I. Prehistory: When I was in middle school, everyone watched Saturday Night Live. Or, everyone with a television did. There were certainly students in my school whose families couldn’t afford one. They were usually the kids who got teased the most. I didn’t get to watch it but that was because my parents wouldn’t let me stay up past ten, even on a weekend. We had plenty of televisions.

The kids who had watched Saturday Night Live would gather on the playground at recess or after school while waiting for the bus and talk about how funny it had been and quote catchphrases back and forth to one another, frothing with laughter. I would laugh too, but I never really got the jokes because I hadn’t seen the show. Something about a lady in church who thought things were special and chef who was very neat. I laughed so people would like me. Of course, that never works.

This playground group discussion was earliest example of what we now call the Saturday Night Live Open Thread. Kentucky preteens in Jams and Jellies acting out short bits of the show behind the swingset were proto-.gifs. The kid in the jean jacket with the sleeves cut off who would say, “That show sucks” was a troll and when he punched you, that was like a downvote.

II. Now: I never really developed a taste for the show and did not watch this past Saturday, despite the fact that I really like Zach Galifianakis. Instead, I sat in my bathroom, the only place where I get Internet, and watched people on the Videogum chat watch Saturday Night Live. Blankly I watched a screen of people blankly watching a screen.

The last time I watched Saturday Night Live happened to be the first time Zach Galifianakis hosted and I laughed a great deal because I think he is very funny. Of course, I didn’t watch the whole thing, just the monologue. Maybe I watched more. I don’t remember. There are other things in my mind that I am trying to remember more. There just isn’t room for everything.

Just as before, the monologue from this past Saturday’s episode (see above) was very funny and made me laugh loudly in a crowded McAlister’s Deli, spewing sweet tea on my faux-marble table. Zach Galifianakis has a good face for funny.

III. The End of Time: But let’s get to what I didn’t think was funny:

Not only could I not watch past this skit, I could not watch more than a few minutes of it before I turned it off and turned to my half-finished ice tea and stared sadly off into space for a while. Let’s put aside for a moment the problem of the fact that the skit was repetitive and unimaginative. That complaint applies to most Saturday Night Live skits. What put me off was that it was just a whole skit about rape in prison which doesn’t strike me as funny.

Thinking that perhaps I was being too dismissive, I asked my friend A Serious Monster (who’d actually watched the whole skit) what she thought:

Here are the thoughts I had while watching the Scared Straight sketch:

-Ugh, a prisoner rape joke.
-Ugh, another.
-I guess I should count how many prisoner rape jokes are in this sketch, for fun and for science.
-This conceit (every story someone tells is actually the plot of a movie) was done much better on The Office, four or five years ago.
-Zach Galifianakis pacing in a straitjacket is funny. THERE. ONE FUNNY THING.
-I hate Andy Samberg.
-Final score: 11 prison rape jokes. 12 if you count the one at the end that is repeated (“What happens in your ass stays in your ass”). I wonder if the word-for-word reiteration of that joke is some kind of self-aware commentary on ALL prison rape jokes. Does this sketch end with the admission that its every stupid pun, from “colon first” to “baby’s arm in your caboose,” is the same goddamn joke? Is it a subtle indictment of the lazy, shallow appeal of this kind of unimaginative humor? Nah. It is just a bad joke, told twice, signifying nothing.

Now, perhaps one person who doesn’t watch or like Saturday Night Live asking another person who doesn’t watch or like Saturday Night Live why they didn’t like Saturday Night Live is not the best way to critique the show. So let me ask: What say you?

Comments (91)
  1. “I do not get American comedy. I ask for humor and they give me rape jokes. Oooooooh, funky boy!”

  2. I don’t watch The Office, but the thing where every story somebody tells is from a movie was done long before that, on an episode of Wings*, in which Joe and Brian met a friend of their father, who did exactly that.

    *Not being a part of any TGIF lineup, Wings would not normally fall under my area of expertise. However, it was still an excellent program from the 90s, and also Amy Yasbeck was one of my earliest crushes, so it has been granted a full scholarship into the exclusive list of Stuff That Facetaco Can Remember From His Childhood.

  3. Anyone else find it odd that 80% of the monologue was like 4 years old? I mean it was funny but…

  4. I LOVED the Catchphrase Comedy Tour. Boston Powers — Seriously? That was one of the funniest sketches of the year.

  5. I wasn’t thrilled the first time Zach hosted and I was wasn’t thrilled this time, either. In fact, I was super duper disappointed. The monologue was great and then everything turned into total garbage. I love Zach’s comedy, but it just falls so flat in the SNL framework.

  6. Just when I thought Jams had completely left my sub conscience, BAM!

  7. I tried to watch it but was falling asleep by the time it came on. I woke up periodically and witnessed the following:

    1. The end of the monologue where Zach was pulling up his Annie dress and showing his underwear (funny, I guess?).
    2. The Digital Short, which was TBS very funny.
    3. The Scared Straight skit, which was not. How many times are they going to run these recurring skits into the ground that weren’t even funny the first time around?

