Monday, February 20, 2017

Can comedy save the nation?

I thought this appropriate to write on "Presidents' Day."  

In 1870 a corrupt mobster known as Boss Tweed led an organization that basically controlled New York City politics. Through his influence he was able to stack the city with elected officials who were in his pocket. He then used these officials to defraud the city the equivalent of billions today. Personality-wise, he was quite ostentatious, proudly wearing large diamonds while living in an opulent mansion on Fifth Avenue.

Harpers Weekly magazine wrote piece after piece denouncing this criminal, but most of his supporters were essentially illiterate so the articles were not widely read.

But then their political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, decided to go on a crusade against Tweed. Week after week his cartoons exposed Tweed for the despicable criminal he was, and the public was finally able to get the message through the visuals.

In the next election most of Tweed’s cronies were unceremoniously booted out of office and a few years later Tweed himself was convicted and sent to prison.

So why do I tell this story? Substitute SNL for Thomas Nast cartoons.

I can’t begin to applaud SNL enough not only for their stand against Boss Trump but for how well they are delivering the message. The writing is superb and the performers are amazing. Kate McKinnon is the next Lucy or Carol Burnett. Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin have absolutely nailed their targets, as did Tina Fey in previous elections. And the rest of the cast is equally terrific.
SNL is now getting unheard of numbers – especially in the coveted 18-34 demographic. But it goes beyond that. They are attracting viewers of all ages. And they’re drawing a larger audience than practically every primetime network program. Add to that the Live +1 and +7 and the clips from the show that now go viral each week, and it’s clear that Saturday Night Live has become a genuine force.

This says two things to me. One: If you show something on TV that everyone wants to watch, large broad audiences are still possible. The argument that TV has to be niche now to succeed doesn’t necessarily hold water.

And two: Just as Thomas Nast’s cartoons got the population’s attention, SNL might just have a big impact. Lots of young folks who really didn’t care much about the last election are now opening their eyes to the chaos this administration has wrought. And we can only hope that they will react accordingly.

Boss Tweed tried to discredit Nast and even strong-arm Harper’s Magazine into silencing him. (Sound familiar?). To the publication’s credit, it stuck by its cartoonist. NBC is not backing down anytime soon, that’s for sure.  Not with THOSE numbers. 

Sure there are news commentators that are railing at the disarray in the White House. And newspapers are pointing out daily that the support team the president is surrounding himself with is every bit as corrupt and self-serving as Boss Tweed’s lackeys.  They (Trumps appointees)  have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters who entrusted Trump to lead on their behalf.

But that public is not reading those articles. Or watching those commentaries.

They are, however, watching SNL. Just as with Mr. Nast’s cartoons, COMEDY can reach people where other outlets can’t. At one time Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite delivered the message. Now it’s Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin.

Boss Trump continues to lash out at the press, but like everything else, he’s missing the point.

COMEDY is mightier than the sword.

50 comments :

Peter said...

When even John McCain is saying Trump's administration is in disarray, and there are reports that senior Republicans are already discussing the potential scenario of impeachment, then it's only a matter of time before he's removed from office. I give it a year tops.

On the downside, it would mean being lumbered with ultra ultra conservative creationist Mike Pence as President. Either way, it's gonna be four gruesome years.

Rashad Khan said...

I'm sorry, but neither SNL's nor NBC's figurative hands are clean here. They helped to normalize that orange menace not only with his "Apprentice" franchises but also with his appearances on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and yes, SNL. And not once, during any of that or throughout the election did I see these shows OR their network treat the man with anything less than kid gloves. So, AFAIC, SNL (and NBC) can take its discovered-too-late backbone and shove it.

Dave said...

Ken-

I'm glad to see you are feeling slightly optimistic.

Side note: The comments on this post will probably devolve into "debate", something which I think you have tried to avoid in the past. Hopefully, everyone can remain civil, but I kind of doubt it.

