Is it possible to make a joke about Ferguson? This week’s “Saturday Night Live” went for humor in the face of horror, only to cut the sketch from air.
The sketch, which was posted on the official “Saturday Night Live” YouTube page on Sunday, features a St. Louis morning news team struggling to keep up the smiley, rise-and-shine routine even as protests surrounding Michael Brown’s death rage on. “Kip and Jenny,” Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong, look like they wish they could be literally anywhere else on the planet. Of course everything they say ends up sounding tone deaf at best — “If you’re looking for a good jog, it’s being called the most superior race in town!” “The Blackies are perf– sorry, I meant, the Black Keys” — right down to the guest segment, when Chef Darrel (host James Franco) wants to make a frittata, which won the Grand Jury prize at a food festival: “To make it healthy, we’re only going to use the whites of the eggs.”
Though “Morning News” was ostensibly cut for time, it also lands in more politically-charged territory than “Saturday Night Live” usually occupies. Even during the last election, “SNL‘s” brand of political coverage was more “mocking the easily mockable aspects of this candidate’s personality,” less “taking a stance on a fraught issue.” “Morning News” is built around a serious judgment call: is now really the time for the escapist, “Today Show”-style antics of morning news, for that trademark giggly, everything sunny all the time always demeanor? The “SNL” writers don’t seem to think so. The format of morning news — of all television news, really — is one that is designed to provide equal parts information and fun. It’s supposed to be a big party, where the anchors wear costumes on Halloween and everybody is on a first name basis with everybody else. Is TV news agile enough to adjust its tone in accordance with the stories being covered? If anything, it’s “fake” news that has the freedom to go to a more earnest, emotional place:
For a show that’s faced its own share of criticism for a poor — or, at times, non-existent — handling of race, it’s exciting to see “SNL” acknowledge the racial tension in Ferguson in such a (relatively) direct manner. The sketch makes use of Leslie Jones, the newest addition to the cast, who was promoted from her writer status in the wake of widespread outcry over “SNL‘s” failure to up the number of black cast members from one to, well, more than one. (She became the second black woman in the current cast, after Sasheer Zamata.) The conversation around “SNL‘s” lack of diversity reached such a high volume that the show was, essentially, forced to acknowledge it in jest before eventually stepping up to address it in practice, through a kind of self-aware “Hey, we heard you, we’re on it” announcement when Kerry Washington hosted last November:
The “Morning News” sketch also gets at a sense of self-reflection of “SNL‘s” situation: how do you go on with your work as, fundamentally, entertainment, when the national mood is decidedly not entertaining? You could easily make the argument that this is when we need comedy, and “SNL‘s” brand of it in particular, the most, as a sharp commentary on our society, as a catharsis. But the show still has to grapple with how to recognize the tragedy that’s on everyone’s minds without giving over the entire show to a tragedy from which even the funniest writers can (or should) only wring so much comedy.
Does it even really count as a demotion anymore if a sketch not to make it to air, so long as it makes it to internet? Live viewership is to television what print is to journalism: it might be where the money is (for now), but its status as the prime real estate for content is disappearing by the day. Next-day virality for a sketch like this is might become — or might already be — the most valuable metric.