The Sad Decline of Saturday Night Live

by John Fund

It has had its hilarious streaks and its vacuous doldrums, but Saturday Night Live is an American institution. While it has leaned left in its comedy for most or perhaps all of its 37 years on NBC, SNL never gave you the sense that it had tipped so far over as to lose all sense of perspective.

For many of us that may have changed with the revelation that an opening sketch for last Saturday’s SNL was scrapped, apparently because it dug a little too deep at President Obama.

If that’s true it shows just how far American comedy has become enervated by having an African-American liberal hero in the White House. Comedians have recovered somewhat from the humorous desert of 2009, when in the aftermath of his election few dared to or wanted to take the new president on. But clearly Obama continues to get a pass that few other public figures do. Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night comedian who emceed the White House Correspondents’ dinner last month, admitted to Reuters that, “It’s hard to make fun of Obama in general because he’s a cool character. Outside of his ears, there’s not a whole lot.”

Well, apparently Jim Downey, a veteran writer for all but five of SNL’s 37 seasons didn’t think so. His censored script showed Obama addressing the nation after the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death — and doing what we all know he does best. Personalize any success he has had.

“I hope you had a safe and joyous first anniversary of his killing,” begins comedian Fred Armisen, in portraying Obama.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be at home this year, as I had to fly to Afghanistan, to remind President Karzai that, exactly one year ago, we killed Osama bin Laden, and that the decision to do so was a gutsy one,” the president continues. “And was mine.”

Not at all vicious. Just pointed and in line with much of the legitimate criticism Team Obama got for hyping the anniversary and even implying that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have ordered the raid that killed Osama.

#more#Instead of airing the Downey script, SNL decided to run yet another attack on Fox News. In this one, actors portraying the hosts of Fox and Friends as clueless partisans bash Obama over his role in the raid and even tell a tasteless joke with racial overtones to boot. In other words, a predictable routine that touches every liberal erogenous zone when it comes to their least favorite news source.

I’ve never met Jim Downey, the author of the scrapped script, but I can only hope people who believe in equal-opportunity potshots rise to his defense. Over the years, Downey has done wonderful sketches lampooning presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and Al Gore, and he even singed Barack Obama himself in the 2008 presidential primaries as the beneficiary of lapdog media coverage. But he has also gone after many other targets. For his trouble, former SNL head writer Adam McKay labeled him as “right wing” in a Huffington Post article and even suggested his anti-Obama skits were designed to favor Republicans, because he thought Hillary Clinton would be easier for the Republicans to defeat in 2008.

Downey took umbrage at that, telling the New York Times he “probably favored Obama over Clinton” in the primaries, and that he was a registered Democrat who would definitely vote for Obama in the general election. In March, he sized up the GOP primary field by telling the Boston Globe that he thought Rick Santorum was funny because he always acted like people were being unfair to him. As for Mitt Romney, Downey referred to him as a “goof,” saying that “he just tries very hard to sound like what a regular person is like and it’s not working.”

The story of his lost sketch means either that his SNL colleagues feel a liberal taboo against mocking Obama in an election year has to be enforced or their sense of humor is impaired. Either way, any thought that SNL is an equal-opportunity political slasher is fast becoming, well, a joke. 

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