Dan Crenshaw did not appear on “Saturday Night Live” for the purpose of exacting revenge on Pete Davidson. He did not go to New York City over Veteran’s Day weekend, while preparing for his first term as a congressman, just to mock a twenty-four-year-old comedian who made a bad joke at his expense. He saw an opportunity to do something bigger — a chance to bridge the divide between left and right.
“Saturday Night Live” creator and producer Lorne Michaels personally called Crenshaw to apologize soon after Davidson joked about the former Navy SEAL’s eye patch on last week’s show. Crenshaw may have expected the apology, but he may not have expected the subsequent invitation to appear on the show. He interrupted his post-election schedule for the sake of the good that might come of a Republican congressman agreeing to enter that lion’s den of liberals.
Crenshaw’s appearance was a surprise to viewers of the live show, although the cast of course knew. There hadn’t been much of a public indication of regret over “the joke” from SNL. Kenan Thompson mentioned that his colleague had “definitely missed the mark,” but after a week of apology demands from and enraged public, further discussion of the incident was unexpected.
As a conservative, it has become almost impossible to remain a fan of SNL. The once fun political sketches have morphed into mean-spirited, relentless character attacks. The subtle punchlines of satire have given way to outright accusations of conservative leaders of being evil Nazis and haters of women. Even sketches that were ostensibly non-political seemed to be designed for a deeply leftist echo chamber. After being a lifelong fan of comedy and SNL, I had all but given up.
Something changed this week, though. After an entire season of exhaustive rhetoric intended to humiliate the right, there was a different energy in the early part of the episode. The mean-spirited Trump bashing was kept to an almost acceptable minimum (some of it was even funny), and a singing sketch called “Unity Song” addressed the hostile political division of this country head on, reminding us that we all have little things in common, like a hatred of wet jeans and the word “moist.” Even in comedic form, the positive spirit about uniting the left and right was uplifting.
Last week, SNL and Davidson made a terrible mistake when they mocked Crenshaw, and perhaps the backlash helped them realize that conservative people are still watching their show and that they might even have a sense of humor. The realized that it is possible to be connected on some levels, even if it’s not every level.
On Saturday, SNL’s turn away from divisiveness continued as Davidson issued his apology during the “Weekend Update” segment, citing his “poor choice of words.” He joked a bit, but remained sincere about his remorse, concluding with, “If any good came of this, the left and the right finally came together to agree on something: that I’m a d-ck.” Crenshaw pushed into frame at this point to chime in, “Ya think?” The stunned audience cheered for the veteran as Davidson turned to face him and reiterated his apology. Crenshaw graciously accepted, and shook hands with the comedian.
The two men joked back and forth, with Crenshaw playfully “getting back” at Davidson through a handful of prepared jokes. Initially hesitant about his ability as a performer, Crenshaw was a natural. He seemed like he had been on the show for years, and after a handful of playful jabs at Davidson’s expense, Crenshaw transitioned into the most important moment of his appearance on the show. Looking directly into the camera, he made a serious request of everyone watching the broadcast:
There’s a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the Left and Right can still agree on some things. But also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other. This is Veteran’s Day weekend, which means that it’s a good time for every American to connect with a veteran. Maybe say ‘Thank you for your service.’ But I would actually encourage you to say something else, tell a veteran, ‘Never Forget.’ When you say ‘Never Forget’ to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them – not separated by some imaginary barrier between civilians and veterans – but connected together as grateful fellow Americans who will never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present. And never forget those we lost on 9/11. Heroes like Pete’s father.
He then turned back to Davidson and extended his hand, “So I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.” Davidson repeated the phrase, adding, “And that is from both of us!” Firmly shaking Crenshaw’s hand. The live audience erupted. Even the rarely impressed Weekend Update host, Michael Che, stood up from his seat to show gratitude to Crenshaw for his speech.
The moment was more than just an apology from Davidson and SNL. It was a reckoning for the show that had long made a mockery of people like Crenshaw, and those that support him. It showed that SNL, despite its savagely leftist nature, remembers that it is important to honor veterans — no matter what side of the political aisle you are on.
In his request to banish the division between veterans and citizens, Dan Crenshaw delivered the most touching moment on SNL since Paul Simon shared a stage with the NYFD, NYPD, and Mayor Giuliani while singing “The Boxer” in 2001 following the attacks of 9/11. Davidson was just seven-years-old at the time. His father, a New York City Firefighter, died in service after responding to the attack on The World Trade Center. In his simple gesture of “never forget,” Crenshaw found a way to touch the heart of this nation.
SNL reminded us that they are capable of more than cheap rhetoric intended to humiliate conservatives. By inviting Crenshaw on the show, they made a conscious effort to unite the country, however briefly, and to honor veterans. It was Crenshaw who made the biggest impact, however. With his courage, grace, and humility, he showed us the type of people we need to be to find our way back to each other. He gave us hope that a deeply fractured nation might actually have a fighting chance of coming together.