SNL won't make fun of Bruce Jenner, but Freddie Gray is fair game

May 3, 2015 at 2:37 p.m. ET
Image: WENN

This week, Saturday Night Live centered several skits around the Baltimore riots that have been dominating headlines. This certainly wasn't the first time the show has tackled a controversial issue, but was it just too soon to be making jokes?

The first skit on Saturday's show parodied a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox, which was closed to fans because of the riots.

Sports reporters Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer, played respectively by Kenan Thompson and Taran Killam, spend the skit suffering from major foot-in-mouth disease.

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"The White Sox are coming in with two wins in a row, but Baltimore has just been on fire this week," Robinson started, then backtracked: "I'm sorry for how I said that."

"I agree with you, Frank. Compare the Orioles now to the series with the Blue Jays, and Baltimore took an absolute beating from the boys in blue," bumbled Palmer. "Don't know why I called them that. Do not know why, no one has ever called them that."

They pan down to a female reporter, played by guest celebrity Scarlett Johansson, who explains that although there are no fans at the game, there is a heavy police presence — and that there is only one official game bat being allowed, and it was provided by the good people at Nerf.

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They take it a step further still when the game resumes play. "Up at bat is Manny Machado, still on the mend from his knee surgery. But we saw him at batting practice, and that knee grows stronger every day," said Palmer. "Please excuse me forever, I meant of course that his knee gets stronger every day. Certainly did not mean to say 'negroes.'"

Later in the show, on the Weekend Update segment, Michael Che commented, "Six police officers will be charged with the death of Freddie Gray. It's a vital and important first step to those officers being acquitted."

In another sketch, SNL parodied a white cop named Blazer and his police chief buddy, both of whom are being fired "'cause I only beat up black guys."

Clearly, the show wanted to make a statement about the issue of racism in the country. But, seriously, isn't it too soon to be making jokes about the city suffering the loss of a citizen and currently in the throes of civil and social unrest?

I mean, I get it. Nothing is really off limits in comedy. This isn't the first time SNL has toed the line of controversy, erring on the side of inappropriate. Still, just because it happens doesn't make it OK, does it?

I'm sure some will tell me to lighten up or that I'm being old and crotchety (I am feeling every bit the 32 I turned last week). Yet I can't shake the feeling that if these jokes struck me as being in poor taste, surely they made other people uncomfortable, too.

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Alternatively, when Bruce Jenner came up on Weekend Update, Colin Jost and Che completely shied away from any heavy-hitting punchlines. They gave credit to Jenner's Diane Sawyer interview for being "moving and brave" (which it absolutely was), while acknowledging "as a comedy show, we still need to make jokes about it."

Then they spend a marginal amount of time tiptoeing their way around any jokes, only managing to muster up a pun about it being a tough topic "any way you slice it."

So, here's the question: What makes the Baltimore riots and the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray less worthy of respect than Bruce Jenner's gender identity?

Perhaps SNL — and the country, for that matter — is especially sensitive to gender identity issues because they are only now coming to the forefront, and the LGBTQ community still struggles for public understanding and acceptance.

The problem there, though, is that racism is still very much an issue in this country, too. And while it doesn't necessarily need to be handled with kid gloves, I wonder if being so laissez-faire about it isn't just contributing to the problem.

It isn't a joke. Just like Bruce Jenner's gender identity isn't a joke.

Should either of these issues really be subject for comedic fodder? I, for one, am not a fan. It feels to me like SNL is taking the lazy route by going for cheap controversy. You're better than that, SNL.

We all are. Or, at least, we should be.