Bryan Hill Tucker ’93
Supervising writer for Saturday Night Live — what a dream job, sitting around all day, being funny and being paid for it. You probably could do it, too, if you didn’t have to work a real job. So, go ahead. Think up something that will make all of us laugh. Not a joke you heard somewhere, but something of which no one else has thought. Now do it 50 times more in the next couple of hours, and think up a scene in which the best of them fit together. Then have your co-workers critique it and maybe throw out your best lines. And do it all over again tomorrow, even if you’re in a crummy mood and nothing seems funny.
Bryan Tucker ’93 has lived that life at SNL for the past seven years, and for nearly a decade before that, writing for Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show, Fox’s Mad TV, HBO’s The Chris Rock Show and CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman. A five-time Emmy nominee, he has won three Writer’s Guild Awards and a Peabody.
All that, and he’s a really nice guy, a great dad, a good cook (in college, he earned the sobriquet “Casserole Boy”), and he can bench press 520. With a resume like that, of course he’s going to be named a Distinguished Young Alumnus. But this award pales next to being crowned Mr. UNC, as he was his senior year, an honor that came with a seat right behind the bench at every men’s basketball home game in 1993 — a year the Tar Heels won the NCAA championship.
UNC’s journalism school drew Bryan to Carolina, and fate let him in, one of the final names plucked from the wait list. When The Daily Tar Heel splashed his photo as Mr. UNC on its front page, he left a copy in an admissions officer’s chair with a note: “Thanks for taking a chance on me.”
“Carolina gave me the opportunity to be myself for the first time in my life,” Bryan said. “It was the place where I got to figure out who I really was and found my voice.” Turned out the shy, skinny blond kid from Richmond, Va., who aimed to be a reporter, had a really sharp wit. Though he had no roadmap, no mentors and no Google to find a how-to video on YouTube, he decided on a career writing comedy.
“I didn’t know anybody who made a living in comedy,” he said.
Guys in his comedy troupe, Selected Hilarity, with whom he performed in college and for four years after graduation, say Bryan’s focused plan and his work ethic set him apart from others of his generation. Standup comedy was big in Chapel Hill during those days, said Larry Weaver ’92, a member of Selected Hilarity. Whereas many performers took a funny idea and ad-libbed it, Bryan took comedy seriously, writing out scripts and going the extra mile.
“He had a dedication none of us had,” Weaver said.
He still writes all the time, in many forms, on many topics. He does character sketches and premise pieces. He takes on politics and has vast knowledge of hip-hop and rap. Taran Killam, an actor and writer who has worked with Bryan over the years, called Bryan “the go-to black comedy writer on SNL.”
Every summer, during SNL’s off-season, Bryan writes a screenplay. He has sold some, though none has yet been made into a movie. He sold a script for an original TV comedy and is awaiting word on whether NBC will produce it. He still does standup routines. And in the competitive, pressured environment of hit TV show production, he takes time to meet regularly with new writers and actors to help them succeed, said John Lutz, a writer for 30 Rock who shared an office with Bryan when they both wrote for SNL.
“He helps other people find their funny,” Lutz said. “He’s really good at not letting his ego get in the way.”
Bryan and his wife, Rachael Knott Tucker ’96, have funded a journalism scholarship, and he returns to the journalism school periodically to perform and conduct seminars for students interested in writing for TV, to encourage students to, as he says, “push for what they want after graduation, instead of compromising.”
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