Brian Williams courtesy NBC
If you've ever seen NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on a late-night talk show, you already know he can be a very funny guy. But does he have the comedy chops for Saturday Night Live? We'll find out on Nov. 3, when he's scheduled to become the first active news anchor to ever host. (NBC News veteran Edwin Newman was retired when he was a host in the mid-'80s.) Williams insists the news still comes first - he won't start SNL rehearsals until after he's finished moderating the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. But The Biz hears that a digital short starring Williams has already been shot. We asked him a few questions about his upcoming gig.

TVGuide.com: So what would Edward R. Murrow say if he knew you were hosting a comedy show?
Brian Williams:
It all has to be taken in context. Saturday Night Live has been an American institution for three decades. It's been the center of the Zeitgeist and trends and has contributed innumerable expressions to our lexicon. It's been hosted by Edwin Newman, Al Gore, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and more serious individuals than I. Edward R. Murrow had a healthy sense of humor.

TVGuide.com: How long has SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels been after you to do this?
Williams:
The first time I realized he was really serious was about two years ago. I can't tell you what a place the show occupies in my family. I wrote for tickets after seeing the first episode. I got tickets in 1977 for the episode hosted by Broderick Crawford, who was smoking and taking oxygen during commercials. I told Lorne that years ago and he said [in a dead-on Michaels impression] "that was roundly considered one of our top-five worst shows in history." I've had a romantic attachment to the show. My wife and I are now raising a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old who watch it with us.

TVGuide.com: You appeared on Weekend Update last year and you mocked yourself admirably.
Williams:
Well thank you. Self-deprecating humor to me is probably the slam dunk of all genres. I love watching people make fun of themselves. I think Americans love it and no one ought to worry that there won't be enough of that.

TVGuide.com: What's your schedule gong to be like? You're still going to be doing NBC Nightly News during the week.
Williams:
Lorne knows work comes first. Nothing can happen until after the debate in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

TVGuide.com: What if a major news story breaks on Thursday or Friday?
Williams:
Then we declare an emergency and that's when people smarter than me get to decide what happens.

TVGuide.com: What if you have to break in with an actual special report during Saturday Night Live? You know you broke in on a Saturday night when Princess Diana died in 1997.
Williams:
I think as communicators we have the ability to be clear to the American people in any exigency.

TVGuide.com: Is there a list of things you will not do or cannot do? Has the news division said you can't dress up like a woman or a gorilla?
Williams:
It's not like that. At the end of the day, by definition we'll have to approve the material. While I fully expect to make a fool of myself, I'm not going to cross a line I myself impose. I should have a good barometer for the material that's acceptable and not. We'll reach an accommodation and an understanding over what material I'm willing to do.

TVGuide.com: Everyone talks about how you're a genuinely funny guy but you don't show that side of yourself on NBC Nightly News.
Williams:
Just today I was in a New York City department store and a woman I did not know heretofore came up to me - I was looking at picture frames - and said, "I understand you're going to host Saturday Night Live." She then said to me without a trace of irony, "Do you have a funny side?" I said, "Ma'am, we'll see."