S.E. Cupp: Sean Spicer, target of a hilarious Melissa McCarthy parody on "SNL," should get used to laughing along
Many in Trump's orbit adopt his thin-skinned reactions. But there's a long history of politicians embracing "SNL" parody, she says
Editor’s Note: S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
The Sean Spicer I know has a great sense of humor and an easy laugh.
Let’s hope these came in handy when he watched Melissa McCarthy parody the White House spokesman on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend.
We all know his thin-skinned, humorless boss, President Donald Trump, has not taken kindly to SNL’s countless spoofs, complaining on Twitter that SNL is “unwatchable,” “totally biased” and “not funny.” He’s also said that Alec Baldwin’s impersonation “just can’t get any worse.”
I happen to largely agree with that assessment. “SNL” has taken to merely mimicking Trump and his antics through Baldwin, rather than cleverly satirizing him. Despite plenty of material to work with, thus far, the Trump-SNL era has been, well, boring and predictable.
Until this weekend, that is. The difference between the usual Trump spoofs and McCarthy’s take on Spicer is that hers was actually hilarious.
A podium-wielding McCarthy plays on Spicer’s rocky start at the White House – his oratorical stumbles, his new, Trump-like scorn for critical press, his equally Trumpian fact-manipulation – with a well-studied ear for his tics and tone.
Exaggerating a White House spokesman might sound like inside-the-beltway kind of humor that average viewers won’t appreciate or find funny. But in the theatrical, reality-television era of Trump, everyone around him is a character, too. And in this case, “SNL” writers didn’t just mimic Spicer, they encapsulated a far bigger story: this is what it looks like when a normal, professional political operative becomes Trumpified. And if you didn’t laugh out loud, you may have Trump’s thin-skin disorder.
But will Spicer follow his boss’s lead, tweeting out how unfunny “SNL” is, or telling reporters that the show is biased and unwatchable? Not if he’s smart, he won’t.
If an “SNL” spoof is funny, there’s only one way for the spoofee to handle it – embrace it. At his next press briefing (Monday’s was called off), where he will undoubtedly be asked about it, he should laugh it off, say he was flattered, and then make a joke at his own expense. He already took a crack at this approach in an interview with Extra on Sunday, telling AJ Calloway that McCarthy “could dial back” a bit, but also managing to call the show “funny.”
If he can keep this up, he’d be following a long tradition of politicos taking parody in stride.
In 1995, House Republicans invited Chris Farley, who’d been impersonating Speaker Newt Gingrich on “SNL,” to impersonate him to his face at the conference meeting while Gingrich laughed along.
After spoofing George H.W. Bush for four years, Dana Carvey was invited to the White House to meet him. After Bush lost to Bill Clinton, he had Carvey come cheer up his staff.
In October of 2008, after Tina Fey spent weeks perfectly portraying then Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Palin appeared on “SNL” alongside Fey and Alec Baldwin, who “mistakes” her for Fey – his former 30 Rock co-star – and asks how she could appear on the show with the real Palin, “that horrible woman.”
But that was all BT – Before Trump. I know dozens of people in his new administration and many have become more like him, at least outwardly. They’ve become defensive, self-serious and aggressive, and they’ve adopted Trump’s rhetorical penchant for hyperbole, bombast and fact-blurring. They say things publicly that I know they never would have said before. It seems like they’re playing a part in a new Trump reality show.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Spicer reverts to Trump’s lack of humor toward unflattering satire, just to stick to script.
But that would make it infinitely worse. It’s already problematic that the credibility of the White House and its staff is being lampooned only two weeks into the job. With the elevation of Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, some are wondering who are the cooler heads and saner voices surrounding the president.
If the White House wants to allay these fears – and perhaps they do not – Spicer should be his cooler, saner, pre-Trump self, and play along with McCarthy’s performance. Otherwise, the notion that Trump’s White House can’t take a joke gets a lot more serious.