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SNL Was Laughworthy Despite Low Ratings

Both sides seem to have lost their sense of humor.

I watched “Saturday Night Live” last weekend for the first time in a great while. It isn’t that I’ve been avoiding SNL, but, as I get older, I find that I watch less television. There are just more interesting things to do than sit in front of the tube. This past weekend, however, I was waiting up for my teenage son so I decided to watch the season premiere of SNL. My reaction was that it was a funny show.

The season premiere was hosted by Woody Harrelson and the musical guest was Billie Eilish. I’ve enjoyed Harrelson’s work off and on since “Cheers.” As for Eilish, I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever hearing of her before, but I have always primarily viewed the musical interludes as an opportunity to go the bathroom and/or refill my drink.  She did fine though.

As you’d expect, the show started with a dig at President Trump. I mean, honestly, how could a show like SNL avoid taking on the biggest scandal of the week that features a president that is a ripe target for satire? Alec Baldwin reprised his role as Donald Trump in an amusing cold open skit that featured everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Ray Donovan (who I also didn’t know but the context was easy to figure out), Kim Jong Un, and Kanye West.

Despite the claims that SNL only targets Republicans, the show also skewered the Democrats with an “impeachment town hall” skit that hit the presidential candidates. Beto spoke “eighth grade Spanish,” Corey Booker left early “to beat the traffic,” Marianne Williamson planned to trap Trump in a crystal, Buttigieg waffled on pronunciation of his name, and Elizabeth Warren described herself as a “school librarian” with the “energy of a mother of five boys who all play different sports.” Maya Rudolf drew acclaim for her portrayal of Kamala Harris as an actress shilling for a television crime drama and repeatedly exclaiming, “That was me.” But that isn’t the best party. Larry David returned as Bernie “I’m back to ruin things a second time!” Sanders, a curmudgeon who cannot program his television remote.

Harrelson stole the skit with his portrayal of daffy Joe Biden, however. One of my favorite lines of the night was Harrelson’s complaining in Biden’s persona, “I’m like plastic straws. I’ve been around forever, I’ve always worked, and now you’re mad at me.”

After enjoying the show, I was surprised to learn today that the SNL premiere came in a bit lower in the ratings than the show’s premiere last year and below average for last year’s episodes. It was, however, a higher rating than for last year’s season finale for 18-49-year-olds.

My guess is that there are several reasons for this. One is our tribal political environment. SNL has become identified as a liberal show and now conservatives are apparently supposed to root for bad ratings and the show’s demise. It seems that we can’t laugh at our own side anymore even though our own side is eminently mockable at the moment.

Sometimes that’s understandable. Comedy has to contain a grain of truth to be funny. Often these days, comics take the low road and simply go for applause and moral superiority by making political statements instead of jokes, i.e. “F-ck Trump” or “Trump is a racist.” That’s not funny. However, the cold open on Saturday night was different. It did caricature Trump and others, but it did so in a way that was close enough to the truth to be funny. The same treatment was applied to the Democrats.

Both sides seem to have lost their sense of humor. The left is comprised of humorless scolds who police jokes for biases and stereotypes that must be atoned for, a tendency that was lampooned in Harrelson’s monologue. The right venerates Donald Trump to a degree that it cannot see the humor in a man whose Twitter feed often seems to be more of a caricature than the SNL script.

For another thing, American culture and society are so drenched in politics that we need a break. When a political lens is applied to every issue under the sun, viewers might not want to hear another hour-and-a-half of political humor late on Saturday night.

Maybe the disappointing ratings were just a factor of unseasonably warm weather that made it attractive to be outside rather than in front of the television. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

I hope that the rest of the season is as funny as this weekend’s episode. I grew up watching SNL and laughing at the political jibes. The show was especially relevant in election years with its mockery of debates for both parties. For some reason, whenever I think of SNL politics, I think of Democrat Paul Simon thinking, “I really scored big with the bow tie” back during the 1992 election.

For much of the time that I’ve watched SNL, it has been trendy to say that the show isn’t as good as it used to be. Maybe that’s true. Adam Sandler, Dana Carvey (whose impression of Bush-41 made the president a fan), and Mike Myers were hard to beat. Not to mention Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd, and John Belushi. But I’ll bet that most of the people who say that probably never watch the show. The skits have always been hit or miss with some that flop and some that turn into comedy gold. One of my favorite SNL skits, “David Pumpkins,” came from the 2016 season.

A good part of the rating slump may be that Republicans don’t want to tune in to watch Donald Trump being ridiculed. If they can’t stand to see Trump roasted, that is their choice, but if they don’t watch, they’ll miss more really funny stuff that mocks the left as well, such as the faux ad for Levi’s “Wokes” jeans from two years ago.

My advice would be to not take your politics so seriously that you can’t laugh at people who should be laughed at. Maybe laughing at ourselves as well as the opposition can help bring us back together as a nation.

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