When comedy meets politics: has SNL gone too far?

Jagoda Waszkowiak weighs in on Trump's naming of the show as 'total Republican hit job'

Jagoda Waszkowiak
4th March 2019
Image- Flickr- Gage Skidmore https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/

On February 17th, the Sunday after the Saturday Night Live show, Donald Trump attacked the media again calling them the ‘enemy of the people’. He even implied that networks should face ‘retributions’ over being too critical or as he named it: a ‘total Republican hit job'. The question then arises: should prime-time comedy get political?

In my opinion, the Trump era definitely changed the late-night comedy scene, however not as drastically as some describe it. SNL has always been very political. In fact, I see no difference between political bits of 2019 and 2008, when the butt of the joke was not Trump, but Sarah Palin. Only that, Tina Fey was able to do an impression of her without an extensive characterisation. However, the sketch format is identical, as it was also mostly based on recreating news show appearances or press conferences. SNL is still going strong after all of those years because their writers know what they’re doing. They are aware that there is a line they cannot cross. For example, SNL legend Dana Carvey had a taste of the damage that a risky political skit can do. The now iconic skit – then-President Bill Clinton breastfeeding puppies, plummeted the ratings of the ‘The Dana Carvey Show’ and it was cancelled soon after.

The Trump era definitely changed the late-night comedy scene


As McCain’s vice-presidential pick during the presidential race against Obama, Palin was relentlessly made fun of. She wasn’t taken seriously just like Trump, even though she was an actual politician. I am sure, that if McCain has won in 2008, the whole comedy scene would turn into Palin bashing fest, similar to today's. Some claim that Fey’s impression influenced voters and aided Obama’s win. For instance, Mark Dice, a right-wing conspiracy theorist, argued that comedy is camouflage for ‘liberal propaganda’. He brought up an interview with Chevy Chase, another SNL star, who said that Fey’s impression was a deliberate attempt to help Democrats in the race. It is important to point out however that Chase has a shaky reputation, as well as Dice. If it is true, it just aids my argument that SNL has always been openly political, therefore why should it stop? Just because the current administration feels particularly hurt?

Finally, I just want to remind everyone that Trump himself hosted SNL. It was back in November 2015, just over 4 months after announcing his presidential run. If SNL ever got too political, it was then. Therefore, these comments are just another example of Trump’s ego getting hurt while being extremely hypocritical. The president should take into account the impact his comments have. He inspires violence against those he calls ‘the enemy’.

Despite comedy having some influence on voters, it is quite unfair to put it in the same basket as news or political commentary. Comedy should not be held to the same standard and there is no reason it shouldn’t be biased. SNL sketches nowadays point out the absurdity of the current administration and they should be free to do so, as they have always been.

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