Elon Musk’s turn at the helm of “Saturday Night Live” was awkward, but highly rated. For “SNL’s” flailing staff, there are some useful lessons to be drawn from the episode they didn’t want to touch.
Think about this: “SNL’s” ratings are climbing as Donald Trump is fading into the background of our daily news. It’s incredibly counterintuitive. Their poor ratings are actually improving in the absence of the most hilarious and controversial president in the show’s lifetime.
We covered “SNL’s” failure to convert the Trump-era into comedy for years. The show is obviously aware of the problem. The rapid intensification of political correctness induced by the left’s anti-Trump hysteria accelerated their inability to make good comedy, narrowing their creative boundaries and deepening their partisan loyalties.
The first lesson of the Musk show should be that it’s perfectly fine for comedians to roast perceived villains. “Humanizing” them is not necessarily the same as boosting them, as Jimmy Fallon’s critics complained when he ruffled Trump’s hair or Lorne Michaels’ critics complained when Trump hosted the show during his presidential run.
Done correctly, match-ups like Musk’s with “SNL” can function as more of a roast, reinforcing legitimately problematic traits. It’s true, such appearances can add dimension to the persona of someone like Musk, showing him nervous and awkward or self-deprecating and loose. But, again, that’s not necessarily the same as giving him a boost. The problem is that insulated media leftists don’t trust the public enough to let them render their own judgment.
That brings us to “SNL’s” writers. While challenging, the opportunity to write for Musk should be extremely stimulating for people in the most coveted jobs in comedy. Mock him, roast him, deftly expose this powerful billionaire to the public.
While Saturday’s episode drew eyeballs, the final product was characteristically lacking. Musk is hardly a professional performer but the writing sucked. That’s been true all season, even if they’ve managed some flares of brilliance. If you pay attention to the stand-up scene, you’ll also know the ever-stricter new guidelines of political correctness have bred some truly terrible comedians in recent years, some of whom are rewarded for their bad work for political reasons. This is probably infecting the writer’s room with chronic unfunniness too.
From 30,000 feet, Saturday’s episode helpfully illustrates “SNL’s” woes in this era of sensitivity. Comedians should be anxious for the cultural fray. Today, the show’s cast and writers are scared of it and too partisan to explore it honestly. They dance around the edges of our culture, cowering when they should pounce and stumbling on the few occasions they actually try to mix it up. The public, on the other hand, is eager for the catharsis that comes with satire.
This fraught era inspired, and continues to inspire, some fantastic comedy. Virtually none of it ends up on “SNL.”