UVA Grad’s 15 Seconds of Fame on ‘Saturday Night Live’

February 2, 2023 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

If you tuned into “Saturday Night Live” a few weeks ago, chances are you unwittingly spied a 2022 University of Virginia graduate who was worked into a skit with “The White Lotus” star and former NBC page Aubrey Plaza.

In her opening monologue in January, Plaza reminisced about her time working at “SNL” and decided to give the audience an impromptu tour of the famous studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Micah Rucci enters stage left with an NBC page jacket in hand, and with the help of a fellow page, helps Plaza don her coat. “Thank you, guys,” she says, tongue literally in cheek. “You guys will definitely host ‘SNL’ someday,” she quips, as Rucci looks on smiling.

It’s been a quick and wild ride for Rucci – who once wrote a thesis on “SNL” – from graduation in May to the stage of the iconic comedy show this year. And it all started with media studies classes at UVA.

His on-camera appearance was the surprise ending to a workweek at “SNL” that began in the typical fashion.

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“Monday is when the host will come in and have a meeting with the writers and the producers and [“SNL” founder] Lorne Michaels to kind of talk about the general theme of the show,” Rucci said. “Tuesday is a very notorious day, where the writers will get home at like 3 or 4 or 5 a.m. and they’ll stay in that building and they have to pump out around 30 to 40 sketches.”

Wednesday is read-through day, when the team decides what to keep and what to cut. Thursday is music day. “Sam Smith arrived and that morning they’re doing sound checks, making sure the costumes work; does the lighting work? Is this what they envisioned for their two numbers?” Rucci explained. Thursday is also the day the director and stage manager start blocking sketches.

More importantly for Rucci, Thursday is the day he and his two fellow pages commence their three-day work week, which is actually packed with more hours than a full-time job. Pages have to be the first and last people in the studio. Days start at 8 a.m. and end about 16 hours later, except for Saturdays, which can stretch to 21-hour days.

As Plaza practiced her monologue Thursday, Rucci and his co-page, Talya Ozbelli, were called into the studio to help the “Parks and Recreation” star with her page jacket.

Portrait of Micah Rucci in New York City

Media studies and Spanish double major Micah Rucci had two days to get to New York City for his new position following his graduation from UVA last May. (Contributed photo)

The pair had no idea if they were simply stand-ins or if they would really appear on camera.

“We were like, ‘OK, like maybe it’s real,’ but reminding ourselves that nothing happens on ‘SNL’ until 11:30 on Saturday. Any, any, anything can get in the last minute,” Rucci stressed. “I mean, I’ve worked shows where the day of, they’re rewriting sketches to add new cameos for celebrities that are here super last-minute.”

It was another “Parks and Recreation” superstar and former “SNL” cast member, Amy Poehler, who finally convinced Rucci it was actually going to happen. Poehler had just wrapped up the rehearsal for the Plaza monologue in which she also appeared.

“Amy was getting ready to head out for the night and she came by the page desk and she introduced herself to me and she was so, so nice,” Rucci recounted. “And she was like, ‘Have you ever been on TV before?’ And I was like, ‘No, my gosh, I haven’t.’ And she was like, ‘You better call your parents. It’s happening!’”

Watching the performance, you would never have guessed it was Rucci’s first time on camera. “I’ve loved the theater and I had grown up on the stage, but this was unlike anything I had ever done,” he said. “It was just such a pleasure. I just wanted to do it right because Aubrey had treated us so, so respectfully, because she had been in our shoes years before.”

From Charlottesville to 30 Rock

Rucci majored in media studies and Spanish at UVA. Although he grew up in the theater, the North Wildwood, New Jersey, native wanted to move beyond stage work. “I was just so interested in more of the representation side of things. And media studies at UVA is such a renowned program because these professors, they wrote the books that are defining media studies and they’re teaching their own material.”

Micah Rucci in the classroom presnting

Rucci wrote his thesis on “Saturday Night Live.” (Contributed photo)

Two of his favorite professors were William Little, an associate professor and author of “The Waste Fix: Seizures of the Sacred From Upton Sinclair to The Sopranos,” and Keara Goin, an assistant professor whose courses include Mexican Cinema and Celebrities of Color.

Rucci said he never wanted to miss their classes and would often arrive early.

“You could see that they were learning just as much as you were, which is so admirable,” he said. “Especially at UVA, that always subscribes to the message of lifelong learning. You could really see that with so many of the media studies faculty.”

Incredibly, Rucci wrote his Distinguished Majors Thesis on “Saturday Night Live.” Titled “Queer Sketch Comedy: A Look at LGBTQ+ ‘Representation’ in Early Saturday Night Live,” Rucci argued that “when ‘Saturday Night Live’ included any LGBTQ+ representation, it was the sole comedic narrative of the sketch – meaning that if the queer characters and jokes were removed, the sketch would no longer exist.”

Getting the Gig

Rucci had a remote internship with NBC last spring and one of his supervisors asked if he’d thought about applying to be an NBC page. The process is incredibly competitive and NBC gets “thousands and thousands of applicants,” Rucci said.

Micah Rucci in his UVA hat at the SNL Studio
Rucci credits his education at UVA with positioning him professionally. (Contributed photo)

“I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I had looked it up earlier that week and it’s like a 1.5% acceptance rate with multiple rounds of interviews,” he said. “It’s just so tricky because they’re trying to pull from all around the country and even the world for just a few spots to really be the face of NBC.”

He was selected as one of about 90 East Coast NBC pages. There was just one wrinkle: NBC needed him to start his job two days after graduation. So on May 22, after a Sunday morning farewell breakfast of waffles and bacon at Tip Top Restaurant, Rucci hopped on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train bound for New York City, ready to start work.

Pages do everything from fetching coffee and meals to working in public relations on various NBC shows. The program is designed to help prepare pages for other early career, entry-level roles at NBC.

Over the course of a year, the pages have three rotations at NBC, with stops along the way at shows including “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” But there is no guarantee a page will land with “SNL.” Of the approximately 90 pages, only three are selected. Here again, Rucci faced a rigorous application process. And here again, he made the cut.

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He began his rotation at “SNL” in late September, just ahead of the season premier with “Top Gun: Maverick” star Miles Teller and musician Kendrik Lamar. Since then, Rucci has seen comedic legends Steve Martin and Martin Short, Academy Award nominee and “Elvis” star Austin Butler, and of course, Aubrey Plaza, who treated the entire “SNL” staff to coffee and pastries one morning.

This weekend will be his last on the long-running late-night series, which will feature streaming hit “The Last of Us” star Pedro Pascal and musical guest Coldplay.

Rucci hopes to stay with NBC in some capacity once his year ends in May. He credits UVA with helping to position him professionally.

“UVA was a place where I felt comfortable taking risks,” he said. “Along with the incredible faculty in both the media studies and Spanish departments, I was very fortunate to have a phenomenal support group of friends and roommates who always pushed me to follow my heart and would scream and jump and dance with me in the living room when good news rolled in. No matter what comes next, I’ll always know the people that have supported me from day one.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications