Monday, December 15, 2008

SNL: Blinded by the light?

Spoilers for the Hugh Laurie/Amy Poehler "Saturday Night Live" extravaganza coming up just as soon as I put the finishing touches on my Chanukah letter...

It's funny what happens when you don't get around to watching "SNL" for about a day. Had I watched the thing live, or even Sunday morning, I would have reviewed the episode as a whole: how disappointing it was given the brilliance of Hugh Laurie's first appearance(*), how the Digital Short was the worst ever (yes, even worse than Daiquiri Girl), how I was glad to see one final edition of Really? with Seth and Amy before Amy Poehler left the show for good, etc.

(*) I don't know if Hugh had as big a hand in sketch-writing as he did last time (which gave us brilliant bits like The Queen's Advance Man), but he definitely seemed willing to take a back seat to the cast this time. One of the few memorable moments of the episode, outside of Weekend Update, was seeing master sketch comedian Laurie struggling to keep a straight face as Poehler and Maya Rudolph kept riffing off each other in the final installment of "Bronx Beat."

But that was a whole news cycle ago, and now the only question seems to be whether the Governor Paterson sketch was insensitive to the blind.

And to that, my answer is this: Yes, and...?

It's a comedy show. At times a good comedy show, at times bad, but a comedy show. It makes fun of people for all sorts of reasons, some in good taste, some not. Hell, they've mocked the blind before, whether it was Ray Charles thinking he was hosting the show at Carnegie Hall, or the legendary Stevie Wonder camera commercial.

You could argue that those previous sketches featured actual blind people poking fun at themselves, where this was Fred Armisen playing blind, in the same way he plays black as Barack Obama. But where Armisen's Obama isn't funny because the writers don't know what to do with the character, his Paterson impression was a scream, possibly the funniest thing Armisen has ever done on this show. (Him disrupting Amy's goodbye was the highlight.)

It was absolutely, 100 percent mocking a man's disability (though they took other non-blindness pokes at Paterson), but I could name a half-dozen sketches off the top of my head that were just as vicious in mocking public figures, whether it was Claudine Longet accidentally shooting a bunch of skiiers, Belushi as Liz Taylor eating an entire chicken leg, Linda Tripp having lunch with Monica Lewinsky, Bob Dole on "The Real World" or basically everything they did to and with Sarah Palin this season.

Hell, I'd argue that if "SNL" isn't offending people at least once or twice a season, it isn't doing its job right.

What did everybody else think?


Nicole said...

I think we share a brain, because the only moments I found funny were HL trying not to laugh during the Bronx beat sketch and Weekend Update. Armisen was hilarious as Patterson, and his final farewell to Amy was memorable. Everything else was extremely boring and really weak for a Christmas show. I wished Hannukah Harry could have shown up for a bit.

What makes it worse is that Hugh Laurie can be excellent in sketch work (as seen in a Bit of Fry and Laurie), but he was given nothing to work with here. The lamps were dumb, the xmas dinner was dumb and I entirely forget the digital short.

Amy really bumps up the quality of the Weekend Update, and she is a huge loss for the show. She makes Seth funnier than when he was on his own.

Abbie said...

I thought it was tasteless and not funny.

I have a long history as a fan of rude, crude, offensive comedy. I know I can take a joke.

I think offensive comedy can be done well if it's a new.
'Blind people can't see' is not a new joke. That is tired. (As are: 'fat people are big and eat a lot', 'gay people talk funny', and 'Asian people have funny names and easy-to-mock accents', and that last one was used for another WU joke that night).

I mean, they used the same 'wandering into the camera' thing with McCain after the second Prez debate, not even two months ago, so that wasn't new.

It was just bad, and the wrong kind of offensive.

Anonymous said...

The Paterson bit was lazy writing. The blind jokes were cliched and the wandering in front of the camera, while a great bit, was simply a rehash of when they did it with McCain in the debate sketch. They can do better.

Anonymous said...

But the Paterson skit's punchline wasn't making fun of the blind, or even Gov. Paterson; it was to interrupt Amy Poehler as she gave her heartfelt good-bye. In that light, I think the joke was effective and quite funny.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't offended at all, but I was bored to death. Which I suppose is to be expected to a certain degree for SNL, but it had Hugh Laurie as the host! Who doesn't love Hugh Laurie? I totally expected something much funnier (or, just funny, period).

