The election cycle in conjunction with the first month of the Trump administration have been the opposite of lighthearted.
From a temporary ban on Muslims, to potential Russian interference in the election, to a woman who lacks knowledge about the public education system appointed the secretary of the entire organization, the American public desperately needs a break from the absurdities that have filled the past year.
During the past two weekends on Saturday Night Live, the cast offered viewers a lighthearted break from traditional media with their sketches of Melissa McCarthy in full costume as Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer. These sketches embody the intersesctionality between humor and politics, which is not a new idea at all.
Voltaire’s Candide is one of the earliest, most celebrated satires, as it masterfully mocks the ideas of philosophy, wealth and the world’s evils through humor. At first, it seems that the novel is a traditional narrative, yet after Candide’s journey through France and eventually the world progresses, it becomes clear that Voltaire is actually attempting to mock preexisting institutions through his Enlightenment-era masterpiece. Humor has long existed as a means of assessing society in a less-critical manner.
Following similar guidelines, Saturday Night Live consistently uses humor to mock modern institutions and people without outwardly noting the mimicry. During the election, the popular sketches with Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump openly criticized both candidates and their corresponding scandals throughout the cycle.
However, the particular episodes mocking Sean Spicer were exemplary in both evaluating Trump’s new cabinet and addressing the fears associated with the progression of mistrust of the country’s officials.
The first sketch opened with an official C-Span introduction, followed by McCarthy yelling at reporters that she wanted to “begin today by apologizing on behalf of you to me for how you have treated me these last two weeks.” This comedic statement partnered with her appearance and her attempt at a manly voice set the tone for the rest of the sketch.
Additionally, the most relevant part of the sketches are the interactions between Spicer and a New York Times reporter on the discussion of the “ban,” wherein the reporter asks and Spicer openly argues that it is not, in fact, a ban.
The twisted humor in these sketches derives from the fact that they truly occur in real life. The executive action itself and the official statements that ensued discounted that it was a ban at all. However, through the president’s statements before and after the ban, it becomes clear that the executive action directly targets the global Muslim community. These deep-rooted issues demonstrate the disparity between the truths as the media offers them and the truths the new administration offers.
Further, the ironic use of humor targets the issues deep rooted within the Trump administration: the repetitive dismissal of the media as incorrect and acting antagonistically to the American people and the president himself. Kellyanne Conway’s statements after the inauguration regarding the existence of “alternative facts” demonstrate the separation between traditional media and the president’s press office.
Overall, Saturday Night Live employs traditional elements of satire to mock the new administration humorously. In a way, the American public desperately needs this specific method of storytelling during this transitional period. With so much pessimism and uncertainty regarding the truth, taking the time to laugh about politics becomes vital.