First things first: I was grateful to be invited by Aryeh Cohen-Wade to discuss Saturday Night Live on his podcast Culturally Determined. You can find the episode here. I think it's a pretty interesting conversation, although I'm embarrassed about the bit where I tried to recall the axiom that we have two right-wing parties in America, one far-right and one center-right, and ended up botching it horribly. Anyway, you can let me know if I botched anything else.
Okay, on to today's newsletter, which discusses the allegations of child sexual abuse against Horatio Sanz and SNL. CW!
On or about May 11-12, 2002, Defendant SANZ provided alcohol to Plaintiff (17) and gave her a ride in a limousine paid for by Defendant NBC and operated by an employee and/or agent of NBC.
On this evening and morning, Plaintiff attended two SNL parties, one of which took place at an SNL cast member's loft, where Defendant SANZ openly put his arm around Plaintiff while they talked with other guests and NBC employees/SNL cast members.
On this evening and morning, both at the parties and afterwards, Defendant SANZ intentionally touched the Plaintiff’s sexual or intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or abusing Plaintiff and/or for sexual gratification, including: kissing her, groping her breasts, groping her buttocks, and digitally penetrating her genitals forcibly and without Plaintiff’s consent, all in violation of New York Penal Code §§ 130.52 (forcible touching) and 130.55 (sexual abuse in the third degree), in sight of attendees, including NBC employees.
[…]Attendees at the party who were NBC employees observed Defendant SANZ groping and assaulting Plaintiff and one commented: “Are you f***ing serious?”
A second key allegation is that Sanz apologized for his behavior at this party in a series of 2019 text messages to the pseudonymous plaintiff. Here’s (a small portion of) what he allegedly said:
In the summer of 2019, Plaintiff ran into Defendant SANZ at a comedy event in New York where SANZ admitted to engaging in frequent “cybersex” with her and further admitted and bragged to Plaintiff that he masturbated during their conversations when she was underage.
He later admitted this again in a text message exchange on November 27, 2019.
On November 27, 2019 between 7:56pm and 11:44pm, Defendant SANZ further expressly admitted to Plaintiff via text message, inter alia, that:
he “felt terrible about” hooking up with Plaintiff, a then 16-year-old girl;
he unintentionally groomed Plaintiff;
he was “very sorry”;
Plaintiff could “#metoo” him because "it happened”;
he would “swear on a stack of improv books…I’m a different person”;
“I took friendship where it could”;
“after the Tracy [Morgan] party I really tried to fix what I’d done”;
Connecting the dots, we see that the May 12th party was hosted by Tracy Morgan. As it turns out, Morgan is famous in SNLworld for hosting after-afterparties in the early 2000s, events that featured sex workers and free-flowing booze. He and other attendees have described them in years since with varying degrees of nostalgia and horror. Here’s Morgan’s own recounting in his 2009 memoir I Am the New Black:
Friends of mine were running this illegal strip club they called the Loft. It was in an office space they’d rented and converted into an after-the-after-party spot. They put a stage in it, they put a few futons all around, and they’d get strippers and girls to come and do shows. You’d walk in there and get your dick sucked, there was usually some fucking going on, and there was liquor and couches everywhere. But this place was just a regular apartment space, so the bar was really just the kitchen, and there was only one bathroom, which usually got stopped up at some point because of all kinds of shit getting stuffed in there. I invited everyone to go down there one week. And Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and a few others came along.
I didn’t tell any of them what they were in for, so it was all cool when we got there. At first, as they got their drinks and sipped them and talked, they thought it was just a private party. Then these two girls came out onstage and started going down on each other and that just shut it down. All the grips and crew guys from SNL were standing around and loving it, but my castmates took one look at that, turned right around, and rushed out of there. They were all a bunch of Ivy League faggots and we’d taken it to the streets [ed. note: 2009 was a different time, huh?]. They might have left, but it was all that anybody talked about around the show for the next week. None of them ever came back, but me and my boys did it for another two weeks at least.
Tina Fey recalled the parties in a 2019 New Yorker profile of Morgan: “They were sometimes in, like, a makeshift illegal casino, in an empty loft, and there were women there, serving drinks—women in thongs,” she said. “He’d be, like, ‘You gotta come to my party!’”
So did Rachel Dratch in her 2012 memoir Girl Walks into a Bar…:
As the party winds down for the evening, you ask your friends, "Are you going to the after-after?" The after-after parties go from around four A.M. until the sun is up, and are held in random dive bars throughout the city. They are a bit more raucous than the after-parties, only because you aren't seated at tables, sometimes there is dancing, and by that hour, people have consumed more alcohol. (My first few years there, I always went to both parties and would stumble home at eight in the morning, sometimes with show makeup still on my face and wig glue still crusted near my ears. Perhaps the most memorable after-after-party was thrown by Tracy Morgan, waaay down at the bottom of Manhattan. We all piled into our cars to go to parts unknown and ended up at a modern apartment building in an area of town I didn't even know existed. Upon entering, we found that interspersed throughout this party, to serve up cocktails or possibly sexual favors, were stripped ladies who were all of a very specific type. I think whoever organized the party—maybe one of Tracy's cronies?—must have been into short, like five feet tall, Latina ladies of square and stocky build. Each and every lady had the look of an ancient Mayan crammed into black fishnets and garter belts, with headband tiaras on their heads for extra sexiness. I think I stayed at that party for about fifteen minutes, and it served as a tipping point—perhaps I had reached an age where I didn't have to go to every after-after-party.)
