Saturday Night Live isn’t what it used to be.
SNL used to be a sketch comedy show that launched the careers of brilliant comedic minds and entertainers by pushing the envelop with hilarious, off the wall characters that we could still somehow relate to. Dana Carvey’s Church Lady was over the top and yet we still all knew someone just like her. If you don’t, you might just be the Church Lady.
SNL used to lean heavy on previously unknown comedians and improv actors. The products of their imaginations would be the subjects of many of our conversations for the following week, and in some cases, the rest of our lives. Mike Meyers went from being an oh-by-the-way member of the cast to a worldwide star seemingly overnight because of his idea for a sketch about two rock and roll-loving buddies with their own cable access show.
SNL used to make us laugh, if for no other reason, just for the sake of laughing. Perhaps you remember the days when comedians were okay with being funny instead of always trying to be prophets of rage. There was no point to Matt Foley. Will Ferrell playing the cowbell was no allegory for whatever catastrophe was brewing at the time. It was just really funny people making us laugh.
For the most part, all of that has changed. Instead of making an audience laugh, SNL has settled for preaching to the choir.
I’ve done my fair share of preaching over the years and a lot of that preaching has been directed to the proverbial choir. That’s not always a bad thing. But after a while, it’s just a sign of laziness. When a preacher in the rural south gives a sermon on the importance of the family, he’s preaching to the choir. When he preaches a sermon against racism, he’s going off script. Preaching to the choir gets a lot of Amens. Going off script could cost you your job.
If SNL was a preacher, he stopped going off script about the time that Donald Trump became a serious contender for the presidency. He’s been preaching to the choir ever since.
At no single moment was this more obvious than when Kate McKinnon stepped into her Hillary Clinton character and sang an updated version of Hallelujah. I kept waiting for Kenan Thompson or Kyle Mooney to run out during the song and do something funny. That moment never came. Instead, it was like watching a person sing a song after they had just found out that their god had died.
With few exceptions since then, SNL has turned into a continuous sketch of Alec Baldwin doing a below average Donald Trump impersonation. It’s not that SNL never made fun of presidents. That’s sort of how the show made a name for itself. But, as former SNL cast-member Rob Schneider pointed out to the New York Daily News, “You kind of assumed they would lean more left and liberal, but now the cat's out of the bag they are completely against Trump, which I think makes it less interesting because you know the direction the piece is going.” Even Harry Cheadle, writing for the heavily left-leaning publication Vice agrees. “It's not surprising or even all that notable that SNL would go hard after Trump—the show has parodied every president, some more aggressively than others, since the 70s. But the show has shifted to the point where its politics are indistinguishable from the Democratic Party’s.”
Or to put it another way, they’ve settled for preaching to the choir.
Make no mistake, President Trump does and says a lot that deserves the attention of late night comedy shows like SNL. Regardless of your politics, it’s a good thing that a television show can spend four decades poking fun at presidents. That’s one of the blessings of free speech. But just try to imagine what would happen if the writers at SNL were as aggressive toward Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood as they are toward Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
I’ve got a prediction. The next live episode of SNL will begin with Alec Baldwin impersonating President Trump. No, I’m no comedic genius with a talent in forecasting cultural trends.
It’s just not that hard to spot laziness and preaching to the choir. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll be wrong. Maybe, instead of repeating the platform of the Democratic Party, the opening skit will just be funny. I’m not asking for the return of Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze. Sadly, that can’t happen because both men are gone.
But hopefully the days are not gone when Saturday Night Live could just make us laugh and leave the non-stop politics to the Sunday morning shows.