    Did anyone else think that JSuds saying “monsters” during the Scared Straight skit was a shoutout to us? Because I’d like to think that.

  8. I have not watched SNL in ages, and I likewise find rape jokes to be both unfunny and lazy. So keeping with pi day, here is my favorite pie crust recipe.

    1 1/3 c flour
    1 1/2 tbsp sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
    3 tbsp cold water
    1 stick butter (room temp.)
    have a 1 gallon plastic bag (for ease)

    sift together flour, sugar, and salt
    dice butter and cut into dry mixture
    add water, handmix into dough
    put dough into plastic bag and seal, place in fridge for 30 minutes (don’t ask why. It is the baking faries’ will)
    take dough out of fridge, and while still in bag, roll into circle. The bag can be opened at the seams to remove. It is much less frustrating that doing it on the counter, in my experience.

    Double if you need a bottom crust and a top crust, no doy.

  9. Like Armin Tamzarian before her, have we decided just to pretend Jessie J never happened, because I am fine with that.

  10. I fell asleep before Weekend Update, making this about the 43rd consecutive time I’ve failed to make it through the entire show. The moral of the story is that if I’m at home watching SNL on a Saturday night, it’s probably because I was too sleepy to do anything else.

    Good monologue, though. Based on that alone, I vote we make him permanent host.

  11. I LOL’d that the writers had to write Holly Robinson Peete out of “The Talk” sketch because they needed Kenan Thompson for that lame Whoopi joke at the end. When most of your cast is white why even bother trying to look diverse? Also see: Kristin Wiig playing an Asian American television personality.

    • See also the white guy (or venezuelan, german and japanese guy? thanks wikipedia?) that plays the president.

    • Yeahhhhhhh. Also, Kenan might not be the best suited person to play Holly Robinson Peete. Why again does SNL not hire more (or, currently, any) women of color? Wouldn’t they like, at the very least, to avoid these sorts of awkward situations?

      • I agree about Kenan. Kenan in drag has become a joke in itself. When they made the comment about Peete being out of town I thought maybe Kenan had a family emergency or something making the Whoopi reveal all the more hilarious.

      • Seriously, I feel like they loved Maya Rudolf for that reason, cause being biracial she had a range of characters she could play. But having Keenan play the big black girl is getting pathetic. (Although I do kind of love him as Raven and Whoopi)

    • I enjoyed the Sarah Gilbert though

  12. The last two sketches were by far, the best. The Titanic stowaways and the parents explaining how the family dog died.

  13. I’m pretty sure Bill Hader could just read War and Peace to me and I would still find it the funniest thing in the world. Everything he does is great! I’m glad they contained Charlie Sheen jokes to just a part of the cold open (which I highly enjoyed? Anyone else?), but man. Hader/Myers 2012!

  14. I don’t really watch SNL either, but I watched it this week (as I did during Nightmare’s guest spot) so I could comment on the Mans vg recap. Here’s what I thought:

    1. The Star was weak, but MR G, did some weird sing-a-long thing that was reminiscent of Andy Kaufman’s more accessible side. I did not find it particularly funny but I did enjoy Mr G’s willingness to play along with SNL. The Mr T thing, although silly, was another example of this.

    2. The rape joke skit. I’ve never really liked that skit, not because it’s offensive, I just find it repetitive and overdone. I did however like MR G’s performance, not only because he did a good job, but also for the above mentioned reason.

    3. The dog sketch was by far the best sketch I’ve seen in a long time. It was weird and quirky in a way that it would have perfectly fit in with some of the classic SNL skits from the 70s. This one alone was worth the price of admission.

    4.The High Fructose Corn Syrup sketch, Zach talking to kids, The King of Catchphrases were all quality segments. Nothing revolutionary, but all really well made.

    5. I don’t think Mr G is that great of a standup comedian, but he is most, undeniably probably the greatest comedic actor right now.

    6. Ham… BURGER!!!

  15. To be honest, I didn’t watch even though I love Galifanszkisz. That said, Prison Rape is one of those things you dont ask former inmates about, and they don’t discuss. But it’s there, it’s awful, it’s pervasive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQkX8bdM1Y (It’s illegal, but sometimes the inmates do run the asylum) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9WClv4U5B8&feature=related

    But I think mining it for humor, while as lazy as a rape joke or the racist type jokes Zach made in his monologue, is comedically ok. Words are powerful, you just need to have a grasp on intent. (?)

    • While I understand what you are saying, I don’t think intent really matters that much. For example, intent may be what we say separates Sarah Silverman from Jeff Dunham, but in the end, I just don’t think that there is that much difference between the two.

      Humor is non-logical. When you hear a joke and laugh, your mind does not consider the joke, determine its meaning and intent and then make a choice to laugh or not. It is instinctual and closer to vomiting than it is rational thought.