Yeah, our history is filled with Boss Tweeds, and Trumps. Our course, they have never been president before this.

My point, the problem is not really Trump, but Trump Nation. The coalition of the unwashed, the brainwashed, and the Rich. Does comedy work on them?

Side note #2: We are enjoying a week of 60 degree weather in upstate NY in the middle of February. The good news, at least Trump cannot further damage the environment. Welcome to the new weather, people. Maybe this time around the Dust Bowl will be easier to choke on. I'm sure somebody is working on App that will help when loading all your possessions into the back of your truck.

Markus said...

Imagine what a Jon Stewart era "Today Show" would have looked like for the past year, and then try not to weep.

Barry Traylor said...

SNL has been making me very happy lately using the power of humor against a corrupt liar such as trumpy the moron.

Anthony Hoffman said...

Just love how you neglect to mention Lorne Michaels and SNL had that piece of garbage as a host during his campaign run and tried their best to normalize and do wacky sketches with a homophobe, racist and misogynist so excuse me if I'm not applauding them for their biting Trump comedy.

Matthew said...

The same thing happened in the UK. PG Wodehouse created a character based on Oswald Mosely and made him so ridiculous and pathetic that nobody took the real thing seriously either.

At one point, Wooster tells Sir Roderick: "The trouble with you, Spode, is that because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone.
"You hear them shouting 'Heil Spode!' and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: 'Look at that frightful ass Spode, swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher!' "

Anonymous said...

Murphy Brown's baby got Dan Quayle's attention. So, for sure!

Anonymous said...

@Anthony Hoffman: Trump was also a guest on Colbert a couple of times early in his candidacy, and now Stephen's nightly decimation of Trump is what is giving him a reprieve from the constant "CBS likely to replace Colbert with Corden" rumors.

mmryan314 said...

I haven`t watched SNL religiously for 20 years- until now. Limbaugh said the media is trying to take Trump down. GOOD, someone has to do it. Keep it up Ken and all others in positions that reach the public. It`s needed more than ever now. I am finally feeling a sense of hope after 3 1/2 months.

Jeannie said...

Comedians are the only thing preventing me from leaping off bridges these days. "SNL" provides a much-needed (cathartic) public service at the end of every chaotic, exhausting week. Like Mel Brooks, who "one-upped" Hitler not by attacking him, but mocking him, in "The Producers," John Oliver and "SNL" are more effective than all the righteous, apoplectic op-eds and marches combined.

Frank Kuchno said...

Trump HATES Alec Baldwin and SNL. Good enough for me. Go to it boys and girls!!

gottacook said...

SNL (however one might view its "moral standing") has always taken a 4-month break during summer. I would advise anyone here who likes politically based humor to seek out Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World (Mondays at dailykos.com) - consistently nourishing every week since the early '90s, when it was strictly an alt-weekly newspaper comic.

I have real admiration for Kate McKinnon's solo performance at the top of the show, 11 November 2016 - both the performance itself and the fact that she was able to prepare it in just four days (or was prescient enough to get started before election day?).

blinky said...

Lets hope we can laugh this fool out of office. Tiny Trump. https://www.buzzfeed.com/ikrd/make-america-tiny-again?utm_term=.jfXGOWpjgR#.lbOownm5O4

VP81955 said...

Trump has "rescued" SNL -- but he's also provided a potential career-saving boost to Stephen Colbert. He was struggling as David Letterman's successor, being slaughtered in the ratings by Lorne Michaels' fawning lapdog, Jimmy Fallon (who gave Trump all sorts of exposure). It appeared CBS wanted to ease out Colbert and install its ersatz Fallon, James Corden, at 11:35.

Then Trump appeared, the politically-charged Colbert re-emerged (in a slightly different form than his "Colbert Report"-era mock right-winger), and he gained new life. He's been topping Fallon in the ratings for a few weeks now, and will emcee the Emmys when it's CBS' turn to host the event this fall. Great news for those of us who like comedy with bite.

darms said...

