Monday, October 27, 2008

Why the Saturday Night Live Appearance Hurt Palin

Sarah Palin had a great chance to improve her image by appearing on Saturday Night Live, and confronting her critics as well as her satirists head on. But she forgot a major aspect of appearing on the show: the ability to laugh at yourself.

Years ago Jesse Jackson, who I wouldn't micterate on were he aflame, appeared on SNL, and shocked many of us by appearing in a skit making fun of affirmative action, a Jesse Jackson mainstay. During his monologue, and while complimenting the show on being so willing to hire minorities, the sound system fouled up, sending a curious Jesse to the sound booth. Switch to a shot of the booth, filled with middle aged white guys, as a door opens and someone frantically says "he's coming!". The white guys are shuffled out, and a bunch of black guys who clearly have no idea what they are doing, are sent in to deal with a happy but confused Jackson who doesn't understand why the sound engineers don't know what feedback is. It was hilarious, and showed us a side of Jackson most of us didn't know existed. He was willing to laugh at himself.

Palin flunked this basic test. Oh, she was more than happy to participate in the skit where she and Lorn Michaels get a laugh at Alec Baldwin's expense, as he confuses the fake Palin played by Tina Fey, with the real one. But when her Jesse Jackson moment came to sing the silly rap song they wrote for her on the news, she refused, and sat there like an idiot bobbing back and forth as someone else sang her song.

So we had no Jesse Jackson moment, no hair down, no peek inside the real person who, while she may take her positions on the issues seriously as we all do, could take a step back and laugh at herself. Instead, we got what all her critics expected, someone too closed minded, too shallow, too downright arrogant, to appreciate the humor, and consider that maybe, just maybe, there is something there worth laughing at. It won't budge her poll numbers, and just cemented the opinion her critics have.


Mark said...

For what it's worth, Lorne Michaels said in Entertainment Weekly that it was all part of the gag. See,,20234814_3,00.html

"Did Palin really decide not to do the rap, or was that part of the gag?"

"It was all part of the act. We didn't ask her to rap. The idea was, what is the worst possible thing we could ask her to do? If her campaign were over-managed and she wasn't making the calls know what I'm saying? But she has a good sense of humor."

This explanation makes a lot more sense, considering the nuts and bolts of producing topical comedy. There was no way they could count on Palin to be able to pull off a bit like that one. There are only one or two cast members who can, Amy Poehler being one.

Besides, Palin probably thought she was being self-effacing by standing next to Baldwin while he called her "that horrible woman."

Palin's strongest attribute, poise, is impressive because it's difficult for most people. It's also totally separate from the question of competence and intellect. Poise is the complete opposite of giving the audience a peek at the real person.

The Jesse Jackson bit was funny, but my favorite was Julian Bond, who told Garrett Morris in an SNL sketch that the basis of white racism was the "fact" that light-skinned blacks were superior to dark-skinned blacks. Hard to imagine SNL taking that kind of risk today.

Anonymous said...

Maybe she had nothing to laugh at. And besides maybe it is good to laugh at Baldwin. And also, maybe Jackson is funnier than Palin. What would be good would be statistics and evidence on this.