SNL writers must have the right to be risqué

Benedict Spence

Topics Culture

I have found that as I’ve aged (and I’m really not that old), comedy I see on television, let alone endure on BBC Radio 4, has become less and less amusing. It’s not a unique observation; many decry the standards to which the humour peddled to us these days has fallen, sanitised to the point that it is an effort even to grimace. Gordon Kaye sadly passed away this week, and as ‘Allo ‘Allo reruns flooded my evening viewing, it was once again impressed upon me just how humourless and bland our comedy has become. It just isn’t risqué any more.

Fortunately, unless I actively seek it out, there is little prospect of me coming across US show Saturday Night Live. SNL has adopted a taste for going after Donald Trump with all the energy of a Gatling, and about as much wit. One starts to wonder whether Alec Baldwin’s inability to portray The Donald is, in fact, the joke.

SNL doesn’t like Trump because he embodies everything it despises, and no one aspect of his being grates more than his lack of political correctness. Such is their loathing that it was only a matter of time before someone ‘overstepped the mark’. That moment came on Friday night, the evening of Trump’s inauguration, when SNL writer Katie Rich tweeted that the president’s son, Barron, would be the country’s ‘first home-school shooter’.

Predictably, the internet went berserk. Even Chelsea Clinton weighed in to support young Barron. Rich was forced to apologise, deleted her Twitter account, and was later suspended from SNL.

The mob smelled blood and got it. It is depressing that SNL, and its network NBC, didn’t stand up for Rich. Sure, the joke was in poor taste, but SNL is (apparently) a comedy show, and ought to know that the very best humour is built on taking shots, no matter how offensive. The risqué aspect of the right to offend is essential to humour; sometimes it isn’t funny, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a crack.

It is our ability to say and think whatever we like that allows us to seek out and find laughter in the bleakest and blackest of topics, and that is essential for an optimistic society. The idea that people need protection from humour is so utterly absurd it shouldn’t need to be attacked. I doubt Barron Trump even noticed the insult – after all, he sat through an entire inauguration without appearing to grasp what was happening, so I’m sure one tweet from someone he’s never heard of won’t shatter him.

Irish comedian Dave Allen once said of his efforts to quit smoking: ‘I now have my sense of smell back. I can actually get up in the morning, open a window, breathe it in and smell again! Petrol! Carbon Monoxide! Dog shit! And the taste! I used to think when I was smoking I had no taste! But it’s not the smoking, it’s the food!’

The message is clear: without vice, life is dull. Without tastelessness, life has no taste. The same is true of comedy. Donald Trump himself says Saturday Night Live is ‘not funny’. He’s not wrong. And it never will be again if they keep suspending their writers for taking risks. That, if anything, is in poor taste.

Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.

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