On a sunny afternoon over the summer I met with "Saturday Night Live" writer Katie Rich for a drink. She ordered a Bloody Mary with a beer back for both of us and gave the waitress a meaningful look: "What's your garbage draft beer?"
Over the next two hours as we sat by a window and watched the world go by, our conversation touched on everything from Vince Vaughn in "True Detective" ("I don't want him to be dark and hard-hitting, I want the Vince Vaughn who is a little puffy from drinking beer") to her local baseball team preference (despite her South Side upbringing, she is a "Cubs fan in the same way that I'm Catholic — I see all the problems, but that's what my dad likes and that's how I grew up and that's where my allegiance is") to her longtime fear of flying, which she told me she manages with a combination of Klonopin and vodka: "There's a sweet spot, and if you can find that …"
Her aversion to flying is ironic, considering how often she commutes between New York (where she works on "SNL") and Chicago, where she resides with husband Devlin Murdock, whom she married in July.
Why remain based in Chicago?
"I'm so pragmatic about everything," she said, "that when I was first hired at 'SNL' I was like, 'I'm going to get fired in six months' — not because I don't have confidence, but I know there are just a lot of things that aren't in your control. So we were like, 'Let's wait and see what happens.'" Around that time, Murdock was hired as the programs director for Recovery on Water, a rowing club for breast cancer survivors. It made sense to keep their main residence in Chicago.
They rent a coach house in the North Center neighborhood and recently took in a pitbull named Lulu. "I follow all these dog rescues online and saw this picture of this poor little dog found abandoned on the South Side, so I texted it to Devlin and I was like: 'I'm so sorry but we have to get this dog.'"
An iO Theater and Second City mainstage alum, Rich begins her third season with "SNL" this year and said the complications of a long-distance relationship are "not really that bad."
"It's actually a very similar schedule to touring with Second City. The most you're ever gone is three weeks, and then you're home one or two weeks (when 'SNL' takes a brief hiatus). And we get the summers off. So it actually kind of works."
Here's why: The hours at "SNL" are famously long, which means "you're not available to anyone," she said. "So even if we were in the same city, I would barely see him during the week. And then on Sundays" — her one day off when she's in New York — "I like to order, like, $40 million worth of GrubHub and just sit there and shut down. Whereas when I'm here in Chicago, I'm here. I'm not distracted."
At "SNL", Rich is one of four writers who work exclusively on Weekend Update. "It's like our little nerd herd and we create our own show-within-a-show every week." The demands are different than those of writing sketches. "To look at a headline and say, 'OK, this is the joke,' it's such an insane skill that's so hard to develop, and the only way to become good at it is to do it all the time."
It was Rich who came up with a bit from last year she called "Can I Say That?" (on the NBC website, where you can watch the segment, it is titled "What Can You Say?"), with co-anchors Colin Jost, who is white, and Michael Che, who is black, riffing on slang and political correctness.
Che: "You definitely can't say 'in da club.'"
Jost: "Why not?"
Che: "Because I know the place you're talking about and it's a Dave & Busters."
Jost: "I just feel like I can't say anything and you can say everything."
Che: "There's things I can't say. Like 'toodle-loo' or 'skinny macchiato' or 'Thank you for your help, officer.'"
I asked Rich if she sometimes feels cut off when in New York, with her emotional life back in another city.
"I really like living by myself in New York, and the only time I might get lonely is on Saturday night after Update's done, I'm like, 'Oh, this is when I'd like to have Devlin to be here!' But you can't uproot everything just for that four-hour window once a week. He comes to New York sometimes, too. He and his best friend came for the Martin Freeman show last year because they're big 'Hobbit' nerds and they got to sit in the audience and be like, 'Oh my Goooood!'"
As a performer, Rich made such an impact during her years on the Second City mainstage, and when we talked, she seemed almost wistful for the nightly grind on stage at Wells Street. But her duties at "SNL" keep her busy, and she said there is an upside to not being recognized by millions to TV viewers: "No random blogger's like, 'She got fat,' or 'She sucked in that.' Nobody really knows who you are, but you're still a part of it all."
At "SNL" she joins a number of fellow Chicago ex-pats. "You'll look around and it's like, 'I remember when we were standing by the dumpsters outside of iO getting notes in the rain.' I toured with Vanessa (Bayer) a bit. I knew Cecily (Strong) really well because we worked at the iO box office together, and she was also my understudy at Second City. Aidy (Bryant) I knew because she was on Second City's e.t.c. stage the same time I was on the mainstage, and we had also done some random iO shows together. (Writer) Mike O'Brien I knew, Timmy Robinson and I did the mainstage together, and Claire Mulaney I knew from iO."
All those nights at Second City, Rich said, were an ideal primer for "SNL."
"You learn not to be precious about the stuff that you write, which is so important for 'SNL' and especially Weekend Update, where I'm writing 200 jokes a week and maybe three will see the light of day. But you learn to be like, 'That didn't work, no big deal.' It's not a reflection on me that a joke I pitched didn't work."
Not that jokes were on her mind when we talked. Her wedding was just a few weeks away, and she and Murdock were planning to write their own vows. Sincere or funny?
"He just asked me that!" she said. "He was like, 'You need to tell me!'
"But it'll be sincere, very sincere. I've been funny enough in my life, I don't need to be funny when I say my vows."
The 41st season of "Saturday Night Live" returns Oct. 3 on NBC with host Miley Cyrus.