Three weeks after September 11, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on Saturday Night Live and said, “Having our city’s institutions up and running sends a message that New York City is open for business.”
Saturday Night Live was the institution he was referring to, and this was an incredibly brave move. When this episode aired, I was six years old, but I’ve been reminded of it many times since it aired from watching re-runs and specials about SNL in the early 2000’s. The mayor’s words were also a statement of how much influence Saturday Night Live has on the American people.
As I write this post, I’m watching the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special, and I’m thinking about how comedy can lift an entire nation’s spirit after tragedy. The media has the responsibility to inform people, but there’s another aspect of media responsibility that I think is pretty important, and that’s to help people move on.
Comedy shows like SNL have helped to aid our nation’s recovery after disasters since 1975. September 11 is the greatest example – NBC made a statement by airing a comedy show just weeks after a terrorist attack. This speaks volumes about our nation’s media and the weight it carries.
Aside from great tragedies, SNL and other comedy shows have made a huge impact on politics in America. To be completely honest, my SNL addiction in high school was part of what kept me informed. I remember Tina Fey as Sara Palin, Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton, Will Ferrell as George Bush, and Fred Armisen as President Obama. I also remember the president himself, and many of the candidates in 2008 and 2012, making appearances on the show.
It’s almost as if taking part in comedy is a right of passage for politicians in the U.S., and this is great for us. Unlike countries who put politicians on a pedestal, we make fun of them as our way of bringing them back down to earth. It’s important for a nation to be able to laugh about the government – this keeps us from feeling negative about politics 24/7.
My love for SNL will always be more than a love for laughter. I look at this show as a platform for progressive media statements, and I look at its cast members, writers and producers as free expression activists. Whether it’s making fun of nearly every presidential candidate (think 2012 republicans) or moving on from one of the greatest tragedies to happen in the United States, we can always look to Saturday Night Live for reassurance that our nation and its people will laugh again.