Talk about a fish out of water.
Michael Phelps steps out of his chlorinated comfort zone to host the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, treading the same stage where his comedy idol Chris Farley once got big laughs.
The swimmer who won a record-setting eight gold medals at last month’s Olympics has been riding a pop culture wave since Beijing, making the rounds of the TV talk shows, presenting at MTV’s Video Music Awards and being gossiped about in the tabloids.
Phelps follows in the athletic footsteps of such jocks as LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan, who also hosted NBC’s late-night sketch show.
“I was a little nervous coming into this whole thing, but I’ve actually started to get really, really excited,” Phelps said Thursday on a conference call from New York. “I’m definitely looking forward to Saturday. This is a completely new experience for me, but something that is going to be pretty fun.”
He hopes to connect by phone with Ashton Kutcher for some comedy tips, having met the actor’s wife, Demi Moore, at the VMAs, where she offered help.
Hosting the show’s 34th season opener has made Phelps the envy of his friends. Swimming rival Ryan Lochte may be particularly jealous because the show’s musical guest is Lil’ Wayne, Lochte’s favorite rapper and someone Phelps likes, too.
Lochte said earlier this week that he plans to call Phelps and “make fun of him. I have to.”
He said he heard that someone would be playing him on the show.
“I don’t know if that’s going to go good or bad,” Lochte said.
Natalie Coughlin, a teammate of Phelps and Lochte, suggested that cast member Andy Samberg could play Lochte.
Among the sketches under consideration for the 90-minute show are ones involving his mother, Debbie, the skintight body suit he swims in, and his eight gold medals.
“Anything you can imagine, they nailed just about every topic,” Phelps said of the show’s writers.
He laughed at a suggestion that he’ll take off his shirt to reveal his rock-hard abs.
“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “It’s all in good fun. I’m along for the ride.”
Taking the stage alone for the opening monologue worries Phelps more than stepping on the starting block in China did.
“I’m more nervous doing this than I was swimming in Beijing,” he said. “But after readthroughs, I started getting into it and started warming up. I felt completely confident today.”
That doesn’t mean Phelps should leave his watery world for show biz, though.
“There’s no question about him getting it and being funny and knowing what to do,” said Lorne Michaels, the show’s executive producer. “He’s certainly not going to be a professional sketch player, but I think he’ll do just fine.
“No matter what happens they can’t take those medals away.”
Phelps is usually in bed when “SNL” airs because of his heavy training schedule. But former “SNL” stars Farley and David Spade were in his favorite movie, “Tommy Boy,” about a dimwitted heir to an auto parts factory who must save the business.
“I’ve always been a huge, huge Chris Farley fan, and Adam Sandler as well,” Phelps said.
Publicly, Phelps is a well-mannered, respectful young man, making him popular among the mothers of teenage girls who swoon over him. Privately, the 23-year-old sensation says he’s one of the most sarcastic among his friends.
“You don’t see it very often,” he said.
Whether Phelps has the timing to tell a funny joke or the facial expressions so vital in comedy remains to be seen, but he won’t be overwhelmed by nerves.
“I can easily adapt myself to pretty much everything,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to having fun.”