Saturday Night Live censorship
For more than thirty years, Saturday Night Live has given comics an outlet to bring topical humor to TV screens across America. Some of the show’s alumni say that comedians today aren’t going far enough to take jabs at President Obama, though.
In a recent episode of a podcast hosted by former SNL actor Jon Lovitz, the comic quizzes fellow alum Dana Carvey for his take on how the political climate today influences the material of other comedians. Both Lovitz and Carvey, who began their tenure with the TV program in the mid-1980s, are no strangers to taking on America’s political elite in front of the camera. They acknowledge, though, that attacking current US President Barack Obama with comedy is something that is rarely done — and they wish that could change.
“As comedians, we always want to push the envelope, and it’s our nature to want to say inappropriate things,” Carvey says in a recent episode of The ABCs of SNL podcast. Even after three years of the Obama administration though, the comic admits that his peers are still hard pressed to find an appropriate route that puts the president in focus.
Carvey says that he’s seen jokes made at Obama’s expense prompt audiences to return with utter silence in some instances, and Lovitz acknowledges that his own attempts at taking on the president haven’t exactly been met with praise. Although each of their tenures in comedy have involved regularly parodying figures from popular culture and politics, Carvey says it seems impossible to crack the line between inappropriate and funny with President Obama, and Lovitz asks if his remarks might have warranted a different response if they targeted a different president.
In recent months, Lovitz has made headlines for remarks such as saying Obama “didn’t earn” his Nobel Peace Prize and that his claim that “the rich don’t pay their taxes is fucking bullshit.”
“And I voted for the guy, and I’m a Democrat,” Lovitz says, but not before calling the commander-in-chief “a fucking asshole.”
In the podcast, Lovitz asks Carvey how he feels about allegations that SNL comedians have only been able to really come down hard on Republican presidents, and Carvey says that anyone in power should be put before the looking glass.
“I know there was a sensitivity to it, having our first African America president and the way President Obama was elected, so there was a sensitivity in the beginning, [but] over time it sort of knee jerk and patronizing not to satirize the president,” Carvey says.
“If you think of us growing up in Vietnam and Watergate, one of the biggest anthems of our generation is to question authority. It happens that right now the authority is President Obama,” he adds.
“Free speech is the coolest thing we have in this country,” Carvey continues, but warns that even minor attempts to curb some sorts of jokes might be a poor move for the sake of the First Amendment.
“You can label it hate speech and dismiss it and then you’re allowed to censor it but I think it is really dangerous and scary,” he says.
In regards to taking jabs at President Obama, Carvey adds, “To not do it seems not healthy for America.” The comedian is perhaps most remembered during his seven years at SNL for his impersonation of former president George H.W. Bush.