Since 1975, “Saturday Night Live” has entertained American audiences with its political satire and comedy sketches, parodying everything from facets of pop culture to current events.
Over the years, “SNL” has served as a means of both entertaining its viewers and creating a time capsule of the political climate and evolving entertainment industry for future generations.
One of the fundamental aspects of the show has always been grounded in the right to free speech, as protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, in October of this year, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump called to censor the show altogether—because apparently, free speech is only acceptable when it’s used against other people, rather than yourself.
The Nov. 19 episode of “SNL” featured Alec Baldwin as a flustered, incompetent President-elect Trump, googling “What is ISIS?” and seeking assurance from Vice President-elect Mike Pence (portrayed by Beck Bennett) that Pence would “do everything, right?” In response to this, Trump took to Twitter once again to declare that “SNL” is a “totally biased, one-sided show” and that there should be “equal time for us.”
Trump has had an extremely up-and-down relationship with the sketch comedy show over the last few months of his campaign, particularly after Baldwin took the reins of Trump’s “SNL” portrayal on Oct. 1. In the weeks leading up to the election, Trump even went as far as to declare—on Twitter, of course—that Baldwin’s satirical version of himself was a “hit job” and that it was “time to retire the boring and unfunny show.”
But if you rewind to a year ago, Trump was singing a much different tune. On Nov. 7, 2015, Trump hosted “SNL” for the second time—the first being back in 2004, following the premiere of “The Apprentice.” During his monologue at the top of the 2015 show, Trump stated that “part of the reason I’m here, is [because] I know how to take a joke,” and proceeded to stand by good-naturedly as Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond impersonated him.
Killam had only recently taken over the role in October 2015, but Hammond had worn the wind-swept blond wig off-and-on since 1999, and the role was actually originated by Phil Hartman back in 1988. During all of that time, Trump never actively protested his portrayal to the extent that he has as a presidential candidate, or currently, as President-elect.
In fact, after his time hosting in 2015, Trump called the show “amazing” and stated that he “had so much fun!” Now, he wants to have the show taken off the air for the same caliber of jokes that have been made at his expense over the years, and for what he sees as a lack of equality due to biased media that worked toward “rigging [the] election.”
For decades, “SNL” has both portrayed and invited a variety of politicians to the show. Invitees have included former President Gerald Ford during the 1976 election season, President George H.W. Bush in 1994 and current President Barack Obama while on the campaign trail as a state senator in 2007. Also, a total of 14 U.S. presidents have been impersonated on “SNL” throughout its 41-year run, along with nine presidential candidates, to include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Governor Mitt Romney.
With each appearance and impersonation comes its own array of jokes, poking fun at the politicians who are constantly displayed across American television screens, ultimately humanizing these people to the everyday viewer. These parodies are simply a part of the DNA of the show, and have contributed to its incredible, lasting success for the last four decades. In fact, Trump even praised the fact that the episode he hosted in 2015 was the highest-rated “SNL” had seen in years.
Yet once again, the sketch comedy show is under fire, with threats from Trump to be taken off the air completely. But to censor “Saturday Night Live” would ultimately lead to the censorship of other forms of media, directly contradicting the First Amendment in favor of pleasing one particular person.
For as long as there has been politics, there has been political satire. It seems as though one can’t function without the other—like checks and balances, satire is there to both bring the growing power structures of the political world back down to earth and make them more accessible to the common citizen.
No one human is ever inherently better than another, regardless of who is in power. At the end of the day, we’re all just small creatures on a rock floating through space, trying to figure out why we do what we do. The value of satirical shows like “Saturday Night Live” lies primarily in their right to freedom of speech, to express opinions and to bring inefficiencies to light through humor.
Now more than ever, we need “SNL” to make us laugh and help draw attention to the shortcomings of our world. Satire, ultimately, is intended to provide positive criticism aimed at our society, and deep down we all know that this country could definitely benefit from more of that.