If only...

Mike Barer said...

That's great, but I really miss political cartoons. In Seattle, we had a great one in David Horsey, who worked for the Seattle PI. I believe he is working in LA now.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the sketches. I'm from the UK so I tend to just see the intro and anything that goes viral. Melissa as Sean Spicer is hilarious. I've seen that guy try to give press conferences and he'd probably improve if he just used these methods!

Don't want to burst the bubble here and I do agree with the general principle of this post but don't you think that these sketches are "preaching to the choir." The anti-Trump supporters will watch it as it reinforces what they stand for while the Trump supporters denounce it as liberal, fake news, not funny blah blah blah.

kelly childress said...

I agree, it's all terrific. And could possibly get millennials voting or at least more interested. But this is all that I was hoping for during the campaigns, when Colbert & Daily Show did great take-downs of Trump. It's great, and makes us laugh and nod our heads, but I don't think it will make a difference. Trump supporters aren't that much more educated than Tweed's. Sorry if any readers here are Trumpettes but I've read your comments.

Johnny Walker said...

Add Paddy C and you have an interesting situation: A show whose success depends on Trump being in power! :)

ChipO said...

To me, a great blog, commentary, etc. is when I say to myself "I knew that." But, then I realize that I had never really connected those dots together.
Ken - thanks for the connection from someone who knows the industry.
Cheers,

Bill Avena said...

"No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 'tis enough,'twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man."
-Mercutio, rockin' his Comedy sword

Don See said...

Zippy the Pinhead

Your quote: "Sure there are news commentators that are railing at the disarray in the White House. And newspapers are pointing out daily that the support team the president is surrounding himself with is every bit as corrupt and self-serving as Boss Tweed’s lackeys. They have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters who entrusted Trump to lead on their behalf."

I'm not clear on what you're asserting here ... When you say "'THEY' have absolutely no interest...in serving the voters...", are you asserting that "THEY" are the "news commentators", or are you asserting that "THEY" are "the support team the president is surrounding himself with"? I think you are asserting it's the news commentators, right?

Don See said...

Your quote: Sure there are news commentators that are railing at the disarray in the White House. And newspapers are pointing out daily that the support team the president is surrounding himself with is every bit as corrupt and self-serving as Boss Tweed’s lackeys. They have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters who entrusted Trump to lead on their behalf.

I'm not sure what you're asserting here. By "'THEY' have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters..." are you asserting that "THEY" are the news commentators or the president's support team? I assume you mean the news commentators, right?

Peter said...

I'm not a fan of Trump, as my earlier post indicates, and I myself have made jokes about those of his supporters who are illiterate, racist misogynists. But that's the thing: I specifically referred to those types.

The tendency demonstrated in some of the replies above to paint ALL Trump voters as hate filled idiots is wrong on two counts. First, it smears many ordinary decent people who voted for Trump not because they hate women and gay people but because they felt he offered something that the mainstream political establishment didn't. Of course it's fair and correct to say he doesn't give two hoots about ordinary people and that they were wrong to trust him, but ridiculing them all as stupid is what leads to my second point.

If you spend year after year dismissing the views and needs of people by calling them dumb, calling them racist, calling them "deplorable", then guess what? They're going to use their vote to elect someone who claims to stand opposed to that sort of snobbery. For example, it's become fashionable to routinely mock "white men". Well, last time I checked, white men are humans too and have a right to air their views. They're not all foaming at the mouth Birther types who love the KKK. And yet, when wanting to attack Trump, some just can't help but also demonize "white men", as though he was elected solely on the votes of slack jawed, redneck hillbillies out of Deliverance.

Here in Britain, the hysteria over Trump has reached ridiculous levels with a number of commentators and Tweeters resorting to that most desperate of discursive tactics, comparing him to Hitler, thereby reinforcing the truth of Godwin's Law. Trump may be an egomaniacal liar and sexist, but I'm pretty sure he isn't responsible for the mass murder of more than 30 million people.