Which made it all the more annoying that I sat through 1.5 hours of it. Especially since it is also Amy Poehler's last show, and boy, did it suck.

None of the skits were particularly funny as a concept to begin with, and all of them ran WAY too long. When I saw Kanye rolling around with his second song, I was like, that's it? That's the show? Boy, it blew.

Adam said...

Paterson Wandering was funnier than Paterson Seated. No question.

Bad episode overall. Fine opening sketch, but other than that and Update, meh. Okay, and I dig Kanye.

The last of the Greatest Female SNL Crew Of All Time -- Rudolph-Fey-Dratch-Poehler -- is now gone.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, wallwriting. I thought it was pretty clear that that one was all a lead up to the interruption/tension breaker and I thought it worked very well. Plus, it the entire blind thing was wrapped around so many different elements of Patterson's public persona. Nevermind that the man himself likes to make his jokes and take his shots at folks and just generally let loose with the zingers. I will fully accept him expressing disappointment or offsense at it (though, at the same time, it's a bit of a slippery slope with the whole "he can dish it, but can't take it" thing), but i thought his office's comments were pretty absurd. It was funny. The whole thing was funny from start to finish and while there were bits during the first part that were funny, my favorite part was him blocking the shot while on the phone setting up a "circus tickets" purchase.

I'm sort of in the middle on the rest of the show. I didn't love it as much as some other squeeing Hugh Laurie fans did, but I didn't hate it either. Some parts made me laugh, others didn't. Still, I thought it was better than his first appearance, Queen sketch notwithstanding. He seemed looser and save for the fact that I would have preferred a little more Bill Hader, I thought everything actually had a nice flow to it. Except Kanye. He blew.

Hyde said...

I thought there was a bigger problem with the sketch: very few Americans outside of New York know the first thing about David Paterson, let alone that he's blind or even that he's a real person and not just the latest WU character. New Yorkers have been known to overestimate how much the rest of the country knows about or cares about their local celebrities. The skit was clearly a huge hit inside the studio, with an audience that responded to the accuracy of Armisen's impression, but I'm thinking many of the viewers were wondering why SNL was making fun of a blind guy and depicting him as a bumbling fool.

Certainly one can be both blind AND a fool, but unless you have already have a clearly developed sense of the real Paterson (as viewers had gotten a sense of Sarah Palin before Tina Fey ever played her), the gag won't work.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree--maybe it's because I worked with blind and visually impaired people for several years, but it's completely different when the blind person (or person with another disability) is in on the joke, and is a willing participant. I think it bothered me most that they made him cross-eyed to mock the governor's appearance. I think that was over the line.

Overly politically correct people annoy me as a rule, but I have to side with them on this one.

Jeff K. said...

Is the outrage over the fact that he's making fun of "the blind" or of "the Governor (who is blind)"?

I ask because this is not the first Fred walking in front of the Update camera due to blindness gag they did, and I don't recall the "outrage" back then.

Personally, it's ridiculous.

I agree with the Governor's statement that this sort of thing doesn't do blind people any favors in the sense that they're all potential members of the workforce, if not for the sighted among us' inability to see (zing!) that they're perfectly capable people... but at the same time, it just seems like any old excuse to get your name in the paper on behalf of the Federation of the Blind or whichever group is squealing the loudest.

I certainly didn't get all up in arms as they were ravaging my industry with "Nick Burns, Your Computer Guy" :-)

Anonymous said...

The only justification a joke ever needs is being funny. This joke was funny.

As for the rest of the show, the only sketches that even kind of worked for me were the Christmas dinner and wedding toasts. Everything else fell very flat.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Patterson's recognition outside of NY, I'm from the South and well aware of who he is. His appointment was a national story. I don't think this is a case of SNL not bothering to consider the world outside of NY, I think it's along the same lines of them doing jokes about Saxby Chambliss or trotting out Forte's Zell Miller. I'm from his state and, aside from just generally being an absurd figure, I couldn't tell you anything noteworthy he's done on a national scale, but people still know who he is. I think Patterson's the same way. Plus, he's a little fresher on people's minds.

