Has SNL’s political satire lost its edge?

By Seth Tamarkin, Contributing Writer

Millions of Americans were shocked and dismayed the Tuesday night they saw Donald Trump get elected, and seemingly no one could make sense of such an awful development.

Fortunately, there was one TV show that heard the call and rose to the challenge of satirizing this terrible event: Saturday Night Live.

For its premiere episode, host Dave Chappelle was in top form, cast member Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impression was sharper than ever, and Chris Rock even dropped in for a sketch skewering arrogant liberals who were convinced Hillary could never lose. The program was as good as it had been in years, and many Americans were able to laugh at the election for the first time. Then the following week, Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression was reintroduced.

The problem isn’t Alec Baldwin himself, although his impression is lame, but the quality of the writing that suffers when recent sketches focus on Trump, and a lot of them do.

President Donald Trump has become such a surreal laughing-stock that the show doesn’t know how to address the topics cleverly. Often, the sketches just involve the cast acting out Trump’s actions almost word for word with tiresome pop culture references dropped in in lieu of stinging punchlines.

Take this year’s premiere for example, where a cold open of Donald Trump calling the San Juan mayor played out almost entirely like the real event, save for Baldwin’s note that the conditions on the island were “despacito.” Get it? Because despacito is the name of the number 1 hit song this past summer…and that’s it. A minute later, Kate McKinnon arrives as Jeff Sessions to sit on Trump’s lap to show his loyalty, which comes off as more awkward than funny.  Finally, the bit ends with Trump leaving Sessions to have lunch with Democrat Chuck Schumer instead because they both like New York.

That’s the whole joke, which might be funny if Trump’s agenda wasn’t clearly inspired by the worst Republicans in Congress. As for Alex Muffot’s Schumer impression, there was nothing in it that appeared as if he was just playing him straight and forgot he should be going for laughs.

Part of the reason why SNL has gotten so predictable is that they play it safe almost weekly with a Trump sketch that always plays out the same way. Alec Baldwin portrays Trump as a babbling idiot but not much else, a cast member plays one of his embattled staff with a funny accent, and then the sketch abruptly ends with a reference to a recent event. It seems the president complaining on Twitter about SNL’s treatment of him has really gotten to their egos, because many of the sketches feel like they’re trying to offend Trump more than trying to make a hilarious episode.

The most ridiculous aspect of Saturday Night Live’s constant roasting of the President is that they enabled him earlier than any other late-night show when they let him host an entire episode of the show back in 2015.

This was already months after Trump declared that Mexicans were rapists and years after claiming Obama was born in Kenya, yet they were fine giving him outrageous sketches like dancing to ‘Hotline Bling’ and calling it a day.

On top of that, the last time Saturday Night Live even had an actively running presidential candidate host the show was back in 2003 with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders appeared in many sketches, but letting Trump get a whole episode to himself normalized his behavior to millions of Americans.

Last year, Donald Trump complained about the show in one of his many Twitter rants, calling it “boring and unfunny”. And after watching the tired Trump satire just last week, I may have to agree with the worst president of all time for once.


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