What I learned about business from Will Ferrell’s SNL audition

Watching a comedy giant before he was great is like seeing a startup’s first pitch

Pete Lead
12 min readFeb 12, 2021


Two things happened to me today: I discovered Will Ferrell’s audition for SNL (“Saturday Night Live”), and I had first meetings with four early stage startups. If you could predict Will Ferrell’s success from his early work, how might we apply lessons from this audition to early stage businesses and investor pitches?

Premise + Promise

Will’s third bit is the Get Off The Shed guy. He introduces the sketch as “This is Dutch Litchford. And we’re at an outdoor barbecue.” The premise is revealed pretty soon after that.

The premise is that he alternates between having a pleasant, boring conversation and aggressively shouting at his kids. That’s it. He plays that out for about a minute and a half.

Will Ferrell making small talk / yelling GET OFF THE SHED
“GET OFF THE GODDAMN SHED! OFF THE SHED! We got hotdogs too if you want.”

But the director and decision-makers in the audience would see promise beyond these 90 seconds. The premise and the character could play out in different situations, have different things to shout at/about, and be put in scenes with other characters (and celebrity hosts) who could have different reactions to it.

The promise is important to SNL’s context. Each episode is written that week, starting on Monday and performed live on Saturday night. They have less than a week to pitch ideas, draft sketches, choose the good ones, perfect the scripts, rehearse, block, tweak again etc. Do that about 20 times each season and you can see why repeatable premises and characters are a major plus.

I found three versions of this sketch that made it onto SNL.

Clip from Get Off The Shed sketch on SNL
Get off the shed: 1995



Pete Lead

I work with startups, teach entrepreneurship, and freelance in improv and leadership coaching.