The new season of Saturday Night Live has taken it upon itself to speak out against Donald Trump’s administration (and his family) through comedy — and the result has been a series of extremely edgy, extremely political sketches. While they have certainly made millions laugh, and while they have certainly conveyed a strong message, they have also offended many conservatives, including Trump himself, who has tweeted angrily about SNL multiple times in the past year.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2017
Specifically, the show has repeatedly included sketches that include a very harsh (and hilarious) impression of Trump by Alec Baldwin while also making fun of everyone from White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
Of course, over 42 seasons and 800 episodes, the show has dealt with controversy before. In some cases, the offensive sketches were funny but criticized by the overly sensitive. In other cases, SNL was probably in the wrong. Either way, the long-running live comedy show will likely not stop pushing the lines of decency anytime soon.
Let’s take a look, chronologically, at some of SNL‘s most offensive sketches.
1975: “Word Association”
In the very first season of SNL, the cast hit the ground running and set the stage for decades of comedy to come. In “Word Association,” legends Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase engage in a job interview that quickly takes a turn for the racist. A flurry of racial slurs erupt that are so terrible, it’s hard not to grimace while watching. But, like all of the best humor, the sketch is a funny but meaningful look at race in America.
1975: The “Weekend Update” that mocked the deaf
One of the most controversial things that you can do in comedy is make fun of those with disabilities — and SNL got started early, in its very first season. In this 30-second skit, Chevy Chase takes a pretty offensive and even childish dig at the hard of hearing. While I am usually not on board with these types of jokes at all, I do admit I laughed despite myself.
1988: “Nude Beach”
Known by many simply as “the penis sketch,” “Nude Beach” was axed from the show twice before it finally aired in October 1988. Written by Conan O’Brien and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey, the sketch resulted in tens of thousands of letters of complaints. All for what? All that happens is that the actors say penis about 43 times and sing a song about penises. They even deliver a short monologue about penises and censorship. I’m not offended — I love it.
1997: “The History of Vaudeville”
Oh boy. This five-minute sketch from 1997 stars Nathan Lane and a bunch of the SNL cast as they relentlessly and comprehensively make fun of every race you can think of, all through the lens of summarizing the history of vaudeville. The sketch is so over-the-top that it is almost OK, and its odd inclusiveness is a bit comforting, but I’m still going to say this was too much. I’m not offended, exactly, but we really need to let these stereotypes go, even if we are trying to make fun of racism.
2006: “Dick in a Box”
Pretty much everyone who was alive in 2006 remembers exactly where they were when SNL aired “Dick in a Box,” a prerecorded music video by Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg. While it was an overnight sensation, it also made a lot of people very, very upset. According to The Atlantic, the FCC received a huge number of complaints about the bit, with one disgusted viewer from Florida writing, “It began with a profane attempt at humour referencing ‘dick in a box.’ It was the Christmas show suggesting that men should give women their penis in a box as a present. I was offended, let alone thinking that younger children would have the opportunity to see the program.”
We can understand how the video can be offensive, but come on! It’s a classic.
2008: David Paterson portrayal
Between 2008 and 2010, SNL‘s parody news sketch, “Weekend Update,” took multiple swipes at New York Governor David Paterson, who is legally blind. Instead of making fun of Paterson’s policies or positions, the cast just made fun of his disability, having him run into furniture and hold charts upside down. This falls into the category of cheap, boring and offensive humor for us: Politicians do plenty of wrong things to ridicule, and having less than perfect vision isn’t one of them. You’re smarter and funnier than that, SNL.
2009: Tiger Woods
In the wake of the Tiger Woods incident in 2009, SNL made the choice to go all the way when covering it. The result was a sketch in which Woods is interviewed beside his then-wife, Elin Nordegren. The bit, in which Woods attempts to explain his actions, makes several jokes about domestic abuse that were uncomfortable — and made more so by the fact that Rhianna, a domestic abuse survivor, was participating in the show that night. I am so not a fan of the sketch that I’ll just post a video about why people thought it was offensive instead of a video of the sketch itself.
2013: “New Tarantino Movie”
Of course SNL hasn’t aired for more than 40 years without making fun of Jesus at some point. But the show has never gone quite so far as it did in 2013 with a fake trailer for a new revenge action movie, Djesus Uncrossed. The movie shows Jesus emerging from a cave three days after his death, “preaching anything but forgiveness” and violently slaughtering Romans with a samurai sword. You could say a few of the more serious Christian viewers were offended.
2013: “Christmas Past”
SNL doesn’t just make fun of conservative politicians and ideals. In 2013, its “Christmas Past” sketch showed the Ghost of Christmas Past (Kenan Thompson) taking Ebenezer Scrooge (Taran Killam) back to his youth. The main joke of the sketch seems to be that Scrooge is gay — and, yep, I have to agree that I think it’s pretty juvenile, one-dimensional and offensive. It might have been forgivable if it were funnier and had some depth, but it wasn’t and it didn’t.
2015: “Father-Daughter Ad”
One of the most offensive and controversial sketches of all time happened in Season 40 of SNL and starred Taran Killam as a dad and Dakota Johnson as his growing daughter. At first, it seems like Johnson is leaving for college, but in just under a minute, it’s revealed that really she’s going to join ISIS. “Take care of her,” Killam says, and the ISIS member whispers back, “Death to America.” Yes, there was a big response to this, both on social media and in direct correspondence with NBC.
I admit this one is shocking, but as far as I’m concerned, making fun of an extremist group is way better than making fun of someone’s disability or sexual orientation.
What is your favorite offensive Saturday Night Live skit? Share a link in the comments.
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