      So my fear is that when a comic tells a race joke (or something else I would say offends me) and I laugh, my saying “Oh, but it was ironic” or “It was just a joke to try and push buttons, the comic did not mean it” that I am still just laughing because the joke triggered something in my baser self and that the critical context, which can be completely invisible to the person to hears the joke, is just an afterthought.

      This isn’t to say that there can’t be good humor based on race or sex or something else, but they are best when they are used to attack racism or sexism or violence or oppression and not when they are used to reinforce those things.

      I completely agree: Words Do Matter. Words can make people feel good. Words can make people feel bad. I remember in the 1990s when there was a lot of attention on music and its negative impact on the youth. The defense of music I heard was “Hey, music can’t make you kill yourself or hurt someone else.” I never liked that idea. If music can’t make me feel bad and unhappy and hateful then music can’t make me feel happy and loved and loving and kind. I very strongly believe that words–as literature, as comedy, as lyric–matter and have meaning and can ennoble the human spirit and can degrade it just as well.

      My point being, there are probably funny ways to attack social ills, such as prison rape, but this wasn’t one. The intent here was to just have a string of lazy puns about committing violence against other humans.

  16. I was sort of stood up on Saturday night (yep, that’s right. old school style.) and my sole comfort was knowing that, despite the hour drive, I would make it home in time for SNL (have you put this all together yet? let me help. I drove one (1) hour to be stood up, and then had to drive one (1) hour home again) which was good because ZG would surely be very funny. And so I get home (and by home I mean to my parents’ house, since my roommate’s girlfriend was over and I didn’t want to interrupt. seriously, it was a great weekend) and I make myself a vodka and cran (DIET cran, gross) and sit down to watch, and it was not funny and I did not laugh. Not one time.

  17. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  18. I’m always impressed by ZG’s willingness to do anything for a laugh. I loved the Mr. T sketch joke at the end.

  19. Insert joke here.

  20. @Mans, doesn’t the type of joke determine how rationally we approach its understanding? Your overview leaves no room for subtle, ironic, understated or other less obtuse forms of humor that don’t only trigger on one, base level. Surely you don’t ascribe to a Freudian construct of humor, wherein all jokes we find humorous achieve their status by virtue of their resonance with our subconscious? Because Freud was an asshat.

    Racist jokes for example, can be funny to me in certain circumstances. Actual racist beliefs are outdated, small minded, and repugnant, but if a comedian tells an exaggeratedly racist joke, it often leaves the impression that the racist, not the race, is actually being mocked. Take Chapelle’s sketch ‘The Black White Supremacist’, as just one example of this.

    According to your analysis, any one who laughs at Clayton Biggsbys’ racial screeds is subconsciously identifying with his views. Irrespective of context, jokes tend to lose all of their humor, and in the case of the Chappelle skit, all meaning completely.

    I am familiar with the idea of ‘enlightened sexism/racism’, which I am sure proponents of said idea could accuse me of. They would probably frown at my, for another example, laughing at overtly sexist comments made by characters on Mad Men. But that would be ludicrous, because it ignores all context, and insists that there is only one way to take a joke. There’s undeniable humor in the misogynists of Mad Men, because they are so sure of such obviously wrong and stupidly held beliefs. The satire has existed for centuries. How on earth could you appreciate satirical humor without context?

    There’s no way all responses to jokes occur on a subliminal level, because in many situations the full structure of a joke is two or three layers: context is so crucial to our understanding of humor that separating it from the reactions it produces seems impossible.

    As for SNL, it had several high points, with less lows than the usual episode this season. I agree that the prison rape sketch was a one-trick pony, and a not too funny one, at that. However, I feel as though the OP and most of the more serious comments here completely focused on the punch lines without acknowledging the context.
    These things are of course subjective, but to me the joke was in how hokey and self-important Keenan’s character was, not really what he said. To call it offensive is about the thinnest-skinned response imaginable, and it ignores all but one facet of the skit (not that it was that deep of a sketch or anything, my argument here applies more generally)

    the fact is people crack non-PC jokes all the time in ‘real life’, risque/ ‘edgy’ humor can be just as valid as high brow gags, sometimes even funnier, and that all reductionist, essentialist narrowing down does is kill all humor in a joke, it makes pretend people don’t have the conversations and harmless jokes that they actually do, and pressures people at large into the dominant discourse where nobody gets their feelings hurt but nobody is allowed to laugh, either.


  21. I read all (most) of all (some) of your posts because someone has to.(?) Why are you all dissing (sleeping) on SNL? It’s just trying to entertain you (middle schoolers).

  22. I don’t think the sketch is making fun of prison rape; it’s making fun of scared straight programs that exploit the threat of prison rape in order to make kids behave. When I was in high school, there was an assembly every year where they basically did make prison rape jokes for an hour, all to keep us from smoking drugs. Smart comedians should be critiquing that sort of thing.

    Having said that, it’s still not a very good sketch.

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