Winona State University hosts “Saturday Night Live” writer and star Michael Che

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Joseph Eichele

Che was greeted with a packed auditorium of students and community members thanks to the Lyceum speakers series. While it wasn’t a stand-up comedy performance, there were still many smiles and laughs during the night. Che gave insight on what it was like to be a writer/performer for Saturday Night Live and what he hoped to accomplish in the future.

Gabriel Hathaway, features editor

Michael Che visited Winona State University on Thursday, March 24, 2022, as part of a Lyceum series event called “A Conversation with SNL’s Michael Che”. At the event, Che sat down with President Scott Olson for a moderated Q&A session in Somsen Hall’s Harriet Johnson Auditorium.

Che is a comedian, writer and actor who is well-known for co-hosting the last seven seasons of “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) with Colin Jost, the pair also being the show’s current co-head writers. He made history as the show’s first Black ‘Weekend Update’ co-anchor. Che also has a comedy show on HBO Max called “That Damn Michael Che”. Season two of the show will be coming out in late May, Che revealed at the Lyceum event.

At the sit-down discussion, a variety of topics ranging from Che’s background, to SNL trivia and fanboy questions, to a conversation about censorship and comedy and more, were discussed. Although the event was not a stand-up show, there were plenty of laughs throughout thanks to Che’s wit, cadence and natural comedic timing.

The event started out a bit stiff, but the audience was an ecstatic buzz from having someone of such notoriety on stage. Che commented he was more nervous to do the university Q&A than to do stand- up because he has never done something like it before. After a few minutes, Olson and Che found their rhythm and the show loosened up and became a lively, fun experience. Che’s cool laid-back energy played well off Olson’s excited and personable demeanor.

“A Conversation with Michael Che” is the first major event to come from the Lyceum committee since 2017. Peter Miene, the dean of the college of liberal arts and the administrative representative to Lyceum, commented on the reasons for the committee’s long hiatus.

Che and Winona State President Olson during the Lyceum series event.
Che and Winona State President Olson during the Lyceum series event. (Joseph Eichele)

“The committee has gone through some revision. There used to be a position on campus known as the ‘arts administrator’ and that person was responsible for this committee and when she retired that position was not replaced one-for-one and that affected the number of offerings, and then, of course, the pandemic shut everything down,” Miene said. “We made the decision that nobody was interested in a virtual event and so we would wait until we could have an in-person event. We wanted to come back with a name of high recognition.”

The Lyceum committee was created in 1989 with faculty, staff and student representatives from all different departments across campus to help provide diverse, interesting and appealing events
at Winona State. The committee began putting on events in 1990 and has continued to do so since. Lyceum has hosted such notable guests as Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Savage, George Takei, Maya Angelou and more.

Miene described how the Lyceum committee believed Olson would be the perfect moderator for the Che event due to his own quick wit, research skills and personal love of SNL.

“[Olson] was perfect and when we first approached him to serve as the moderator he was the one that we had always wanted as the committee,” Miene said. “We had lots of confidence [Olson] would be good, but it was also something we knew he’d be very interested in.”

During the Che event, one of the major topics of discussion was about censorship. At one point in the show Olson asked Che what he thought of censorship in comedy. Che responded by saying that it is important to have boundaries and to know where those boundaries are, for both comedians and for audiences.

Che went on to say that protests are a way to find these boundaries and are important, as well as how universities are the best places to have those discussions.

In an interview before the event, Olson described the importance of discussions on free speech at universities.

“It’s a discussion we have here on campus about how much free speech and what are the limits and how do you balance freedom of expression with being welcoming and inclusive and diverse,” Olson said.

In another memorable moment of the show, Che offered some life advice to audience members: “You got to fall in love with something. I’m in love with being on stage.”

In another memorable moment of the show, Che offered some advice to audience members: “You got to fall in love with something. I’m in love with being on stage.” Olsons said events like Che’s are important to build campus life, to enrich students’ lives and to connect with the Winona community to grow a love of Winona State. Che was met with a standing ovation from the nearly-full Harriet Johnson Auditorium at the end of the night.
In another memorable moment of the show, Che offered some advice to audience members: “You got to fall in love with something. I’m in love with being on stage.” Olsons said events like Che’s are important to build campus life, to enrich students’ lives and to connect with the Winona community to grow a love of Winona State. Che was met with a standing ovation from the nearly-full Harriet Johnson Auditorium at the end of the night. (Joseph Eichele)

“A Conversation with SNL’s Michael Che” ran for an hour and contained a mixture of advice, sarcastic jokes, genuine discussion and comments, behind the scene SNL stories, lots of laughter, joy and applause. Che was met with a standing ovation from the nearly-full Harriet Johnson Auditorium at the end of the night.

Olsons said events like Che’s are important to build campus life, to enrich students’ lives and to connect with the Winona community to grow a love of Winona State.

“What we want a university to be is that there is just this overwhelming volume of interesting things happening. So it helps the students that are here currently have expoure to more and different kinds of experiences,” Olson said. “It might attract some students to come here in the first place.”

Miene had a similar sentiment about the importance of Lyceum and other events on campus in general, but he emphasized their utility in starting conversations and expanding perspectives.

“I think it is really helpful to hear from individuals that you may not hear from on an ordinary basis,” Miene said. “Just that chance to engage in interesting ideas and hopefully the people who attend are chatting with each other and talking about some of those ideas.”

Miene also gave a nod to George Micalone, the director of student union and activities and member of the Lyceum committee, who has offered great assistance in booking talent for Lyceum and Winona State in general. Miene pointed towards Micalone’s connections to talent agencies and experience with booking events as things that have helped Lyceum streamline the booking process, becoming more efficient.

“George’s addition has been so important because he has this experience and expertise from his time at Iowa State where he was going out and recruiting and getting guest speakers like this,” Miene said. “So he brought a new approach to how we were considering names, starting with who was available.”

“What we want a university to be is that there is just this overwhelming volume of interesting things happening. So it helps the students that are here currently have exposure to more and different kinds of experiences,” Winona State President Olson said. “It might attract some students to come here in the first place.”
“What we want a university to be is that there is just this overwhelming volume of interesting things happening. So it helps the students that are here currently have exposure to more and different kinds of experiences,” Winona State President Olson said. “It might attract some students to come here in the first place.” (Mohammed Islam)

Micalone too commented on Winona State bringing an abundance of varied events to campus to cater to anyone and everyone in the community.

“The idea is, between Lyceum and what we are doing through the student activities and the student union department and other folks on campus, we are just trying to bring in a balance of opportunities so students feel like there is something for them,” Micalone said.

In the future there will continue to be more Lyceum events that students may look forward to, along with plenty of other opportunities occurring around campus all the time.