Am I the only narcissist who thinks, “Hey I said a smart thing, why didn’t everyone pick up on it?” (I’d venture no, because that’s the sole reason Twitter is still in business.) I was very pleased with myself on an episode of Show Your Work for saying that SNL is basically like a sport – you watch your team, week after week, to celebrate their highs and cringe over the stumbles, and yet somehow I have not yet been given the pop culture Nobel Prize.
Okay, it’s not a new idea per se – there are tons of podcasts and reddit threads handicapping the show’s merit each week. But the sports metaphor keeps coming to mind. Partially because the nervous, not-at-all-vicarious, but actual real and personal excitement I felt last weekend, knowing that they were finally back in Studio 8H (and dealing with the eye of the Trump-Has-Corona-Maybe-Probably news storm) has to be at least on par with how baseball and basketball fans felt, and partly because I realized I hadn’t read Colin Jost’s book yet, so I binged it on Sunday. I’d give it a B overall; it’s not all that juicy in terms of SNL stuff, but Jost really, really loves roasting himself, and between the unflattering photos and stories about, um, bathroom accidents that weren’t in the bathroom, it was a satisfying read.
But it reminded me that a hallmark of SNL cast members is talking about how bad they are at sports – Jost leaned on that heavily – so if we’re looking down the barrel of the season based on the first live show… things were ROUGH.
I mean, why shouldn’t it have been? Everyone’s been off the job for seven months, things were almost definitely being rewritten at the very last second, there are new cast members who don’t know how things work, (hooray for all the featured players being promoted to Main Cast, but especially Ego Nwodim! May Edith Puthie be a returning character!) and the SNL cast and crew are probably reeling from actually being around that many people again (they’re being tested rigorously – Chris Rock’s line was “I haven’t had so much stuff up my nose since I shared a dressing room with Chris Farley”).
But the thing is, I will take all the bumps, because that means they’re taking swings. I’ve never really understood the part of SNL fandom that is devoted to constantly declaring the show “Saturday Night Dead”, but to me, the point of the show isn’t to be “the funniest sketch show on TV” – that honour goes to A Black Lady Sketch Show which you really, really need to go binge immediately if you haven’t.
Instead, their job is to be the funniest, most audacious, pull-no-punches show that is put together in six days, starring a new stranger each week – so if there aren’t some flops and failures, what’s the point? If we don’t groan as much as we cheer, it may as well be a long-polished HBO series where every episode has been rewritten 17 times and painstakingly put together in edit for six months. If they don’t make mistakes and have jokes that don’t land, what’s the point of the live?
Especially now, when the show is relying more on taped pieces, which I understand but which still makes me a bit sad; I want to live and die with the jokes that die, to know that even if I have to be inside my house, some people I full-on want to be are out there living… and living means sometimes sucking at your job and then doing it again the next week.
In short, SNL is the unexpected pandemic panacea precisely because of how imperfect it is, and how of the moment it is. If these are the people I live vicariously through, well, at least they’re as petty and micro-focused and unsure about our bigger picture as I am.
Which is proven by my favourite tweet about the debate Wednesday night:
everyone is texting Lorne right now, â€œcan I play the fly?â€— Camden Garcia (@camdengarcia) October 8, 2020