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Lorne Michaels on the laughter and legacy of 40 years of 'Saturday Night Live'

Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," is heading up a star-studded extravaganza Sunday night to celebrate the show's 40th anniversary.
/ Source: TODAY

Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of “Saturday Night Live,” is heading up a star-studded extravaganza Sunday night to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary.

With just days to go, Michaels found the time to sit down with TODAY's Matt Lauer to talk about the job’s highs, the challenges, and what it's like to hear "Live! It's Saturday Night!" nearly 800 times — and still have it put a smile on your face.

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1. He's a guy who takes his funny seriously.

"I'm a serious guy," he admitted. "[Steve Martin] called me yesterday and he was going over the jokes in the monologue. ... [Y]ou can get lost in detail and then you go, 'Oh, right, that's the reason we're all here ... we're gonna make people laugh and that generally starts with you laughing [at] yourself.' And that's ... joy."

Lorne Michaels in 1978 with cast member Dan Aykroyd and guest Mick Jagger, rehearsing a skit on the "SNL" set.NBC

2. The "SNL" environment is terrific for new talent to flourish, but it's harder in the real world.

"The weirdest part about the show is you're just here and you don't much leave the building except to go home," he said. "So when people go away or people go to Hollywood ... [I]t's a different power structure out there."

3. He gets why people claim that "SNL" was so much better back in their day.

"Generally when people talk about the best cast I think, 'Well, that's when they were in high school,'" said Michaels. "Because in high school you have the least amount of power you're ever gonna have. ... Staying up with friends later on a Saturday is great, and people attach to a cast."

Lorne Michaels, with cast members Mike Meyers, musical guest Bruce Springsteen, host Tom Hanks, and cast member Dana Carvey on set in 1992.NBC

4. Don't worry about his legacy: He's not.

"The moment you begin to first of all talk about yourself in the third person or ... worry about where your museum is going to go ... it means you're out of the game, and I love the game too much," he said. "And why would you want to leave the game if you — if you're good at it?"

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Lorne Michaels watch Tina Fey as Palin in 2008.NBC

5. He should definitely be around for the 45th anniversary.

"I would expect so," he said, but added: "I wanna make ... it through to the 40th right now."

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The "SNL 40th Anniversary Special Red Carpet" airs on Sunday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC (hosted by the TODAY anchors); and the main anniversary event kicks off at 8 p.m. ET. Wondering who's expected to make an appearance in one form or the other? Worry no longer; here's your list:

  • 50 Cent
  • Adam Sandler
  • Aidy Bryant
  • Alec Baldwin
  • Amy Poehler
  • Andy Samberg
  • Arcade Fire
  • Backstreet Boys
  • Beck Bennett
  • Betty White
  • Bill Hader
  • Bill Murray
  • Billy Crystal
  • Bobby Moynihan
  • Bradley Cooper
  • Candice Bergen
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Cecily Strong
  • Charlie Day
  • Cheri Oteri
  • Chevy Chase
  • Chris Kattan
  • Chris Parnell
  • Chris Rock
  • Christopher Walken
  • Colin Jost
  • Colin Quinn
  • Dakota Johnson
  • Dan Aykroyd
  • Dana Carvey
  • Darrell Hammond
  • David Spade
  • Deborah Harry
  • Derek Jeter
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Edward Norton
  • Ellen Cleghorne
  • Elliott Gould
  • Elvis Costello
  • Emma Stone
  • Fiona Apple
  • Fred Armisen
  • Garrett Morris
  • George Lucas
  • Gilbert Gottfried
  • Glenn Close
  • Governor Sarah Palin
  • Horatio Sanz
  • J.K. Simmons
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Jack White
  • James Franco
  • Jane Curtin
  • Jason Sudeikis
  • Jay Pharaoh
  • Jerry Seinfeld
  • Jim Carrey
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Joe Piscopo
  • John Goodman
  • Johnny Knoxville
  • Jon Bon Jovi
  • Jon Lovitz
  • Julia Sweeney
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Kanye West
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Keith Richards
  • Kenan Thompson
  • Kerry Washington
  • Kevin Nealon
  • Kristen Wiig
  • Kyle Mooney
  • Laraine Newman
  • Larry David
  • Leslie Jones
  • Louis C.K.
  • Ludacris
  • Martin Short
  • Maya Rudolph
  • Mayor Rudy Giuliani
  • Melissa McCarthy
  • Michael Che
  • Michael Douglas
  • Mike Myers
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Molly Shannon
  • Norm Macdonald
  • Paul McCartney
  • Paul Rudd
  • Paul Simon
  • Pete Davidson
  • Peyton Manning
  • Rachel Dratch
  • Rob Schneider
  • Robert De Niro
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Sasheer Zamata
  • Sean Hayes
  • Senator Al Franken
  • Seth Meyers
  • Sigourney Weaver
  • Steve Martin
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Taran Killam
  • Taylor Swift
  • Tim Meadows
  • Tina Fey
  • Tom Hanks
  • Vanessa Bayer
  • Victoria Jackson
  • Will Ferrell
  • Will Forte
  • Zach Galifianakis

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This article was originally published Feb. 13, 2015 at 9:15 a.m. ET.