It's time for "Saturday Night Live" to come out swinging this weekend.
"SNL" has, in the recent past, avoided certain tragedies because, well, it is a comedy show. Unfortunately, some of the worst shows in recent memory have been when "SNL" tiptoes around delicate subject matter. And, yes, the mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday is about as delicate as things get. In the past, for example, the day of the Gabby Giffords shooting, "SNL" avoided the subject completely, even in "Weekend Update." (Though that's not always the case: Their response to the Penn State scandal, with Jason Sudeikis playing The Devil, was terrific.) There is a fine line between "too soon" and making a political statement through comedy, but, unfortunately, these mass shootings seem to be happening too frequently these days to wait an "appropriate" amount of time to address the issue of gun control. (Even Obama admitted in his sobering statement today that it's happening too often.) Or, specifically, Obama's resistance to do anything about gun control.
On Oct. 20, during the second presidential debate sketch, Cecily Strong played an audience member who asked both candidates, "I'm just wondering what either of you would do to keep dangerous assault weapons such as AK-47s off the street." Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney answered, "Um, nothing." Jay Pharoah as Barack Obama answered, "I would also do nothing." This piece of dialogue took up 10 seconds of an over 10-minute sketch and it was the single most biting piece of political commentary that "SNL" has done all season. It's time to expand on that this coming Saturday night.
Perhaps I wouldn't be as gung-ho about "SNL" making political commentary about an incident this fresh if an Obama spokesperson hadn't made the statement that "today's not the day" to talk about gun control. Again, at the rate we're going with how often this happens, by the time it is the day, it won't be the day again. I often argue with people (more often than you can possibly imagine) about the relevancy of "SNL" in 2012. I contend that it's still quite relevant, but here's your chance, "SNL," to put that argument to bed. It's time to stop ignoring a national tragedy and, instead, come out swinging.
Actually, I would argue that "SNL" is more relevant than it's ever been. With the Internet, individual sketches can be viewed by millions who don't stay at home on Saturday night to watch the show live. If, this Saturday, "SNL" skewered Obama's resistance to comment on gun control, it would be everywhere on Monday -- if for no other reason than "SNL" isn't known for being too hard on our current Commander in Chief. It's time to start.
Jay Pharoah took over playing Obama from Fred Armisen in "SNL's" current season. Pharoah's humor is more in your face than Armisen's cerebral style. Fortunately, an in-your-face approach is needed right now. It's a lot to ask and my last intention in the world here is to put undue pressure on a comedian who's been on "SNL" less than three seasons, but if Jay Pharoah goes after Obama on gun control, people will listen. It's the kind of sketch that would be emailed profusely, sparking a debate that needs to happen. People do respond to satire more than they do to straight political commentary, especially if it's a show that's often accused of being liberal and that show goes after a liberal president on an issue.
Here's the problem though: It's still a fresh wound. But, after Saturday night, "SNL" is off until Jan 13. And there's no new "The Daily Show" or "Colbert Report" tonight. It's "SNL" or nothing. And "SNL" has to truly decide, right now, if it wants to help start the national discussion, or if it just wants to tell us which fake nightclubs tourists should seek out over the holiday season. Yeah, "SNL" is in a tough spot today, but it's time to earn its current relevancy.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.