Finesse Mitchell Aims High on 'SNL'

Most people never find stardom. But it must be torture getting thisclose to it every Saturday night -- so close you can almost touch it.

Finesse Mitchell (search) is the guy you've seen here and there, over the last two seasons on "Saturday Night Live" -- but whom you still probably couldn't name.

This is the Bubba Crosby of comedy. Crosby is a young, talented and almost-never-used Yankee bench warmer who's had just 17 at-bats this season. If he's lucky, Mitchell has maybe 17 lines of dialogue in an episode.

It's such a strange tweener tier of celebrity. I mean, what's it like being Mitchell -- the guy gets called up to the big leagues, the biggest break in comedy, and he's stuck on the bench?

On behalf of non-famous schlubs everywhere, I had to ask, even if it meant agreeing to sit around and take a beating on Xbox Live by the video game fanatic.

"Really, I'm very grateful to be on the show, no matter how many skits I'm in," says Mitchell, ever the team player. "Getting to work every day with people like Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz, I'm happy to be a part of it."

OK, he won't say it, but I will: The last season of "SNL" was weak.

Will Ferrell has gone off to Hollywood, with Jimmy Fallon right behind him.

The remaining cast is talented, for sure. But OK, we get it -- Sanz does the dumb stoner guy and Seth Meyers does the zinger guy.

Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Mitchell is entering season three, newly promoted to full cast member from "featured player." His top bit last season was as the clueless limo driver who doesn't recognize Paul Giamatti ("You're that Rob Schneider guy, right?")

But he says that after barely registering a semi-recurring character the mouthy Starkisha, he assumed after last season he'd be two and out.

"When you notice that you're in one sketch every show, it gets to you," he said. "You start thinking, well, that's it. I'm done."

Mitchell plans to step it up this year in Monday pitch meetings.

"I've got some new ideas, like 'The Morgan Freeman Show (search),' -- it's a talk show for actors who never get to have sex in their movies."

Last season, Mitchell pitched at least two sketches every week that mostly died in development.

In one he was "Black SpongeBob," but "that was too close to Eddie Murphy's Gumby." Another featured him and fellow cast member Kenan Thompson as lifeguards who can't swim, playing off a racial stereotype.

On the subject of race, Mitchell says his busiest weeks are when Janet Jackson or Queen Latifah host.

"Then maybe I get in six sketches," he jokes, "because Halle Berry needs a boyfriend, or whatever."

So now Mitchell hovers between two strata of celebrity -- he's royalty on the comedy-club circuit but still not landing film roles.

"I audition for everything," he says. " 'Barber Shop,' 'Barber Shop 2,' 'Beauty Shop.' And a week later I'm like, 'Oh, they picked Andre 3000' or, 'Oh, they picked Tyrese.'"

Obviously he fared better at his 2003 "SNL" audition, when he cracked up producer Lorne Michaels with a "Starkisha won't shut up at the movies" routine.

Overnight Mitchell went from "Almost Famous" to "Tantalizingly Close to Famous."

What do you say, Lorne? Put Finesse in the game.