New York: I do mind laughing

When Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump was announced as being the host of Saturday Night Live in early October, the progressive Internet ignited with indignation. Deport Racism and other Latino advocacy groups flooded feeds with petitions for SNL to “dump trump.”

Whereas Saturday Night Live has had a long history of presidential candidates hosting (from George McGovern to Al Sharpton to John McCain), they’ve never featured a candidate so polarizing.

But that was the idea, wasn’t it?

Donald Trump is a bonafide ratings machine. Without his smug “sorry-not-sorry” attitude and the perception that he’s “telling it like it is” propelling his poll numbers, the first two Republican debates wouldn’t have pulled down record breaking numbers. It makes sense that the producers of SNL would want a little bit of that Trump magic for themselves. Frankly, his qualities in the abstract can make for some good comedy. Who didn’t chortle (if uncomfortably) at Trump’s absurdity during the debate?

I’m a Saturday Night Live “lifer,” through the best years and the “worst.” I can’t even acknowledge the “worst” years without putting quotes around the word “worst,” that’s how much I love SNL.

I remember watching Sandler and Farley with my mom when I was 5 and laughing at the funny accents and the men falling down. Norm MacDonald’s Bob Dole was the first piece of political satire I was able to appreciate. When Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney of Good Neighbor (“wait, who?”) were added to the cast in 2013, my friends and I felt like our buddies had hit the big time, like it was our generation’s time to mold the show into our likeness.

I was fully prepared to set my politics aside and laugh this past Saturday, but what unfolded on screen during that hour-and-a-half was too deeply perturbing to enjoy. I feel, given my loyalty to the show, that I am most qualified to perform the following autopsy.

Abuse as “quirk”

John McCain famously played to his age when he appeared on SNL and Al Gore played to how boring and litigious he can be. Both of these men managed to come off as somewhat endearing, as they themselves were the butt of their own jokes. Trump’s opening monologue tried to play with the public’s perception of him as a self-centered bully, but he took aim at others rather than himself.

Saying he has “nothing better to do” than host SNL, he went on to comedically confuse plus-sized cast member Aidy Bryant for Rosie O’Donnell who he, in the past, referred to as a “fat pig” among other slurs.

“Rosie said some things about me that were hurtful and untrue, I said some things about her that were mean but completely accurate.”

This could have played well for Trump had Rosie O’Donnell actually come out and sparred with him and maybe taken him down a notch, but why would she want to? Why would he want her to? Trump actually attacked her and he meant what he said.

I don’t think you can turn a serious candidate into a playful parody when they’re already an ugly parody of themselves. Trump basks in the recesses of his character, the shadowy part that all the other Republican candidates hide or deny. When an impersonator does it, it can be funny. When he does it, it comes off as an uncomfortable admission of guilt.

I laugh at how terrible a person he is on the debates, at his absurdist comments about and to women/immigrants, but now I’m supposed to laugh with him for the same reason?

The premise of the next sketch was “what if Donald Trump was president and everything happened exactly as he said it would”? ISIS is eliminated and all the Syrian refugees have jobs as blackjack dealers in the Trump Casino in Damascus, China is now borrowing money from us, and the President of Mexico shows up with a check “for the wall”.

It was then that the first groan of the night came from the audience when Trump thanked the President of Mexico for turning Univision to “all English for me”.

Again, if Taran Killam had delivered that line then it could have been funny because it acknowledges and pokes fun of the dark and scary parts of Trump’s true character. When Trump does it, the layer abstraction that keeps us safe is gone and Trump is acknowledging his own terrifying absurdity. This guy wants to be President.

The theme continues throughout the night. The premise of one sketch is that he acknowledges at the beginning that he won’t be in it, and says he’ll instead livetweet the sketch as it unfolds. His tweets appear in the lower portion of the screen and they play on the fact that he has an abhorrent and petty Twitter personality. He calls the cast members everything from “stupid” to “slobs,” and then infers that one of the cast members, Kenan Thompson, wasn’t born in the United States.

“Sorry folks, but add a ‘y’ to Kenan and you get ‘Kenyan’,” one of his tweets reads.

Soooo, are we supposed to laugh because Donald Trump is so uncreatively mean? Or that he still maintains that the President was born out of the country? Or because to think so would be silly? Or because Kenan Thompson is Black and the President is Black?

If we’re not sure who or what we’re supposed to be laughing at then chances are we won’t be laughing at all. I wasn’t laughing, and the audience was groaning once more.

The worst moment of the night came when Sia was being introduced for her second musical performance of the evening. Donald Trump was about to set her up when Kenan Thompson dressed in dreads walks into the frame and introduces himself as Toots from Toots and the Maytals, the musical guest the last time Trump hosted back in 2004.

Toots bugs Donald about running for president and says that the musical guest is kind of like the Vice President of the show. The bit culminates when Donald Trump tells Toots “you know I carry a gun, right”? Toots then walks away quickly.

What is funny about this? That Donald is unafraid to shoot people for no reason? A black man, no less.

A hopeful conspiracy

It’s hard to say this with no proof, and I know I’m not necessarily supposed to speculate, but I can hope in my heart of hearts that the writers at SNL sabotaged this show. Effectively, they succeeded, whether on purpose or not. The show was terribly unfunny. The only sketches that elicited my laughter were the ones where Donald Trump was absent and, again, I was prepared to laugh.

Every sketch took the worst parts of Trump’s personality and had Trump himself perform them in an amplified way. It reminded us of how shallow and fragile his ego is and about how he treats those who aren’t like him. Was he just too vain to notice it?

Photo: SNL


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.