Dean Obeidallah: On Saturday, "Saturday Night Live" wrapped its best season in its 42-year history
The comedy show went beyond being a form of satirical news -- it became the news, writes Obeidallah
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. For more on humor, watch CNN’s “The History of Comedy” Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
“Saturday Night Live’s” season finale opened with Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, singing the classic Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah.” I bet the real Trump was also saying “hallelujah” as this show’s season came to a close.
While millions of Americans will miss “SNL” when it goes on summer hiatus, Donald “President for now” Trump (as “SNL” dubbed him last night) and his supporters must be ecstatic the show is going on break.
This was very possibly “SNL’s” best season in its 42-year history, and for two reasons.
First, its political comedy went beyond simply being a form of satirical news – it became the news. “SNL” made headlines with its season opener on October 1, 2016, when America met Baldwin as Trump in a parody of the first presidential debate. (Can you believe that was only seven months ago?!)
The “SNL” debate sketches that followed seemed to be as anticipated and discussed as the actual debates themselves. Kate McKinnon’s superb Hillary Clinton impression, together with Baldwin’s Trump, was a “yuge” hit. As a result, “SNL” saw its ratings skyrocket and will end this season with its highest TV ratings in nearly 25 years.
But beyond TV ratings, “SNL” was everywhere – thanks to social media. Countless clips from this season’s sketches went viral, from Melissa McCarthy’s hilarious Sean Spicer impressions to the envelope-pushing commercial parody about Ivanka’s new perfume, “Complicit,” to Steve Bannon as the Grim Reaper dictating what Trump should do as president.
But “SNL’s” season was also newsworthy for another reason. The show got under Trump’s thin skin and caused him to lash out. One of the most alarming moments came in October when Trump jaw-droppingly called for “SNL” to be canceled because, as he tweeted, the show was “unfunny” and part of the “media rigging election!”
Think about that for a moment – the GOP presidential nominee was calling for a comedy show to be canceled because he didn’t like the way it was mocking him. No wonder Trump admires autocratic leaders like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who effectively banned Egypt’s version of “The Daily Show” because he didn’t like the way it portrayed him. Bassem Youseff, the show’s star comedian, was subsequently forced to flee Cairo and go into exile.
Even as President-elect, Trump continued to attack “SNL” – and not just on Twitter. In December, only a month before being sworn in as the 45th President, there was Trump on the “Today” show telling Matt Lauer that the show was “terrible” and Baldwin’s impression was “mean spirited.” He even somewhat menacingly added, “who knows how long that show is going to be on.”
I worked at “SNL” for eight seasons, from the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency through most of George W. Bush’s time in office. “SNL” comically fileted these two presidents weekly. The sketches about Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal were especially cutting. But neither Clinton nor Bush publicly whined that “SNL’s” comedy was biased or unfair.
Thankfully “SNL,” under the leadership of longtime producer Lorne Michaels, didn’t back down. Even in last night’s episode, which was light on political sketches, “Weekend Update” anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che served up some great jokes about Trump.
One of the best was Jost noting that Trump denied telling then-FBI Director James Comey to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn. Jost quipped, “This sets up a real dilemma. Who are you going to believe? The head of the FBI, or the guy who’s definitely lying?”
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So for now Trump can breathe a sigh of relief. But before he gets too relaxed, “SNL” recently announced it will air four live prime-time “Weekend Update” specials in August that will feature some cast members.
It looks like Trump’s break from “SNL” may be ending right as the special counsel’s investigation into the Trump’s campaign possible collusion with Russia is heating up. That’s horrible for Trump, but it’s great for “Saturday Night Live.”