In times of crisis, we often find ourselves looking for guidance. Specifically, guidance from some disembodied cultural power, because God knows none of us in the real world have any idea how to fix our problems. One way we do this is through comedy. Many people depend on comedy to reaffirm what they already know to be true: that the system is broken and the institutions that control our lives have failed to justify their existence. But what happens when comedy becomes an institution in and of itself?
“Saturday Night Live” is the longest-running sketch comedy show in American television history, and for this reason it has accumulated a great deal of cultural capital over the forty-plus-year span of its existence. Everybody from middle-aged journalists to Williamsburg-dwelling improv nerds to plucky college kids like yours truly can find something to like about “SNL.” However, in a show with such a voluminous output as “SNL” there’s bound to be more than a few clunkers in the bunch.
In fact, some – including yours truly – would even say that the clunkers far outweigh the classics. For every great sketch, there’s a dozen more that have been rightfully consigned to the dustbin of comedy history.
The rise and painfully slow fall of the Trump administration has spurred “SNL” and its production team into a frenzy of what is intended to be earnest and thought-provoking political comedy. You’ve probably seen more than a fair share of Alec-Baldwin-as-Trump clips being ferried around social media, but have you ever watched one long enough to realize “hey, they’re just making fun of Trump for being lazy and stupid instead of calling out the system that produced him?”
When change seems far from forthcoming, the least we can do is appoint someone wise and wry to lead us through to less-dark days. And, personally, I’m not comfortable assigning that responsibility to a bunch of white guys who graduated from Ivy League schools and a handful of kids whose parents were rich enough that they could afford weekly classes at Upright Citizens Brigade. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, an actually good satirist, “Every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turned out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.” I think I speak for us all when I say that, as we hurdle forward into an uncertain future, we need to throw fewer custard pies and more cinderblocks. And as it stands, the people at “SNL” aren’t even bothering to throw custard pies: they’re gently lobbing Twinkies at Earth-annihilating fascism.