For those unfamiliar with the show, Saturday Night Live (SNL) is an American late-night sketch show. The show is known for its combination of quirky original skits and those parodying or commenting on pop culture and current events. Each weekly episode is led by a guest host, who delivers an opening monologue and subsequently participates in some of the sketches.
On the Saturday just gone, Donald Trump hosted the show aaaaand it was a disaster. That’s today’s blog- what went wrong on Saturday and the problem with political hosts of a late-night Sketch show.
Last Saturday’s episode of SNL didn’t start off well. Donald’s monologue was four minutes of ego-inflation. He dismisses the hosting gig as something he took on as “had nothing better to do” and sets up a lame gag about his long-stand feud with Rosie O’Donnell. Then, to show that he can “take a joke”, he invites two cast members on stage with him, both of whom have portrayed Trump in the sketches and came onto stage dressed the same way as Trump. The monologue ends with the SNL production team defusing a potentially difficult situation. Prior to the show, a PAC called DeportRacism.com had offered $5000 to anyone who called Trump a racist during the show. The money was collected by comedian Larry David, who appeared in the cold open prior to the monologue as Bernie Sanders.
Trump was only in the 90 minute program for 12 minutes, which equated to his monologue and a few sketches. The first sketch was set in the Oval Office in 2018, with Trump as President and cast members portraying his staff and essentially telling him how good the last two years had been, what he had achieved etc. The problem is that this isn’t a parody or satire; this is just a bunch of comic performers sitting around affirming the beliefs of Trump and his supporters. The skit falls even flatter when Trump invites his real life daughter, Ivanka, into the skit. No-one actually knows who she is, which is awkward because Trump had paused to allow for applause when she came on. At the end of the sketch, Trump ‘steps out’ and just talks to the camera, telling the people of America while yes, the things said in the sketch are great, WHEN he is elected, it will be even better than all the hyperbolic stuff we have just sat through for the last few minutes.
The other sketch featured a ‘sub-par’ SNL sketch about a couple dining at an Italian restaurant which is run by a married couple who hate one another. However, Trump did another ‘to camera’ and explained he was too busy to be in the sketch and was instead going to live tweet it. The ‘joke’ of the sketch is that he is just been to the five actors in the sketch. While this was obviously an attempt to make fun of Trump’s outrageous Twitter presence but, to anyone with a brain, was just another example of Trump being mean (A pair of tweets goes like this- he makes a comment that he has been told that black cast member Kenan Thompson’s birth certificate is fake and quickly follows up by pointing out that Kenan is only a letter away from Kenyan).
And that’s it. The rest of the show is average, overall forgettable with a decent performance from Sia as the musical guest. But everything with Trump just runs a pseudo-campaign advertisement.
Now, let’s have a look at the SNL’s history of political hosts.
From my research, I found that over the course of fourth-one seasons, SNL has had ten political hosts: Ralph Nader, Julian Bond, Ed Koch, George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Al Gore and Al Sharpton. From the reviews (gleaned from a number of sources), these politician-helmed episodes have received low to average ratings from critics.
Here’s where the problem lies. These men are not funny men; they are politicians who think that appearing on a late-night sketch show on NBC will magically make them look like a cool guy. The thing is that they use their monologue to talk politics or bash their political rivals and then proceed to feature in one or two sketches. The audience opinion of them doesn’t magically change, why would it? For whatever reason a politician has taken the SNL gig, it won’t help that cause. No-one is going to vote for you because you tolerated a few jabs about your career. It’s hilarious when cast members play politicians in skits because they are comic actors; they know how to make the satire bite while keeping the mood light. And god forbid you take the gig after going through a political scandal in an attempt to regain some public credibility. The popular British news-comedy show, Have I Got News for You, are masters at quashing this sort of publicity attempt, see Angus Deayton and Cecil Parkinson for examples. While political hosts of SNL seem to have avoided this, going on a comedy show and talking politics at the audience does nothing for you.
Sure, there have been questionable performances by hosts over the years but politicians fall into their own special category of awkward. And so, if you are an American politician, unless you are willing to make a whole-hearted effort, try to avoid hosting SNL.