Saturday Night Live ran a fake ad for a Christmas service. And it was funny! After a typically weak season opener, the cast has begun to get its groove. Here’s the extreme ad for “St. Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular!”
Yes, usually SNL plays it safe by appealing to New Yorkers’ provincial political and religious views. But this parody works because of its universal appeal. Most Americans are Christian. I know! Shut the front door! You wouldn’t get this from the Gorillas in the Mist treatment we get from much of mainstream media or the general lack of focus on religion in our shared culture. But it’s true. Pew came out with a poll just this week that noted three-quarters of U.S. adults believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Many of us see Christmas as one of the great holy days of the year, centered around going to church.
Some people focus more on Christmas Eve, some more on Christmas Day — and some of us do both, of course — but this is one well-attended week. The SNL parody begins with a joke about how you’re going to go to church with your parents for the first time in a year. But then it quickly morphs into humor for the rest of us. Poking fun at a teenager going through an atheist phase and under-enthusiastic and over-enthusiastic lay readings.
Jokes about hapless organists, exuberant soloists, sharing the peace with sweaty dudes, the “rows and rows of little Filipino ladies you’ve never seen before.” These are things familiar to most Americans who go to church.
It’s remarkably subtle, too. There’s a line about “the softest pastor joke followed by the softest parishioner laugh.” It cuts to the pastor (who is wearing the wrong colored stole but that’s OK) saying something about “the wise man had to follow the North star for three weeks … and back then they didn’t have Mapquest.” Then you see a parishioner make a really slight laugh (pictured at top). I have no idea why this is so funny but it is.
Anyway, the whole point is that SNL made a great commercial that is almost certainly enjoyed more by the majority of Americans who actually get what going to church is like than the group that doesn’t.
In the same way that Portlandia is funny because it’s written by people who clearly like the city, this SNL parody works because it was written by someone who at least seems to understand what congregational life is like. Well done.