He’s playing his cards right.
For the past 30 years, Wally Feresten has been writing and holding the off-camera script cards for America’s top performers on “Saturday Night Live” — and now, regular folks are engaging his services too.
With the hugely popular sketch show on hiatus due to COVID-19, the enterprising, temporarily unemployed Feresten has launched a side hustle, Cue Cards by Wally, producing customized, autographed cards with unique messages.
And die-hard “SNL” fans are scooping them up at $55 a pop.
“I thought of the idea last summer, but launching the business during the coronavirus lockdown made perfect sense,” the 54-year-old, of Livingston, NJ, told The Post. “I wanted to bring a little light relief and joy into people’s lives.”
The most-asked-for message is the “SNL” opening catchphrase, “Live from New York!,” with the client’s hometown often substituted for the Big Apple. Feresten has had more than 200 orders so far, usually to commemorate a birthday, anniversary, graduation — and, in the case of one buyer, to successfully propose marriage.
Feresten’s customers include Todd Dubois, currently living in Cleveland, who ordered the standard 14-by-22-inch cardboard cue card to mark Mother’s Day for his wife, Jennifer Walsh.
The message in Wally’s distinctive capital-letter handwriting reads: “Live from Rock Bottom. It’s the night we met. Todd and Jennifer. March 5, 2003.” Rock Bottom is the brewery and restaurant chain in Arlington, Va., where the couple first set eyes on each other.
“That night, we bonded over our love of ‘SNL,’ so I thought it’d be cool to give Jennifer something connected to the show,” said Dubois, 42. Sadly, the couple was forced to abandon plans to see John Krasinski host the show in March when live tapings were canceled due to the pandemic.
“Wally’s customized cue card made up for the disappointment,” said mom of two Walsh, 42, with a laugh.
The cue-card impresario, who is so successful he now owns his own company and can delegate work to some 20 employees, landed the “SNL” gig in the fall of 1990. It came after his well-connected older brother, Spike, who wrote the famed Soup Nazi episode for “Seinfeld,” heard of an opening there.
“I asked if he’d put me forward, but he said he hadn’t because of my terrible penmanship,” joked Feresten, who had originally planned to produce comedy for TV himself. “I said, ‘Well, at least let them be the judge.’ ”
He was hired on a trial basis. His first assignment was holding cards for a Mike Myers and Kyle MacLachlan “Sprockets” sketch — a test he passed.
While his handwriting has become neater, he maintains that the timing, flipping and positioning of the cards are the most important skills. “You have to keep them at eye level and move around the camera effortlessly,” said Feresten, who juggles anywhere from 30 to 75 cards for each sketch. “It’s almost like performing a ballet.”
During his three decades on “SNL,” he has become friendly with everyone from John Goodman to Charles Barkley, Alec Baldwin to Betty White.
He even helped prepare actress Lara Flynn Boyle for her hosting stint. “She told me she was dyslexic, colorblind and nearsighted,” he recalled. “It meant rehearsing the lines in the dressing room before each sketch. And, instead of wearing my usual black like everyone else in the crew, I put on a red T-shirt so I’d stand out and she could spot me more easily.”
Cast members who also gave Wally a run for his money included the late Chris Farley, who refused to wear glasses or contact lenses and required “really big lettering” on his cards.
Despite such challenges, “I’ve enjoyed every second,” Feresten says. “I’d never have lived the life I have without doing cue cards.”
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