It’s okay. You can all stop tearing out your hair. I’ve got this.
Recently, my wife and I burned through some of the latest episodes of Saturday Night Live. There was some great potential in the hosts: Kristen Wiig, Zack Galifinakis, even Jennifer Lawrence, who seems pretty naturally hilarious. And while each episode had a sketch or two that drew a soft chuckle, I was left mostly with disappointment. And anger. Yes: anger.
Why was I angry? On the simplest level, I was angry because these comedians have a responsibility to make me laugh, and they blew it. Three times in a row. And they’ve been blowing it season after season, if I may be so bold. But underneath the anger was frustration; I couldn’t put my finger on why it was so bad. Of course, I knew it was the writing; the talent is there, if sorely underused (*cough* Kate McKinnon *cough*). But I couldn’t seem to nail down what exactly had changed, until this morning.
From the seventies until the departure of Comedy Writing Genius Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live gave us art to imitate in life. Each week, they created new avenues of humor through wild characters and scenarios we couldn’t have dreamed: A door-to-door shark serial killer, a Catholic school girl with anger management problems and a penchant for Lifetime movie monologues, Samurai warriors who run a deli. These comedians were in the business of changing, and deciding, what was funny in America. They gave us new things to laugh at and added a whole slew of catchphrases and inside jokes to pop culture. We never knew what they were going to determine was funny on any given Saturday night, but it almost always was. And even if it wasn’t, at least it was something different.
But now, life imitates art…and life isn’t all that interesting. The majority of each episode is packed with Internet humor that’s already weeks old, so the whole show ends up looking like one big live-action meme. The whole Internet has already discussed and bagged on rich housewives, Game of Thrones, and cougars. What could the writers at SNL possibly add to the discussion that is new and, more importantly, funny?
This doesn’t mean that everything the other writers and casts have created was genius, or original. Sure, there were pop culture references and parodies and impressions. But now, instead of SNL giving us inside jokes, they’re trying to keep up with the online community’s humor attention span, and it’s just not possible. For instance: when Seth MacFarlane hosted (a genius writer who really could have been tapped), they did a “Gangnam Style” sketch. Really? The video is old as soon as you see it. Face it: any reference you make to any online craze is just making you look old and behind the times.
So stop trying to keep up with stuff that isn’t that funny anyway! (Yes, I’m now talking directly to you, SNL). Nothing online is; we see it, we snicker to ourselves, we move on. You’ve forgotten your responsibility to decide what makes us laugh and are resting instead on what you know already has. But we don’t laugh that hard at any of it, and–speaking for myself–kind of hate all of it, deep-down. As in seasons past, you shine when you do something out-of-the-box and fresh: new characters, new scenarios. The highlight of the Kristen Wiig episode wasn’t the ten-year-old Ring reference; it was the (admittedly hard-to-watch) acupuncture sketch: three women (and their straight man) really going for it. No Internet inside jokes, no dead horses.
For the future of humor in America, I beg you: take back the reins. We’re idiots. We don’t know what’s funny. It’s your job to show us.