An Eye On Culture
SNL Grasps Our Culture
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
As the presidential election approaches quickly, my political thoughts (which are not many, I might add) automatically turn to one thing: not Obamacare, not the abortion issue, not even Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. My wandering, pop culture-oriented mind initially thinks of only one thing: Saturday Night Live.
For my confession of the day: I dreamed of being an SNL cast member when I was a child. I’m funny, but unfortunately I’m not that funny. A strange dream job (considering my first was “the ice cream man”), but mine nonetheless.
When I was younger, staying up late was a treat. The one time I didn’t have to beg my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime, of course, was on the weekends. With this biweekly freedom, I used it to achieve the highest level of fun a 10-year-old can have. I watched SNL. My parents and I would make popcorn and sit in our basement watching what I firmly believe was one of the overall best casts the show has ever seen, that of the very late ’90s and early 2000s, featuring Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell, and Molly Shannon, to name a few. While most of the jokes probably went over my head, I still vividly remember that my parents could hardly contain their laughter during Meadow’s portrayal of The Ladies’ Man, Oteri and Ferrell as the rejected cheerleading duo, and Darrell Hammond, Shannon, and Gasteyer embodying the Clinton/Lewinsky love triangle to shockingly accurate precision. SNL has certainly remained hilarious over the years, but I think there was a certain magic about this cast during that specific time that captivated audiences. I’m not sure it’s been recreated since.
While I do believe that the aforementioned years were the glory days, there has been one standalone in recent seasons: Kristin Wiig. Not only do I have a huge, not-so-secret girl crush on her, but she is also hands-down and unanimously seen as the funniest woman of our time—if you say otherwise, you’re wrong. During her time on the show, you would have been hard-pressed to find a skit she wasn’t in, and even harder-pressed to find a role she couldn’t play fantastically. Her stints as the Target Lady, the ridiculous one-upper Penelope, and the woman who can’t keep a secret because she’s just “REALLY EXCITED!” are some of my favorites from the show.
As I’ve developed into a sort of SNL geek over the years, I think I’ve figured out what was so special about this time. It wasn’t just the great cast and the current events that seemed to spoon-feed amazing material to the writers. It was precisely the fact that it was a troubling time for our country. While it seemed like we were just ripe off the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal that had people all over America talking about the sexual life of our number one man, and the Gulf War that brought the U.S. (and the SNL writers) some of our first major interactions with Saddam Hussein, our country was struck by tragedy on Sept. 11.
Less than three weeks after the attack, on September 29th, 2001, still-shaken fans all over the country turned on their TVs to try and escape the news bombarding viewers with terrorism and fear in hopes of some laughs. Hosted by Reese Witherspoon, the show featured a performance of “The Boxer” by Paul Simon and appearances by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and members of the Fire Department of New York. In this moment, SNL not only took a stand for the shocked country, but also showed love and honor for their city. They stepped back from poking fun at political figures and seemingly trivial current events to be serious for a few minutes—something, quite frankly, they were never used to doing.
I clearly remember watching this episode as a child. I grew up in New York and the confusion and abstract fear I felt consumed me for a while. The experience of watching SNL always brought me comfort, and as I listened to Simon sing, I knew I was watching history.
That’s the power of the show. It’s so relevant that it is a unifying force. While some may see it simply as a sketch comedy show, SNL is a cherished staple of our time.