Parks and Recreation’s creator, Michael Schur, has an interesting essay in Vulture today about how September 11 influenced the comedy in Saturday Night Live, The Office and of course, Parks and Recreation. He goes into a lot of detail about what it was like to produce “Weekend Update” after this tragedy, and how the lessons he learned in doing that extended to the other shows he worked on.
He singles out SNL creator Lorne Michaels asking then-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” and Giuliani replying, “Why start now?” as a moment of hope for him as a comedy writer:
“Lorne’s attitude was ‘this is the world now, and we make jokes about this world. We don’t shy away from it, we don’t gloss over it,’ “
Schur writes. Though he took care to avoid insensitive jokes about people dying, Schur felt empowered to treat various political and terrorist leaders as fair game. This led to a “Weekend Update” joke about Osama Bin Laden hiding out in movie theaters playing the Mariah Carey flop Glitter. A year later, Schur wrote a sketch in which John McCain played then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as someone “who wanted everyone to live in an Orwellian observation state” in a Hardball spoof.
Later on, 9/11 would influence an episode of The Office where Michael Scott is scared of a Sikh IT guy because of his turban. This event would also cause Schur to write Ron Swanson as an “authentic libertarian,” to balance out Leslie Knope’s belief in the government. Fascinating stuff.