I agree comedy is an essential part of free speech, but as others have pointed out, many of the same figures now getting applauded for their satirical efforts had no problem hanging out with Trump and making him appear a light hearted character. The Comedy Central Roast, though very funny at the time, had a parade of celebrities roasting Trump but then, as with other Roasts, finishing by saying how awesome he is. Go figure.

jcs said...

I'm delighted to see many traditional network late night shows like SNL, LATE NIGHT and THE LATE SHOW focus on political humour. Especially Seth Meyer's comments are often sharp and pertinent. I do not share your enthusiasm, though. Comedians cannot replace journalists, nor should they. Melissa McCarthy's portrayal was fantastic, but she cannot substitute for the NYT's investigative staff. There are so many layers to the Trump presidency we all better start supporting quality media outlets. Otherwise there will not be enough journalists left to (un)cover the next scandal.

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous Peter said...
The tendency demonstrated in some of the replies above to paint ALL Trump voters as hate filled idiots is wrong on two counts. First, it smears many ordinary decent people who voted for Trump not because they hate women and gay people but because they felt he offered something that the mainstream political establishment didn't"


Yes, racism and xenophobia. NO Trumputin voter gets a pass. Let's say some of them are not racists or xenophobes. Still, they did not consider endorsements from the KKK, from the White Nationlists (One of whom, the vile Steve Bannon, is now Trumputin's main adviser, the ACTUAL president) or from the American Nazi Party to be deal-breakers. So the best that can be said for them is that they are racist-adjacent.

Everyone who decided that they could ignore the racism rather than vote for a woman who - GASP! - used a private server (Like Tsar Trumputin does for his endless Tweeting) gets to be, at the very least, Honorary Bigots. I have ruthlessly pruned out of my life everyone I know who voted for Trumputin. This includes former close friends of many decades and my sister. No room for people who empower Fascists in my life.

Fuck everyone who voted for the bigot. However much you claim the contrary, you're all bigots and assholes.

" Don See said...
Your quote: Sure there are news commentators that are railing at the disarray in the White House. And newspapers are pointing out daily that the support team the president is surrounding himself with is every bit as corrupt and self-serving as Boss Tweed’s lackeys. They have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters who entrusted Trump to lead on their behalf.

I'm not sure what you're asserting here. By "'THEY' have absolutely no interest whatsoever in serving the voters..." are you asserting that "THEY" are the news commentators or the president's support team? I assume you mean the news commentators, right?"


No, he CLEARLY means the President's support team.

Anonymous said...

Still remember watching the first SNL with George Carlin and Janis Ian! Keep in mind SNL has a history of lampooning the President.Chevy Chase did Ford and Ackroyd did Nixon.Onto Dana Carvey as Bush, Sr., Phil Hartman and Hammond as Clinton and Ferrell as Dubya.As I got older I found it less funny.I started to tune in again with the Baldwin skits, but on the whole I find it awful, especially the two guys doing the news. But the first Spicer bit was hilarious.It was not expected at all and was pure comedy gold.The second Spicey skit I felt was too soon and not as funny.Baldwin is pretty good too although I found his hosting gig two weeks ago pretty unwatchable. Janice B.

Col. Henry Potrzebie said...

Smaller audience, but MAD Magazine has been doing some stellar Trump humor for the past year-plus.

normadesmond said...

Aren't we lucky to have Al Franken in the Senate?

carmilevy said...

Amen to your every word, Ken. I grew up watching SNL and have always cherished the show as a consistent source of political satire. Indeed, it isn't much of a stretch to say much of the comedy-wrapped-news packaging espoused by Jon Stewart found at least some inspiration in the generations of SNL political messaging that preceded it.

