“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they are rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Donald Trump said these words about Mexican immigrants back in June. This Saturday, he’s hosting Saturday Night Live.
For the life of me, I’ve been trying to look at this from SNL’s perspective. I consider SNL to still be one of the most shrewdly run television properties going – you don’t last 41 seasons without being shrewd – so often I tend to defer to the powers that be that they know what they’re doing. Take Miley Cyrus, a person who has never been a traditionally good SNL host, but she brings in crazy ratings and appeals to a younger demographic. That’s shrewd.
But, every time I work out in my head why Donald Trump should be hosting – which is mostly: ratings, ratings, ratings — I keep coming back to that above quote… and then it becomes impossible for me to justify.
But let’s back up.
On November 1, 2008, John McCain appeared on a Ben Affleck-hosted Saturday Night Live alongside former cast member Tina Fey, who was portraying McCain’s vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. There’s the real John McCain, actively participating in a comedy sketch that lampoons his vice presidential candidate. Which, on its own, is noteworthy. What makes it remarkable is that the following Tuesday, Barack Obama would be voted in as the 44th President of the United States. McCain did this just three days before the election. This is good television.
And SNL has a rich history with politicians. Even in its first season, Gerald Ford, who Chevy Chase eviscerated on a routine basis, made a cameo on the show. It’s not unique for SNL, which is seen as a liberal entity, to have a Republican on the show. (John McCain actually hosted back in 2002.) This isn’t the issue. If the anti-establishment first season SNL can have Ford, the current, very much the establishment 41st season SNL can have a Republican candidate. It makes SNL look somewhat “fair.”
I suspect that’s what went into Lorne Michaels’ decision to let Trump host. It will make good television. As much as it’s a bad idea to let Trump host, people will watch. The numbers will be off the charts for this show. It’s shrewd, but that doesn’t make it right.
Trump has hosted before — back in 2004 when he was just a blowhard who no one really took seriously; he was a decent host, though — which I’m sure made this decision all the easier. In 2004, Trump opened his monologue by saying, “It’s great to be here at Saturday Night Live, but I’ll be completely honest: It’s even better for Saturday Night Live that I’m here.” The case could be made that he could just say the same thing again. Trump has transformed himself into the most talked-about figure in culture right now. So, a former host who is now running for president and is currently getting a ton of attention? That’s an easy call. And, when you think about it, it’s a coup…
See, there I go again, talking myself into it — until I reread that quote up top.
You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I bet Lorne Michael didn’t quite realize how vilified Trump is right now. We all think of Lorne as this all-knowing savant (I certainly do), but I doubt he’s spending much of his day on social media. I doubt he knew the vitriol was this high – high enough where former cast members are encouraging current cast members to boycott.
(For those who don’t know: On May 12, 1990, Andrew Dice Clay hosted SNL, which prompted then cast member Nora Dunn to boycott that week’s show. Somehow, Trump’s hosting seems worse because “Dice” wasn’t trying to get elected to a position where he could sign executive orders mandating his “Hickory Dickory Dock” joke be taught in public schools. Nowadays, “Dice” appears in Woody Allen movies.)
I’ve noticed the level of anger at Trump’s hosting seems proportional to how seriously a person thinks Trump can actually win. “Oh, how can they give him this platform?” I’ve heard. The thing is, SNL really isn’t a “platform” – it’s not like he’ll get to talk about policy, it is a scripted show – but hosting SNL is a reward. Someone who makes public statements like Trump did in that quote above shouldn’t be rewarded with hosting one of the greatest television shows to ever be on the air. If someone thinks Trump’s a buffoon and has no chance of winning, that person seems to be more okay with all of this. Then it’s just “entertainment.” The problem is, if Jennifer Aniston had said, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they are rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Jennifer Aniston shouldn’t be hosting SNL, either. (I’m sorry, Jennifer Aniston, for bringing you into this.)
SNL is a magical place and a magical show filled with fun and, yes, controversy. But bringing on a guy who spews hateful nonsense isn’t “controversial,” it’s just lazy. For crying out loud, anyone can say dumb things. And as opposed to “Dice,” you can’t write this off under the “oh, it’s comedy” blanket or the “oh, The Diceman is just a character” excuse. I could make a case for “Dice.” I can’t make a case for Donald Trump. He said that stuff while running for president, not on stage at The Grin Room, or whatever.
I think Michael McKean is being a little unfair even suggesting that anyone at SNL boycott this week’s show. Save for maybe Kenan Thompson, no one is really in a position to do that. McKean was already an established actor when he was on SNL and could take it or leave it. (He was only on the show for one season.) The people on the show now, even the standouts, aren’t really in the position to say, “Screw this, I’m sitting out,” even if he or she wanted to. This is, of course, no way the cast’s fault or the writers’ problem, other than to make a good show.
Anyway, of course Donald Trump should not be hosting SNL. Again, I’ve tried looking at this from every angle, and it always comes back to, “What an ugly, asinine thing to say and now he’s being rewarded.” But I won’t take this out on the cast or writers: Pete Davidson had nothing to do with Donald Trump hosting SNL this weekend. And I don’t think SNL or Lorne Michaels are being malicious when they asked Trump to host, I honestly think they were blindsided. I truly believe that they are shocked by the response and the, I’m sure, emails and phone calls they’ve been getting from angry people since this was announced. I can truly see someone at 30 Rock right now saying, “Oh, I just thought he was the loud man who hosted 11 years ago who everyone sort of liked.”
Letting Trump host is a mistake. But, it’s too late now. Regardless, I’m pulling for the people on the show who have to deal with this nonsense to pull off a good show that surrounds a man who says truly hateful things… because everyone will be watching.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.