OK Saturday Night Live, let’s talk about this sketch that aired Saturday night, October 2nd…
First off, I’m not angry at your writers. I understand that they are in a unique position. They have to turn out over an hour of material every week. As a comedian, I write topically and pretty quickly but I could never claim to be able to turn out an hour of new material in one week. It is an achievement that in 35 years of SNL that there has never been just seven minutes of a blank screen. Plus, not only have I known people who have written on the show; I’ve also read several books and many articles about how challenging it is to work on the show. I understand that the writers do not ultimately determine what makes it on air. So again, I’m not blaming the writers.
I’m also not blaming the actors. As someone who is trying to “make it” in show business myself, I understand that it is hard enough to get a job in show business, and when you get one, you are not necessarily in a position to approve the scripts. And I’m not encouraging any diva-like walkouts from the actors. Good on ya for getting a job. So I don’t blame the star of this sketch, Kenan… or Kel… or whichever one he is.
SNL, I guess I’m blaming you — the institution — which means I blame Lorne Michaels. He is the keeper of the SNL flame, so therefore he is the one who determines what hits the screen. That flame has burned very bright on many occasions over those 35 years. Lorne Michaels is man who invented SNL and who assembled the murderer’s row of funny that was SNL’s first season. Each member of that cast is a first ballot Comedy Hall of Famer. In 1975 SNL was edgy, on point, and most important relevant. That last quality is in my opinion one of the best things that great comedy can be.
But besides all of those other adjectives I listed, there is one more thing that comedy is supposed to be… and that is funny. And this sketch is not funny. Not at all. Not in the least. And in the process of not being funny, it also highlights something that has been a serious problem for you, Saturday Night Live, for most of your existence: Black people. Saturday Night Live has never known exactly what to do with it’s black people. Either we play the extreme background of sketches — which Tim Meadows (minus The Ladies Man) made a career out of for his ten years on Saturday Night Live — OR the sketches featuring black performers exist in some ghettoized place that suddenly makes it seem like we, the viewing audience, collectively and accidentally sat on our remotes and changed the channel. The “What’s Up with That” sketch is an example of that. I have no idea what this sketch is supposed to be. Is it a parody? Of what? Is it satire? How? Is it a comment on BET? I hope not, because I would be really sad, Saturday Night Live, if you couldn’t find an effective way to make fun of BET. Is this sketch just supposed to be strangely unsatisfying and weirdly sad? Mission Accomplished. And what the hell are the white actors doing in the background??? SNL, I think you actually managed to re-invent a long forgotten genre of performing, White Minstrelsy. The look on Morgan Freeman’s face says it all. I don’t think he’s acting.
It’s clear SNL, that you still don’t know what to do with your black performers. It has been a recurring joke nearly since the beginning that the show doesn’t have things for the black performers to do. When Barack Obama was elected there were articles everywhere about how SNL was going to have to hire an new actor in order to have someone to effectively imitate Barack Obama. In the end you went with your own cast member Fred Armisen, who other than being approximately the same hue as the prez does about as good of an impression of Barack as Barack does an impression of Malcolm X. Other than Eddie Murphy and the woefully unheralded Garrett Morris, SNL has done a great disservice to black comedy. And Saturday Night Live, before you bring up the names Chris Rock or Tracy Morgan let me stop you; both of them only revealed themselves as comic powerhouses AFTER their tenures on SNL. Not that SNL didn’t help them, but SNL, you are to black comedy what Bob Knight’s tenor at Indiana University was to NBA All-Star teams. All this makes me nervous for the new black comic they hired, Jay Pharoah.
Now if you laughed when you watched “What’s Up with That,” that’s fine. Really it is. It’s not your fault. Just because you enjoy Taco Bell, that doesn’t make it good food. And just because you laugh, that doesn’t make it funny.
Now, some will (and do) argue that, SNL, you just suck in general, but I’m not one of those people. That Andy Samberg kid has had some moments. And just so you know that I’m not an SNL hater, I leave you on this. One of the greatest moments in the history of comedy — black or otherwise — and it comes from… Ahem… Saturday Night Live.
P. S. This sketch was actually written by Paul Mooney who was Richard Pryor’s writer, not SNL’s.
P. P. S. And also Lorne Michaels gets no credit for Eddie Murphy. Mr. Murphy was an SNL member during the 4 seasons that Lorne Michaels had left the show.
P. P. P. S. Lorne, I’m available if you ever need me. And good luck, Jay Pharoah. Seriously.
Filed under: Uncategorized