Anything that forces us to engage more deeply in the political process, and to question that process, as well, is by definition a socially positive thing. And SNL has indeed reignited that passion for the political process that, G-d willing, could see America through this seemingly dark period in its history. I fervently share your belief that comedy prevails above all - and despite its outward appearances, its impact is significantly more profound than many might have otherwise assumed. Thank you, again, for saying it as it needs to be said.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Peter: just wanted to say, excellent comment. Agreed 100%. Thanks and don't let the bastards get you down. (Hope this isn't a duplicate comment, just wanted to make sure I get past the "I'm not a robot" gate.)

YEKIMI said...

Trump may be an egomaniacal liar and sexist, but I'm pretty sure he isn't responsible for the mass murder of more than 30 million people.

Just give him time. It's early in his presidency yet.

Jeff Maxwell said...

What scares me is that Trump and his minions are so wacky, so over the top, that the SNL efforts can't compete. Baldwin's Trump segment is beginning to look like a news show.

I'm pretty sure I'm in love with Kate McKinnon.

cadavra said...

What's especially sweet is that the naysayers have again been hauling out that old "Saturday Night Dead" trope, and now it's they who have major egg on their faces. I just checked YouTube, and the first McCarthy sketch is up to 24 million views!

Mark said...

D McEwan, considering your constant hate-filled rants and name-calling against anyone who disagrees with you, I bet a lot of people cut you out of their lives a long time ago. And you probably don't have many left to cut out of yours. You don't get a pass for your hatefulness either.

The whole Donald Trump-hates-gays narrative is a head-scratcher. Here's a Republican who accepts gay marriage (this is better than where Obama was eight years ago), yet somehow is he the devil when it comes to the gay community.

Mibbitmaker said...

Dave said - "Yeah, our history is filled with Boss Tweeds, and Trumps. Of course, they have never been president before this."

Don't forget Nixon.
Of course, back in those days, editorial cartoonists still mattered, if not to the degree of Nast vs, Tweed. Editorial cartoons are fading away with newspapers themselves, though they are still there, including online, pounding away at the demagogue-in-chief. Sad thing is, Trump's corruption would've been perfect fodder for Herblock, the best of the old-school cartoonists. His Watergate cartoons inform this.

Besides SNL's wonderful material this season, ex-SNLer Seth Meyers has really made his "A Closer Look" must-see viewing for me. It's helped make this nightmare bearable (as much as anything can). John Oliver is excellent as well, as is Colbert.

Buttermilk Sky said...

The cable "fake" news outlets are all agog today because trump has come out against anti-Semitism. Bannon still works for him, however, and actions speak louder than words.

I wonder how much influence comedy really has. Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR came out in 1940, and most Americans remained firmly isolationist right up until December 1941. Even then, FDR didn't ask for a declaration of war on Germany. I'd like someone to ask Mel Brooks if he thinks his mockery of Hitler has been effective, given all the "Heil trump" euphoria that followed the election. And we know all about the horrific crimes of Nazism, which Chaplin and his audience could not.

There is one bright spot: apparently trump is so flummoxed by the fact that Spicer can be impersonated so well by a woman that he hasn't managed a single ranting tweet about Melissa McCarthy. And he may be shopping for a new press secretary.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Mark, exactly. Thank you. 100000+.

In the meantime, ever notice how language gets used in posts like these? It's so predictable. Your political hero has 'friends,' your enemy has 'cronies.' Your hero has 'advocates,' your enemy has 'lobbyists.' Your hero has 'kerfuffles,' your enemy has 'scandals.' Part of the reason why politics has become so tribal IMHO.

MikeN said...

How is this different from what SNL would have done with any Republican? Dumb, evil, and for McCain old, are their standard playbook.

SNL is going with the stupid idea that Kellyanne Conway hates it that Trump was elected.