@Andrew: I enjoyed the wedding sketch for the most part. Hugh and Sudeikis were funny, but my favorite bit was Moynihan's "WHHHAAAATTT???" before throwing down the mic and leaving. So random and very funny.

And back on the subject of Patterson...I'm not sure I get why it's offensive that they "mocked" his appearance. If he wasn't crosseyed (which he kind of is) and they just dressed Armisen up like Patterson would it have been okay? Spoofing appearances is what they do.

Anonymous said...

A little clarification: wrt Miller, I meant noteworthy since 2004 and the threat of duel.

J said...

I'm sure there are more clever ways to make fun of a blind governor, but you need to make fun of a governor. The impression was good, they didn't stoop to making him a buffoon (the delivery on the "Unfortuantely, a southern border" comeback was fantastic), and the staggering in front of the camera (an ongoing gag on this show for how many years?) was totally worth it to hear him echo Poehler's "circus tickets" joke. Funny=good, this=funny.

The only other laugh was the guy dropping the mic at the wedding. Rest of the ep could've used a bit more jizz in its pants.

Anonymous said...

They actually did similar gags twice this fall. One was the McCain town hall debate one, and the other was the "I don't trust Obama because he's an Arab" lady which was on Weekend Update.

The McCain one was a little different, one because it wasn't on WU, and two because it was slightly more based in reality. McCain didn't walk into the camera in real life, but he did weirdly wander in the background of the debate and people noticed and it was kind of funny, and then there was the part where both candidates blocked Brokaw's teleprompter.

The lady that doesn't trust Arabs was more similar to the Paterson one. Except instead of the wandering caused by blindness, it was caused by...stupidity? Maybe confusion is a kinder word. I'd say the Paterson one wasn't any more mean-spirited than the confused lady one. But it raises some questions.
1. Does the fact that they did the same gag before make it less offensive? (Just a recurring theme for the sketch; not exclusive to blind targets).
2. Does it make it more offensive? (Equating blindness with stupidity or senility or being confused all the time).
3. Does it just make it unoriginal? (I don't think many would argue that it's all that cutting edge, even if they hadn't already done the same gag before).

The Linda Tripp comparison is interesting because--is it more offensive to put on a lop-sided squinty face in order to imitate the appearance of a blind public figure than it is to have overweight female public figures portrayed by obese men time after time after time? Now, I love John Goodman and I loath Linda Tripp, and I don't think any comedy show should censor its comedy under any circumstances,, there's no more reason to get worked up over this impression than any other.

If I were Paterson I'd be more concerned that they basically were calling him a corrupt coke-head.

erin said...

I didn't watch the episode, just the two clips Alan linked. I didn't know anything about Patterson, but I thought he and Armisen looked scarily similar. I thought the impression was amusing (especially the variety of jokes that had nothing to do with his blindness--I'm guessing he was a bit of a cheating buffoon prior to his Governor seat?) and I think to say otherwise just means we offended the PC police.

However, the 2nd clip with him wandering into Amy's (very sweet) goodbye (I almost typed in "concession") speech was so funny I was crying. Maybe they've done it before, but Armisen sold it. I might just watch it again to spice up my Monday.

Anonymous said...

Paterson was not offended by this. (How could he be?)

He was TOLD to be offended by it.

bsangs said...

The Patterson bit was hysterical. I was crying, as was my wife. I love all the hand-wringing over it though (shocking). Let me ask all the offended this? As a native Utican (now transplanted to the NYC-area) and my wife being a native of Syracuse, should we be outraged at the categorization of Upstate New Yorkers as depicted in the Patterson skit? (If you don't recall, go watch again.) We should be! OUTRAGED! But guess what, we're not because it was freaking tickle-the-funny-bone, gasping-for-breath funny. Too bad the Patterson character couldn't pop up in every other skit. What a lame show otherwise.

bsangs said...

And another thing -- where is the outrage over the fact that a coke-snorting, skirt-chasing politician occupies the highest office in New York State? Just wondering...

Nicole said...

I am aware of who Paterson is, and I'm not even from the States. New York governors are usually well known outside of NY and this one in particular because of the Spitzer scandal. I agree with whoever said that Wandering Paterson was funniest, especially when he was interrupting Amy's speech, which was more to crack her up than making fun of a blind person.

