“Saturday Night Live” employs some of the best comedy writers and performers in show business. Donald Trump, love him or hate him, is probably the best fodder for comedy American politics has produced in recent memory. Naturally, you would expect “SNL” to mine the Trump presidency for smart satire with great success. But that’s not really happening.
A sketch that aired last Saturday helps explain the problem. At one point in the episode, the women of “SNL” performed a version of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” modified to beg Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his report on Trump before the holiday.
Apart from serving as a reminder of how weak the show’s backbench of female talent is (save for Heidi Gardner so far), the song inspired more cringes than laughs. Standing before an illuminated portrait of Mueller, they implored him to release his findings, anticipating it would bring them “cheer” and “fun.” (There was a good JonBenét Ramsey line, but that was about it.) The whole performance was forced, partisan, and obsessive, but not really self-aware. You can watch the sketch here.
Every time a Trump-centric “SNL” bit flops I return to the episode Dave Chappelle hosted immediately after the president was elected. “Election Night” is still the show’s best political work of the Trump era— and not because it mocked Hillary Clinton supporters instead of the right— but because it was a fleeting moment of self-awareness.
It’s perfectly fine for “SNL” to slant leftward. But the show has reacted to Trump by shifting gears from leaning left to leaning fully into Democratic partisanship. Without the element of self-awareness, “SNL’s” plea to Mueller looked like a group of socially awkward College Democrats got a little crazy on Franzia and tried to win a local talent show.
In comedy, self-deprecation is a key byproduct of self-awareness. But there is virtually no serious self-deprecation in partisan politics, because self-deprecation cedes points to your opponent.
Dedicating “All I Want For Christmas Is You” to Mueller would be funny if it satirized the left’s feverish obsession with his investigation. The women seemed to poke fun at themselves a couple of times in the song, but the overall message was clearly sincere: Mueller is their last hope. They failed to see the humor in their own hyperbole, and instead came across as a mediocre DNC warm-up act.
Political partisanship runs on BS, and comedians are our most valuable BS detectors. “SNL” wouldn’t be funny as an avowedly pro-Trump show either. If the left can’t get a grip enough to at least wring some decent satire out of this bizarre era in our politics, it’ll be a missed opportunity of historic proportions.