Taran Killam used to dress up as Jim Carrey for Halloween. Last year, he performed a skit he wrote with Carrey on “Saturday Night Live,” something he never thought he’d get to do.
While attending UCLA in 2000, Killam auditioned regularly for various acting jobs and ended up landing a role on “MADtv,” causing him to take time off from school to pursue acting.
Two years ago, “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels came to see a show at the L.A. improv company the Groundlings, where Killam trained; Michaels flew out four of the performers to audition, Killam included. Killam was called back once but didn’t land the role, and said he went a year thinking he didn’t get the job.
“The following summer, out of the blue the show called. They said they were flying me back out, and I auditioned again, and (the) third time was a charm,” Killam said.
Killam first appeared as an “SNL” cast member on Sept. 25 of last year; Amy Poehler hosted the episode. Killam said that performing live and reading cue cards that are constantly changing helps him grow confidently as an actor.
“You have to go with the flow and change in a moment’s notice. It’s something different every week,” Killam said.
Killam said his favorite sketch so far was performing with his comedic idol, Jim Carrey; they acted out parts of amusement park rides that came to life and scared guests.
“For me, Jim Carrey is probably the single person who’s had the greatest comedic influence on me. It was very dream-like,” Killam said.
Before Killam became part of “SNL,” he trained with the Groundlings for six years to help improve his sketch writing and performance skills.
Before all of that, though, Killam was admitted to UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television as a musical theater student, and said he spent much of his time working on UCLA’s Theater Festival, during which students create and perform sketches.
Although Killam left UCLA to pursue his acting career, he said his good friend Mikey Day continued to include him in sketches. He said he enjoyed keeping in touch with the people he met at school and continued to participate in their performances.
Killam and Day met at UCLA and became good friends, both landing a role on Nick Cannon’s MTV improvisational comedy game show, “Wild ‘N Out,” where they got to share instances of their inside jokes that failed to reach their audience.
“We’d reference Ninja Turtles and people would be confused,” Day said.
Killam was featured on “Wild ‘N Out” for its last two seasons and said he enjoyed working with his best friend.
“We got to rap with Snoop Dogg, and not many people can say that they have done that,” Day said.
While studying with the Groundlings, Killam worked on outside projects and was featured on “Scrubs,” “How I Met Your Mother” and the Disney Channel’s “Stuck in the Suburbs.”
Karen Maruyama, who worked with Killam while he was with the Groundlings, said that Killam’s creative writing talents always allowed him to bring something to the stage. She remembered one skit Killam wrote, in which a newly single girl is bombarded with songs about breakups on the radio.
“Taran always takes really quirky ideas and puts a spin on them,” Maruyama said.
Although Killam is now in New York working on “SNL,” and has a child with fiancee Cobie Smulders of “How I Met Your Mother,” when he is back in Los Angeles he visits the Groundlings and makes special appearances.
“He’s a very visible presence, so I think he appreciates the Groundlings for what he’s done for them and what he’s learned,” Maruyama said.
Although Killam was only at UCLA for a year, he said his time at the university contributed to his success as an actor. He said he cherishes the opportunities and the facilities that were available to him during his time here.
“There’s always a small part of me that wishes I had been able to finish there,” Killam said.