Saturday Night Live has always pushed the envelope pretty hard but they might’ve really stepped in it this time.
Comedian and SNL cast member Pete Davidson’s dad was killed in the 9/11 attack on The World Trade Center. Former Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw lost his eye in an IED blast in Afghanistan while fighting the War on Terror. The Irony is deep, the joke was shallow and the backlash is unforgiving.
As a comedian, I’m usually the first to defend comedy against the PC crusaders of today, but this is different. Being a war hero doesn’t mean you should be exempt from getting roasted on a show like SNL.
John McCain was a war hero, but as a politician he did and said some things that made him a worthy target on SNL. I enjoyed Darrell Hammond’s portrayal of him but there was a huge difference between that and what happened last Saturday.
First of all, the Darryl Hammond sketches were funny. They were funny because they were well-written and focused on what was funny about John McCain as a politician. Hammond and the writers exaggerated McCain’s hard-nosed, war-hardened way of calling things exactly as he saw them with little regard for tact or sugar-coating. This is a recipe for good comedy. Identify what’s funny about a person and then exaggerate it 1000% for the audience.
Secondly, its important to note that the thing that’s funny about someone is always relatively harmless. It’s never tragic or sad because that’s not how funny works. Hitler’s mustache is funny. The rest of Hitler is not. Lesson over.
Hammond’s team understood how funny works. His sketches were tasteful enough and so well done, that even John McCain himself, could appreciate the humor in them. In fact, he appreciated them enough that he made an appearance on SNL after Hammond’s sketches aired.
Pete Davidson and whoever helped write The Weekend Update segment on Dan Crenshaw did a poor and, dare I say, lazy job of identifying what’s funny about the GOP candidate. Davidson said, “You may be surprised to hear he’s a Congressional candidate from Texas and not a hitman in a porno movie.” I’ve seen a lot of porno movies and there aren’t enough of them that feature hit men for there to be a stereotype. Therefore, our brain’s can’t produce the mental image of the porno movie hit man quickly enough to cause the “recognition laugh” jokes like this rely on. That’s bad science. Bond villain works better. It’s still lazy writing but at least it’s a recognizable stereotype, so it works. Just putting “porno movie” after it isn’t enough to make it funny.
Bad or lazy writing isn’t the only problem here though. Dan Crenshaw was a Navy Seal who wears an eye patch because he lost his eye in combat! He was serving our country and was seriously injured when an IED exploded! And Pete Davidson makes light of that by saying, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever” while he laughs at himself like a 12-year-old boy who just said, “shit” in front of his parents for the first time! Are you fucking kidding me?!
Our country has far too many combat vets that are disfigured or disabled from IED blasts and reminding people of that fact is going to kill the best of jokes that were written with the best of intentions. Do it in a bad joke that’s smothered in juvenile cynicism and anti-patriotic overtones…and this is what you get. Public outrage.
Listen, I recognize that SNL is a shell of what it once was. It’s impossible for them to pull the talent they used to because Comedians, improvisors and comedy writers of today, have so many other media platforms that pay better than SNL. I get that. But not being funny is one thing. Lots of TV shows aren’t funny. Not possessing the capacity to recognize this sketch was going to be a problem…that’s a whole other thing. That’s a Roseanne thing. Even worse!
Roseanne was the sole author of a single tweet. Pete Davidson’s segment had to make it out of a writing room full of writers, get approved by a chain of command and then everyone, including Lorne Michaels, watched it in rehearsal all week. And it still made it on the show! That means the entire culture of that show is a problem. Which is sad because I used to be a huge fan.
The outrage and disgust SNL and Pete Davidson are receiving for this is completely warranted. It was a bad joke written with bad intentions, that wouldn’t have been funny about anyone, let alone a war hero that was wounded in action. So, let’s not lump this in with the conversation about how the snowflake generation’s political correctness crusade is hurting comedy, because that’s another blog.