The Saturday after the election I was looking forward to seeing Saturday Night Live and the sketches related to election night or the days after. I turned the channel in disappointment because it was a repeat. This past Saturday night I was hoping again for a new post election episode. I got my wish, but it left me sorely disappointed and convinced that the show needs new writers.
I watched SNL before it became a hit again during the primaries and general election. I had my favorite sketches: Magruber; Kristin Wiig as Suze Orman or Penelope; and the woman who loves surprises; Fred Armisen as Nicholas Fehn, political comedian, to name a few. There were others I didn’t like, but I continued to watch. Of course I loved most of the election related sketches. I think we can all agree that the events of this election cycle were ripe with material, making the writing easy and delightful, I imagine. Now that the election is over, SNL is not doing much to keep their audience. Saturday, the show opened with a sketch of Joe Biden as gaffe machine but it fell flat. Many of the other sketches were ridiculous and gross. I know these can be ingredients for great satirical comedy, but this time, not so much.
As others have noted, they didn’t quite parody Barack Obama with enough nuance to make him funny. Fred Armisen did as good a job as he could do. Standing alone, his imitation just wasn’t that funny. I laughed because of the context of the sketches that included the other characters, McCain, Hilary, etc. It has been said that many comedians go soft when making fun of Barack Obama for fear of being called racist. A lof of them avoid jokes about him all together. There is a great article about this from theroot.com: Why White Comics Don’t Get Barack. I agree that SNL and other shows like The Daily Show and Colbert Report need to hire some black writers to bring nuance to these parodies instead of relying on the old, played out stereotypes of black people. I would venture even further to say that they should recruit more minorities as actors. Kenan Thompson does a pretty good job on SNL, though I am tired of this brother playing stereotypical black women. I miss Maya Rudolph and hope she comes back. Hiring more diverse writers and actors won’t guarantee success as you’ll see below in my assessment of two shows with black lead hosts.
This discussion reminds me of an experience I had in seminary. I decided to join the cast of Theologiggle, an annual parody of life at Princeton Theological Seminary. I’d seen past productions and, while they were comical, it was obvious that adding more diversity would speak to more people’s experiences there, or at least make an attempt. I dropped out after one or two practices. While the sessions were fun at times, I just didn’t feel comfortable. We did a lot of improvisation to begin with and I always felt so exposed whenever I spoke. I did get a laugh with my Stevie Wonder impersonation.
CNN’s attempt at satirical humor is a disappointment. D.L. Hughley Breaks the News doesn’t quite do it for me. D. L. is better when he abandons the comedy behind and interviews his guests. His comedy leaves much to be desired. I don’t know. The jokes seems forced, and rely on stereotypes to get the laugh. I think it is telling that his show is not listed under programs on CNN’s website. I doubt if the show will last past one season. I have continued watching though. Comedy Central has added a show, Chocolate News with David Allen Grier, of the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert variety, but from a black perspective. I’ve only seen clips and wasn’t impressed with this one either. I miss Dave Chapelle’s show and the oldy but goody, In Living Color, from the 90s.