They were better during the election, playing up Trump's 'you're with me or you're against me' and narcissism. If Hillary had followed the strategy they attributed to her, she would be President right now. In SNL debates, Hillary lets Trump destroy himself. But not for Madame President. She had to go into detail and explain to the simpletons just how awful Trump's videotape is,'shows what he thinks about women, what he does to women...'. It opened her up for a vicious response from Trump about Bill Clinton's a rapist and she should be in jail.

Seriously, I'd be disappointed if SNL treated Trump the way they treated Obama, but they need to get the humor right instead of mocking an image they have created.

randm said...

One part of the story of Nast's campaign against Tweed that I liked was that when Tweed escaped prison in 1875 and attempted to sneak into Spain, Spanish officers recognized him...from a Thomas Nast cartoon! Spanish officials sent Tweed back to the US to serve out his prison term.

D. McEwan said...

"Mark said...
D McEwan, considering your constant hate-filled rants and name-calling against anyone who disagrees with you, I bet a lot of people cut you out of their lives a long time ago. And you probably don't have many left to cut out of yours. You don't get a pass for your hatefulness either.

The whole Donald Trump-hates-gays narrative is a head-scratcher. Here's a Republican who accepts gay marriage (this is better than where Obama was eight years ago), yet somehow is he the devil when it comes to the gay community."


"Head-scratcher" is it? When he chose THE MOST HOMOPHOBIC GOVERNOR IN THE ENTIRE NATION to be his Vice President, his actions spoke much, much louder than the insincere words he tossed to us. We know our enemies, and a whole shitload of homophobes were just given Cabinet positions and White House jobs. A bigger gay-hater than the vile Stephen Bannon would be hard to locate.

And yes, there were only a few I had to cut, because 95% of my friends are good solid liberals, but I have a lot of them. And anyone not hating Trumputin is either Evil, Stupid or not paying attention.

Lionheart said...

Cheers to talk of Cheers.

Political yak here is pretty much "Yer guy is a doodoo-head and my hair is on fire"

Myles Warden said...

You weren't watching SNL during the election. They've been on this page for awhile.

Roseann said...

Well said, Ken.

Shogun said...

"And anyone not hating Trumputin is either Evil, Stupid or not paying attention."

I'm all three! That's why I come here.

Peter said...

Thank you Mark for nailing it.

D. McEwan looks like someone you avoid like a plague in real life. That's why these crackpots end up in virtual world abusing everyone and claiming that they still have friends.

D. McEwan IMDB Actor Born 1950 and a few flop movies. Any comebacks planned Mr. Failed Actor?

Peter said...

Ugh, it's tedious I even have to do this but I'm not the Peter having a go at Doug McEwan in the comment above. I'm the earlier comments. I like Doug and I have no problem with his reply. I can respectfully disagree with him on the issue of whether all Trump voters should be condemned, whilst agreeing with his fundamental opposition to Trump himself.

D. McEwan said...

"Peter said...
Thank you Mark for nailing it.

D. McEwan IMDB Actor Born 1950 and a few flop movies. Any comebacks planned Mr. Failed Actor?"


Well,, my third novel and second non-fiction book will be published on May 1st. Apparently you can read, unusual in a Trumputin zombie, so give them a read and enjoy. (You do realize that my 35 years of stage acting, not to mention all the work I did on radio, are not on my IMDb page?)

So what is it you failed at, "Peter"? You're apparently too cowardly to identify yourself enough to provide me with informed ammunition, unlike myself, who is clearly identified.

"Peter said...
Ugh, it's tedious I even have to do this but I'm not the Peter having a go at Doug McEwan in the comment above. I'm the earlier comments. I like Doug and I have no problem with his reply. I can respectfully disagree with him on the issue of whether all Trump voters should be condemned, whilst agreeing with his fundamental opposition to Trump himself."


Thanks, Peter II.

D. McEwan said...

"Peter said...
D. McEwan IMDB Actor Born 1950 and a few flop movies."


And just for the record, one of those movies is Rocky II, which was not a flop.