'SNL' Producer Lorne Michaels on Political Mockery: Democrats Can't Take a Joke, 'Republicans Think It's Funny'
New York magazine interviewed Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels about his show and political humor. Michaels seemed to suggest that Republicans can take a joke, and Democrats can't. Or perhaps Republicans are used to being mocked by Manhattan liberals, and Democrats expect to be pampered.
The magazine’s Lane Brown asked: "Are there any basic rules for what works and what doesn’t politically?"
Republicans are easier for us than Democrats. Democrats tend to take it personally; Republicans think it’s funny. But we’re not sitting here every week going, “We’ve really got to do the First Family.”
As much as liberals were upset there was no black woman on the show during Obama's presidency, that ought to also suggest NBC had no serious interest in mocking the Obama family in any way. Michaels still sounded a little reluctant to mock this White House:
This week, our cold open is about three big stories. We have Piers Morgan interviewing A-Rod, Chris Christie, and Justin Bieber. We’re doing more of that kind of thing than stuff about Benghazi or the new budget agreement. The country has lost interest in it. I can’t tell you why. It’s no less important, but in some way you can’t do health care more than twice, at which point there’s just nothing left.
That interview (on January 16) preceded the show opening with a Chris Christie Bridgegate skit (that also mocked Piers Morgan). New York magazine's Brown also asked about former SNL cast members being conservatives:
NEW YORK: Between Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Norm MacDonald, Colin Quinn, Jim Downey, and Adam Sandler, SNL seems to produce a lot of conservatives, which is rare for a comedy show. Why do you think that is?
MICHAELS: Well, let’s put Victoria in a separate category. When she arrived here, she was married to a fire-eater. Then she married an old boyfriend who was a cop. She was always deeply Christian. I would say Norm is more cranky than political. I love Norm. We’re both Canadian. I think Downey grew up with parents who were Kennedy Democrats and then he evolved. But we’ve never been agenda people. Our job—and it sounds too grand to say and none of us ever say it—is speaking truth to power. I’m registered as an Independent, not because everything that we do would be undermined if we were partisan—Jon Stewart has that role. Us? Theoretically, whoever it is in power, we’re against them.
Yes, that is in theory, not really a reality in the Obama Era, when Comcast-NBC Universal is a major Obama backer. When it came to politics, Michaels also argued it's harder to do edgy political satire now because so many fewer people watch the network news. Whereas everyone seemed to watch Cronkite or someone when SNL debuted in 1975, now it's harder to guess everyone would get the political humor:
It’s much more fragmented now, so half the people watching [the rapper] Drake’s show, maybe 60 to 70 percent, didn’t know him. Even news is fragmented now. There used to be much more cohesion—everyone saw the helicopter take the people out of Saigon. I don’t know whether people know what’s going on in Fallujah right now. So it’s just harder to do comedy about that. Now we do comedy that’s more about the way we live our lives.
Remember that it's also true that unless the networks really launch into a political story or scandal, satirists would say it's not familiar enough to do a comedy sketch on it. Satire often builds on liberal media bias, and entrenches its impact.