“Saturday Night Live,” now in its 43rd season, is an American pastime. The show has produced incredible talent like Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, as well as classic sketches like those mocking “Celebrity Jeopardy” and the Coneheads. In modern times, the show is probably best known for its political impersonations, with actors portraying Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and, of course, President Trump.
But the show so many Americans once loved may have surrendered its influence, and its humor, to its one-sided political obsession. This only adds to Americans’ frustration that even our weekends, whether on football fields or late-night comedy shows, are becoming increasingly politically divisive. Americans desperately need to laugh and play together, not in separate silos divided by race and politics.
“SNL” has featured an impersonation of President Trump (or a Trump administration associate like Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer or even Steve Bannon) on nearly every episode of the 42nd season. But surely, Trump supporters and opponents alike tire of him eventually. Is there no other material out there?
This is not to say that politics has no place in comedy. To the contrary, humor, as we also see in political cartoons, is sometimes the best way to make a point and open people’s minds to even their own inconsistencies. Censorship or silence is not the answer. Indeed, many comedians, including Jerry Seinfield, have expressed concern at American audiences’ inability to listen to and laugh at politically incorrect jokes. That’s a bad trend.
And of course, the current administration invites attention. The president’s constant tweets and comments often go beyond what’s politically correct or appropriate. It would be absurd for “SNL” or any other outlet for cultural commentary to ignore the president, especially one with such a … dynamic personality. But isn’t the cycle of Trump attacking the media and the media attacking back getting a little old? The feud has become predictable, and thus often un-funny.
“Saturday Night Live” should recognize this and avoid the mistake that other late-night comedy shows have made in allowing an obsession with Trump to remake them. For example, Steven Colbert’s anti-Trump turn might increase ratings and revenues, but it’s not funny and also not good for the country. He’s purged his audience of right-leaning viewers, now appealing only to the #Resistance. And now there’s no hour of the day, no place or activity, where Americans are not divided.
“SNL” is at its best when it mocks both sides of the aisle. Indeed, “SNL” occasionally pokes fun at liberals, as they did last season in their sketch mocking incredulous Millennials as they watched the results from Election 2016, and in their hilarious “Slackivism” video with Louis C.K. Let’s hope for better balance in the 43rd season ahead.
Some of the best sketches of the last season were light on politics altogether. And it’s worth noting that the best episode of the season — starring Tom Hanks — was funny and effective precisely because the political commentary focused on bringing Americans together, not deriding the other side. In “Black Jeopardy,” Hanks played a Trump supporter who, we find out, has much more in common with his fellow contestants (all black) than anyone first thought. We could use more of that, too.
“SNL” has a big stage, and a big platform. Like NFL players, many in the cast likely feel a social responsibility to use that platform for their political causes. That’s admirable and good. But they will be more effective — and more entertaining — if they can connect with people who disagree with them.
Americans of all political stripes need to be able to listen to and even occasionally tell a joke at our own expense. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re boring. If we can’t laugh together, we’re lost. In its coming season, let’s hope the cast of “SNL” will be fair and funny, by focusing on giving all Americans a much-needed laugh.