = betweennessFruchterman-RheingoldSimilarity – early shows more similar to later shows, then Julia, Joe, Eddie the outliers (1980-1985)Early adopters – in this case the first few seasons’ casts – aren’t always the opinion leaders or the best positioned to influence. They’re mavericks where guys like Al Franken and Tim Meadows are like their colleagues, only a little better positioned, not radically so.
  • Not really a power law distribution like we see elsewhere – is comedy the great equalizer? Co-appearance network within SNL
  • Burt (2010) and other found that direct access to structural holes provided advantages detecting and developing opportunities. In supplier-customer models, structural holes mean variation and eventually innovation. We’re exploring whether the same holds in performance networks – do hole-rich networks provide actors advantages by exposing them directly to performance innovations? Here, instead of product or information, we’re interested in innovations of technique and whether they diffuse through a network. Jessica Fripp is an art historian who’s also asking similar questions about artists in the Paris salons of the 18th century.
  • Making Laughs: Exploring Social Networks from Second City and Saturday Night Live

    1. 1. MAKING LAUGHSDr. Libby HemphillIllinois Institute of Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    2. 2. Plan for Talk• Why Making Laughs?• Why Second City and SNL for a cultural policy audience?• Intellectual Context• History of SC and SNL• Preliminary Findings Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    3. 3. WHY MAKING LAUGHS? Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    4. 4. Motivating the Project• Hollywood cast networks popular for illustrating network concepts• TV forces the marriage of art and commerce• Ongoing collaborations• What if we think about the production of the text as a social endeavor? Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    5. 5. INTELLECTUAL CONTEXT Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    6. 6. Intellectual Context• Projects • Actor-Network Theory (Mould, 2009; Latour, 2005) • Coordination (Jones et al., 1998) • Cottage economies (Blair, 2001)• Production • Marxist foci on labor(ers) (Rosten, 1941; Mayer, 2009) • Liberation and constraint (Powdermaker, 1950)• Position • Brokerage and closure (Burt, 2010) • Elite influence (Kadushin, 2012) Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    7. 7. Other Research Sites• Scientific collaboration• Boards of Directors• Industry managers• Job seekers• Parisian salons• Movie cast credits• Movie crew credits Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    9. 9. History The Compass SNL Season 1 Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    10. 10. PRELIMINARY FINDINGS Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    11. 11. Connecting Second City and SNL Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    12. 12. Season 20(1994-1995)CastMorwenna BanksEllen CleghorneChris ElliottChris FarleyJaneane GarofaloNorm MacDonaldMichael McKeanMark McKinneyTim MeadowsMike MyersKevin NealonAdam SandlerDavid SpadeAl FrankenLaura KightlingerJay MohrMolly ShannonPhoto: NBC Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    13. 13. Network Overview: Both SC and SNL Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    14. 14. Season 10(1994-1995)CastJim BelushiBilly CrystalMary GrossChristopher GuestRich HallGary KroegerJulia Louis-DreyfusHarry ShearerMartin Short*Pamela StephensonPhoto: NBC Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    15. 15. Brokerage: SNL only Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    16. 16. Al FrankenPhoto: NBC Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    17. 17. Core-PeripheryFitness: 0.271 Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    18. 18. Core-peripheryLittle evidence 1 2 1 0.173 0.131 2 0.065 0.051 Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    19. 19. FactionsFitness: 0.215 Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    20. 20. FactionsLittle evidence 1 2 1 0.181 0.036 2 0.033 0.123 Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    21. 21. Degree distributions for three different types of networks: (a) scientific collaboration networks of biologists (circles) and physicists (squares); (b) a collaboration network of movie actors; (c) network of directors of Fortune 1000 companies. Newman M E J et al. PNAS 2002;99:2566-2572©2002 by National Academy of Sciences Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    22. 22. Cumulative Degree Distribution:Saturday Night Live 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 1 10 1001000 Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    23. 23. Structural Holes Tina Fey Al Franken Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    24. 24. Structural Holes Amy Poehler Mike Myers Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    25. 25. TAKEAWAYS ANDFUTURE WORK Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    26. 26. Takeaways• Improv/sketch NOT like Boards or Films• No evidence of core-periphery or factions• Most influential players had weak ties to early adopters• Women and non-white men have limited roles in network• “Bad” years don’t appear structurally different from “good” years• How useful is social network analysis for creative endeavors? Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    27. 27. Future Work• Expand to include off-screen talent (e.g., writers, producers)• Include other groups such as Groundlings• Examine relationships between power and gender• Update tools like Timeline to serve as resources for others Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    28. 28. Funny GirlsPhoto: Vanity Fair Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)
    29. 29. Contact MeDr. Libby HemphillAssistant Professor of Communication and InformationStudiesIllinois Institute of Technologylibby.hemphill@iit.eduhttp://www.casmlab.org Libby Hemphill (CC BY 3.0)