Other than that I was not impressed with the quality of the sketches... they were boring more than anything.

Anonymous said...

I love that when Wandering Paterson interrupts Amy's farewell speech he is on his cell phone ordering 50 circus tickets (which is a throwback to Amy's code for weed.) hilarious.

Grunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grunt said...

And another thing -- where is the outrage over the fact that a coke-snorting, skirt-chasing politician occupies the highest office in New York State? Just wondering...

Would you rather it be a guy who dishonetly frequents expensive prostitutes after spending years as NY Attorney General going after call girls? I mean at least Patterson is honest about it and not a flaming hypocrite.

And, since it's NY, I can say this, he's also not a Republican which would be the other thing to disqualify him from the office in this political climate.

Karen said...

Well, at first I really liked the impression, because good lord did Armisen look like Paterson. Then when it was just blind jokes, which I thought were lazy, I didn't like it. Then making it into drug jokes seemed even lazier, because when Paterson made all his post-ascension confessions he did not indicate that he was still doing drugs. I admit to a swift intake of breath when Armisen/Paterson described himself as someone "who loves coke," because that seemed out of line, but using that as a setup to describing his story as something out of a Richard Pryor film made me laugh.

But mostly I thought it was lazy humor. While he was seated, that is.

When he started wandering around during Poehler's emotional farewell? THAT was funny. As was the callback to the circus tickets. And what made it even funnier was how hard it made Poehler laugh.

The episode as a whole was a tremendous disappointment. As I Tweeped at the time--how do you take an sketch thoroughbred like Laurie and not give him his head? It was shocking that almost all his comedy was reactive.

The best part was absolutely his corpsing during "Bronx Beat," although I also liked his quasi jazz hands during the lamps number.

The Digital Short was ABYSMAL, especially coming on the heels of the brilliant "Jizz in My Pants" from the week before.

And Stephen Fry was in the audience but never invited onstage, which made even less sense.

Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

patterson is a blind. he had a cocaine problem.

wasnt like snl made anything up.

i doubt we'd hear anything if he had "R" next to his name and not a "D".

Anonymous said...

I thought Paterson wandering around during Amy's WU farewell (a la the demented McCain supporter who thinks Obama is an Arab) was HILARIOUS. Maybe I'm just immature, or I dunno, maybe I just have a sense of humor.

Equally as funny was Hugh Laurie trying to keep a straight face. That killed me.

The rest of the show kinda blew, especially Kanye.

And if anyone's keeping statistics, I know who Paterson is and enough about his background to get the joke, and I live on the West coast. I don't think the governors of NY or CA are ever obscure. Nor, apparently, are those of Illinois.

Anonymous said...

I live in Florida and knew who Paterson was, that he was blind, that he talked kinda funny, that he had drugs in his background, and that Armisen looked uncannily like him. I did not know that he was perceived as unprepared or that, apparently, he makes jokes about New Jersey. So I did think that some of the humor in the sketch was a little inside.

Regardless, I laughed hysterically.

Anonymous said...

While I did think a lot of the blind jokes were lazy (holding the chart upside-down), it would have been more offensive if SNL didn't make any blind jokes at all. The show tries to be an equal-opportunity offender and in this case I think they succeeded.

I thought the totality of Armisen's impression was funny, and that's reason enough for it to be on SNL.

Anonymous said...

Making fun of public figures for mean-spirited, superficial reasons is nothing new for the show. Am I the only one who remembers all of John Goodman's appearances as Linda Tripp? That was funny, and this was funny. That's all that should matter.

Ana Maria said...

...I'm from Mexico; I know who Gov. Patterson is, and I found the whole thing hilarious! It is the first time, in a very long time, that I laughed aloud at a SNL sketch...almost as funny was Armisen when he portrayed Mexico's now ex-president Vicente Fox...

Anonymous said...

And another thing -- where is the outrage over the fact that a coke-snorting, skirt-chasing politician occupies the highest office in New York State?


Would you rather it be a guy who dishonetly frequents expensive prostitutes after spending years as NY Attorney General going after call girls?

SNL should satirize the fact that NY can't do any better than those choices.