“Saturday Night Live” veteran and Chicago native Horatio Sanz is returning to Columbia College on Wednesday as a guest speaker during the school’s Conversation in the Arts series.
Sanz moved to New York City in 1998 at 28 after “SNL” hired him.
“I was a loser, still living at home my whole life,” he said. “And then I got rescued.”
Sanz, the show’s first Latino cast member, spent eight seasons on “SNL” before leaving in 2006. Sanz, who now lives in Echo Park, Calif., has since appeared in movies and TV shows such as “Girls,” “30 Rock,” “Pretend Time,” and the web series “Drunk History.” He also toured with Comedy Bang! Bang!
In a phone interview with RedEye, Sanz said he was surprised when he got the call inviting him to speak at Columbia, where he spent two years in 1988 and 1989 as a film and video major before he left to pursue improv at Improv Olympic and Second City. He talked to RedEye about what he learned from his time at Columbia, what he loved most “SNL” and what he misses about Chicago--hint: it’s not the pizza.
What did you love about attending Columbia?
The biggest thing I got out of Columbia was that it helped me realize I really wasn’t into being part of a television crew, which is what I originally came to Columbia to do. I just knew right away that it wasn’t my natural fit. I did want to work in television and film behind the scenes, but I also always had it in the back of my mind that I was going to try to improvise and follow an acting career. But at first I thought I was going to try to work at WGN or something.
How did you make the transition from working behind the scenes to performing?
I took an acting class my second year at Columbia, and once that class was over, I realized acting was something I could do. And then I went to Improv Olympic; I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I can do this.’ After hanging out at iO all night doing bits and drinking with everybody, it kind of felt like … ‘Well, this is where I’ve got to be, I guess.’
Were you nervous to start pursuing improv full-time?
Yeah, it was hard … it was hard to tell my dad I was going to drop out of college. That was very hard. But I knew even though it was hard, it was the right thing to do, because I was feeling that I had some skill in that end--a lot more than in the technical end. I personally didn’t have a struggle with it as much as I’m sure my family did.
But they’re happier about that decision now?
They’re very happy with me now. [Laughs] Well, they were happy with me then too. My dad just wanted me to have a backup, and I was like, ‘Well, to have a backup is to half-admit I’m going to fail.’ That was my excuse for not doing anything else, and luckily it worked out for me.
Why do you think Chicago is such a good place to start doing comedy?
Well, for me, there’s a lot to make fun of--the politics, the sports--I think that because we were always the ‘Second City’ [Chicagoans] kind of have a little chip on our shoulder, so we use humor to deflect the shame of not being No. 1. It’s also a little less bullshit than most cities. I think that maybe people from Chicago are sharper about how people act. It’s not like they’re smarter--just that people here get away with less.
What do you miss about living in Chicago?
I miss the ease of going to see sports. You take that for granted in a different city. I miss the food. There’s a beef place here in California, and it takes an hour to get there. We make pilgrimages up there. So I think that a nice Italian beef is probably what I miss. You can get pizza and everything else anywhere, but beef is tough to get anywhere else.
What do you miss about SNL?
I miss the goofiness of it. I did a lot of sketches, and the experience was great. I don’t feel ripped off or anything--I was on the show for eight years. I probably should have left earlier, but whatever--it was the path of least resistance. But I miss goofing around with people and then have it be on television. But I don’t miss that life, certainly--the busyness, the pressure. I was drinking a lot then. I would rather not do that now.