Morgan’s parties even made a lasting impression on people who didn’t work at SNL. Here’s author Liza Monroy’s recollection in Goodbye to All That, a 2013 anthology of essays about leaving New York City:
Midtown and Lower East Side, 2002-2003
[…]One of my mailroom colleagues used to work at Saturday Night Live and still got invited to the weekly after-parties thrown by cast members. "Tracy Morgan's party is tomorrow night," he mentioned nonchalantly one Friday afternoon.
The party was in an empty loft in a high-rise way downtown. I looked out the floor-to-ceiling glass at traffic rushing by on West Street twenty-something stories below. Naked women—high-class call girls, I presumed—wandered the party, men helping themselves as if they were appetizer trays, leading them over to only partially concealed couches in corners. Everyone was on something, and we stayed until the sun came up.
I will pause here to state the obvious: sex work is a criminal offense in New York City. (The "illegal" part of "illegal strip club" presumably raises issues as well.) It shouldn't be—the Humorism newsletter is staunchly pro-decrim—but this context matters all the same. People could have gotten in trouble here, whether in the form of actual criminal liability or by bringing negative publicity to a show deathly allergic to it. We typically think of huge media conglomerates like NBC as highly risk-averse, but in reality they almost always form a culture of permissiveness around marquee talent, an alternate reality where stars can be stars. SNL is no exception. Remember, this is a show whose cast and producers laughed as they batted away sexual harassment allegations against Chris Farley; a show that just last year held an indoor maskless afterparty at the height of the first pandemic winter, against New York health guidelines. It’s only natural that Morgan’s sex parties would become part of SNL’s anything-goes boys’ club mythos, immortalized as they were in the first season of 30 Rock.
And it's only reasonable to respond to them with a simple question: if this was allowed, what else was allowed?
That said, it’s also noteworthy that some cast members didn't want to be associated with whatever went on at these parties. At least one had no such compunction, however. Here are the next few paragraphs in that passage from Morgan’s book:
Actually, one cast member really got into it. This party started late and kept going strong right into the morning. The next day around noon, I got a call from the guy running the party.
“Yo, Tray, what’s up?”
“Nothing. I’m getting some rest,” I said. “What’s goin’ on?” “Yo, I can’t get your man to leave.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Who? D. Nice?”
“No, man, the fat guy from your show!”
“Yeah, man, that’s him,” he said. “He’s still here. He’s sitting on a couch with two girls. He’s been smoking a cigar and just talking to them for hours. He’s the only one here, man, and he won’t leave.”
It turns out Sanz had pretty much the same recollection as recently as 2015. Here he is in an episode of Earwolf’s The Kevin Pollak Show (my transcription is a cleaned-up version of Complex's; the segment occurs around 72 minutes in):
He rented a floor at this building right across from Ground Zero. I mean, we couldn’t look directly into the footprint of the former World Trade Center, but we were about a block away from the late Twin Towers. The party was fine, but he had these bars set up and he literally hired prostitutes. I’ve never hired prostitutes before because it was never my intention to get us fucked after a long show. So he brought in some prostitutes and I just remember, you know, of course, I stayed. I think I was the last one to leave. I just remember that decent people, like Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer, would just come into the bar and do a complete 360. Like, "Yep! Okay! Good enough!" And then, you know, the guy who tunes guitars would say, "Yeah, I got a blowjob at that party!"
I'm sharing these passages because they provide important context for the Horatio Sanz lawsuit, which SNL has left unacknowledged even as it trotted out one of its new stars to joke about trumped-up sexual harassment claims. (Sanz’s lawyer, Andrew Brettler, who also represents Prince Andrew, Danny Masterson, and Armie Hammer, called Jane Doe’s allegations “ludicrous.”) To put too fine a point on it: during the period in which Horatio Sanz allegedly abused Jane Doe for his own sexual gratification at an afterparty thrown by Tracy Morgan, Tracy Morgan is widely known to have thrown afterparties that deliberately catered to men seeking sexual gratification, including Horatio Sanz, who stayed at at least one such party until after the sun rose.
I'm also sharing them because they go toward a point I’ve been making for a good while now: that SNL has been a red flag factory for decades, most of those flags are right out in the open, and for some reason they're never enough to make a dent.
Maybe this time, maybe this time.
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Header image via YouTube/30 Rock.