please don't destroy Reveal How 'Succession' Inspired Their Surreal 'SNL' Sketches

The sketch troupe discuss their favourite Canadian comedians, their upcoming movie and the silver lining of the SAG-AFTRA strike

Photo courtesy of JFL

BY Vish KhannaPublished Jul 28, 2023

"I've never been to Canada, but it's produced some of my favourite people in comedy, including Norm Macdonald," John Higgins says during a conference call with his partners in the beloved sketch troupe please don't destroy. "Norm is one of my heroes, and I just got a bunch of T-shirts with his face on them for tour, because he's the one that I can watch videos of and be truly happy for like 30 minutes before bed."

In their own right, Higgins, Martin Herlihy and Ben Marshall are each very funny comedic performers and writers based in New York City. Since 2017, the trio have been performing live and filmed sketches as please don't destroy, and in 2021 they joined the writing staff at Saturday Night Live, where, in addition to writing a few live sketches for each episode, they now have an almost-weekly and always-hilarious pre-taped segment, where they play very odd versions of themselves interacting with SNL guests and cast members.

With SNL on hiatus for the summer — and possibly even longer due to the historic 2023 writers and actors strike (which began after this conversation took place; please don't destroy stand in solidarity with their fellow writers and performers) — the trio have hit the road for a national tour across the US, which also makes two stops at Just for Laughs in Montreal on July 28 and 29.

Though now known primarily for their filmed work, pdd have hit the road as live show veterans.

"We all started working together in 2017 in New York," Marshall explains. "We were initially doing a stand-up show called Please Don't Destroy My Farm, where Martin and I were hosting the show. I was in character as an evil businessman coming to destroy Martin's farm. And we thought it would be funny to have somebody play a cow on stage who didn't talk for the whole show and then shot himself at the end.

"And so we figured, 'Who would do that?' Then we got John on board and we continued the show for, what, probably three months without you speaking, John? And then eventually it hit a point where he was like, 'You guys, I'd really like to participate.'"

Marshall continues, "But then from there on out, we just started doing sketches as a trio, and we had a monthly show at the Pit in New York, and we would perform in other people's shows and then eventually started doing a weekly sketch show at this bar downtown called Vaughn, which was so much fun. But then when the pandemic happened, that obviously went away and we started focusing more on making videos."

Higgins and Herlihy each have SNL pedigree thanks to their fathers: Steve Higgins has been a writer, producer, and voiceover artist on the show since 1995, and has been Jimmy Fallon's late night announcer and sidekick since 2009; Tim Herlihy served as a writer at SNL in the mid-to-late 1990s (eventually earning the head writer job), and wrote or co-wrote most of Adam Sandler's most successful films in that same era.

With all three professing love for SNL and citing its most prominent stars as key influences, it's no wonder that please don't destroy errs on the side of frantic surrealism in their comedy, and this is often emphasized by the manic camera work their videos — from their earliest forays on TikTok and Twitter, to SNL — tend to incorporate. The severe zooms and incredulous reaction shots aren't quite Succession level, but they're close.

"Well, Martin and I were both film majors in college and both have editing experience," Marshall says. "And John, he's just kind of dead weight. But no, honestly, a lot of it was just born out of being bored in our apartment. And our roommates, Peter Christmann and Brady Lees, would film a lot of these videos for us. They did it on an iPhone and, one day, Pete just started zooming in and whipping around like crazy and that added an activity to the sketch that felt fun and exciting."

"We were shooting that one where I had COVID or something," the quieter Herlihy chimes in. "But it's funny you mentioned Succession, because Pete was watching Succession and then smoked weed and then shot the video. Yeah, that's what Pete told me. That was the first one that he shot in that way. I think we had said it should feel frantic. But the specific decision to be like zooming out and stuff, that was Pete. He gave it that energy."

Originally framing their SNL spots as a bizarre micro-sitcom about the life of some writers on the show, please don't destroy always appear as "themselves" in such segments, calling each other by their actual names but playing (hopefully) absurdly heightened versions of who they actually are.

"I think that the biggest difference that we feel is, we get to play characters and not just ourselves in this live show, which is really fun," Higgin says. "Where we get to do stuff way outside of what people have normally seen us doing, where it's just like us three dudes in an office or three dudes in an apartment. This is much bigger and a different side of us."

Depending on the state of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, please don't destroy may be releasing their first ever film in the coming months. While there are theatrical elements, such as Conan O'Brien playing Marshall's father, something about the film's vague storyline seems familiar.

"Yeah, the movie's about three losers named Ben, John and Martin, which is, you know, farfetched and stuff," Higgins explains. "But they were childhood friends and now they're like 27-year-old deadbeat co-workers."

Though Marshall says the film was originally scheduled for a November release, the strike has paused such plans, and also led to please don't destroy's second season on SNL being cut short.

"Going into the last three shows, we had our Monday meeting with [scheduled host] Pete Davidson, and it was such a fun vibe, pitching him sketches," Higgins recalls. "And we were so excited. And then by that Tuesday, the last three shows were gone, so it was a total bummer."

Herlihy adds, "We were always going to do the tour. But it was nice that we were able to do more shows in the city because [SNL] wasn't happening, to get ready for [the tour]. We're lucky that we have another way to make money."

Could please don't destroy follow in Norm Macdonald's footsteps and release a killer sketch comedy album of their own some day?

"I don't know," Higgins says, a bit taken aback. "We're talking about maybe doing something with the tour, but we're not sure yet."

"But it's a good idea, though," Marshall says, encouragingly.

"It is a good idea," Higgins confirms.

"If you'd like to join the team as a creative consultant of sorts," Marshall says invitingly (and perhaps desperately), "we'd love to have you."

Latest Coverage