Anyone who watches Saturday Night Live knows that the lifeblood of the show is its actor/writer’s brilliant impressions of the most recgonizable people in the United States. The writers find something funny about the most visible celebrities and politicians, and incubate the gems until their many audiences (fellow cast members, crew, live audience, second live audience…) can’t help but say “that’s all quite true…that’s funny.” Impressions are the main mode of “funny” on this iconic, one-of-a-kind series.
Episode 7 of Saturday Night Live’s 38th Season aired the weekend after the 2012 Presidential Election. Both candidates made appearances (in character, of course). Romney came on first in the cold opening. He was disgruntled, sensitive…a milk addict, apparently. President Obama (played strikingly well by SNL’s youngest performer, Jay Pharoah) strolled on-screen during Seth Meyer’s ”Weekend Update”. Pharoah as Obama chuckled knowingly, jabbed downed opponents with stylish realism, and came off as very, very cool in the process. Even as a character on SNL, they make him cool and snappy, which is how he actually is on his feet. Actually, Pharoah has to keep up with the President weekly in order to get his own laughs. SNL smoothly rides the wave of the liberal American reality in characters and subject matter, alike, and it works, because -like the President- they know their support base. And it’s political.
Lines like what follows are a form of realism that extends beyond satire: ”Republicans…You don’t wanna talk about immigration reform? OK. The number of older white men in this country is shrinking, meanwhile a hispanic gay woman is born every 8 seconds…and there’s another one.” The actors and writers are commenting about what they agree with, which is different than their approach to portraying something they collectively (with the audience) find thoroughly deplorable. At least I think there is a difference- they are often fair and non-ruffling these days.
While the election wrap coverage was clearly a triumph for the majority of viewers, the most talked about impressions of episode 7 were Kate McKinnon’s brilliant “Ellen” and Anne Hathaway’s (shall we say) sensitive portrayal of one top celebrity mom-in-the-spotlight, Katie Holmes. These ladies truly captured what was funny about a deeply admired member of the nation’s collective conscience and Holmes, who is a very interesting performer and media icon: a facial expression, dance moves, things they might want to say, but wouldn’t to the people who love their performance in the various mediums of entertainment. What makes McKinnon and Pharoah loveable as Obama and Ellen (in fact, I think they are close to equally admired by the majority of the American population) is that they capture what is so right and magnify it: Ellen dances freely, sarcastically kicks in ridiculous ideas about closed-minded folks around the country, and Obama speaks to the public with a righteous authority that empowers many people to trust him- an interesting concept, indeed.
I liked that this episode of SNL covered the 2012 election with sensitivity, even if the actual situation was complex and generally too serious to joke about without a shadow of self-consciousness preceding the words. Mitt Romeny was a relative softy (milk), and it was funny. Ann Romney and the many impersonated sons were devoted and naive, and it successfully bolstered the Mitt character’s own faults to the point of laughability. In terms of post-election coverage, SNL went with the mainstream in a surprisingly respectful way that still managed to be amusing, entertaining, and self-conscious.