By Emily Weikl
The presidential election of 2016 was no joke. In spite of this, politics has been fodder for satire and comedy for ages.
NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and their take on the new presidential administration is no exception.
At one point during a sketch on Nov. 16, 2016, President Trump (Alec Baldwin) googled “What is ISIS” after a general asks him about a secret plan against ISIS that the former had held up during the campaign.
More recent episodes have drawn in viewers with portrayals of administration members including Kate McKinnon as Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway and Melissa McCarthy as Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
“Through Feb. 11, first-run episodes of ‘SNL’ have averaged 10.64 million viewers when a week of delayed viewing on DVRs is added in – numbers not seen since the 1993-94 season,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
It could be that SNL’s interpretations are an escape from the real world for a while. They have the sole purpose of entertaining without a political agenda.
“It’s sketch comedy, not op-ed. But it strikes close to home, offering viewers catharsis, because it opens up ways to understand figures in the news,” Time magazine reported.
President Trump has since been a vocal critic of the show. He tweeted on Jan. 25, “@NBCNews is bad, but Saturday Night Live is the worst of NBC. Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!”
This commentary, though, isn’t new to the modern era. Presidents since the show debuted have expressed disapproval at their portrayal. What is out of the ordinary is that Trump has tweeted about the show more than once since taking office.
SNL has gained viewership, sparked discussions on social media and incited the ire of the president in the span of three months. All this attention can be attributed to the impact comedy as an entity can make.
“Comedy is very powerful,” SNL creator Lorne Michaels told Lesley Stahl in a 2004 interview with 60 Minutes. “And there’s no protection against it. Comedy is the thing that comes from an openness and a freedom.”
McCarthy’s debut as Spicer on Feb. 4 has been played 23 million times on the official SNL YouTube page as of Feb. 19. The sketch included a CNN reporter in a cage proclaiming they are not “fake news” and McCarthy as Spicer inflating and disregarding facts fielded by other reporters.
Since then there has been more than one sketch of McCarthy as Spicer, which has a possibility of having a major change in the White House.
“Leaks from within the White House to reporters have claimed Trump is particularly disturbed by McCarthy’s depiction of Spicer, stoking rumors that a replacement for him is being sought,” the LA Times reported.
The Feb. 4 episode also included a sketch with a skeleton intended to be Senior Advisor Steve Bannon. This skeleton encourages Baldwin, as Trump, to call various world leaders while he was “tired.”
These phone calls go poorly and end after a call with Zimbabwe. “That’s enough fun for tonight,” Bannon tells Trump, and asks for the desk in the Oval Office back. “Yes, of course, Mr. President,” Trumps says. He then goes to a miniature desk and plays with a toy.
Fiction is a reflection of reality and reality is fuel for fiction. This has been the relationship between the two since fiction has existed. SNL’s sketches on Trump and his administration have had an effect on both the public and the president himself. The show treads the line of what to poke fun at. That is what draws viewers in.
“To criticize his policies is to miss that many Americans voted for him precisely to put a disrupter in the White House,” Time said. “But cutting him down, using the format he pays attention to and cares about most, hurts his legitimacy. His image is his greatest asset, and SNL is capable of redefining it weekly.”