Saturday Night Live Has Dealt With Trump-Level Backlash Before. It Didn't End Well.

Illustration for article titled iSaturday Night Live /iHas Dealt With Trump-Level Backlash Before. It Didnt End Well.

A number of well-respected Latino organizations aren’t that pleased that “Crafty Mexican Immigrants are Rapists and Criminals” Donald Trump will be hosting this week’s Saturday Night Live. They’re protesting outside Rockefeller Center and delivering a petition calling for the show to “Dump Trump.” They won’t get their way. And for the best thinking behind why the show won’t budge, we can look to, of all people, Andrew Dice Clay.

SNL producer and weirdly powerful tiny Canadian Lorne Michaels hasn’t responded to the controversy over Trump’s hosting duties; nor has NBC. As the L.A. Times points out, pulling a host would be “virtually unprecedented,” although urban legend has it that Michaels did consider having a hostless show in place of Steven Seagal, one of the people famously banned from the show after he was supposedly deeply unpleasant to the cast and crew.

But there is a historical precedent here: a shitstorm similar to the current one swirling around Trump played out in May 1990, when shock comic Andrew Dice Clay was tapped to host. For those of us who were blessedly too young to see him in his heyday, Clay’s act consisted mainly of jokes about gay people and women. (Jokes he said in 2012 he doesn’t regret: “It’s jokes,” he told Buzzfeed.)


The backlash was swift; according to a New York Times report from the time, the National Organization for Women issued a furious statement, saying Dice Clay’s appearance sent a message that the show took hateful attitudes against women and LGBT people lightly:

“It’s important for people look at the message of these people, to realize many of us do not think it’s O.K. This is a country where hate crimes are rising phenomenally. We’re horrified that a show like ‘Saturday Night Live’ would give him such exposure.”

Nora Dunn, who’d been acting on the show for five years, issued her own statement, saying she refused to perform alongside him. She told the Times Clay was “a hatemonger:”

“He’s a man who gets up and says that a woman is a receptacle, that a man has a right to have sex with his daughter because he pays her tuition, and Lorne is going to make him look like he’s the Fonz,” she said, referring to the Henry Winkler character on Happy Days. “Take the word ‘woman’ and replace it with the word ‘Jew,’ and ask: would he book this person? I don’t know why sexism doesn’t fall into the same category.”


Sinead O’Connor also canceled a planned appearance; we all remember how it went when she finally appeared in 1992.

Finally, Michaels appeared from behind the curtain to comment, telling the Times that Dice Clay “represents a phenomenon in comedy” worth exploring:

Earlier this week, Mr. Michaels expressed admiration for Ms. Dunn’s stand but said the show would proceed. ‘’I see him as a comedian who’s controversial,’’ Mr. Michaels said yesterday. ‘’This isn’t Andrew Dice Clay, the one-man show. This is ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He clearly represents a phenomenon in comedy at the moment, and one that was worth examining.’’ Mr. Michaels said that when other contentious figures have appeared on the show, the sketches often reflect the point of contention.


Michaels also said the protests against Clay were “humorless:’

“The whole thing seems sadly humorless to me,’’ he said. ‘’The argument has been framed in political terms, when in fact it’s about a comedian whose act is offensive. Show business and politics is a very ugly mix. He’s the comedy equivalent of heavy metal, and the people who prefer folk-rock aren’t going to like it. But how we use him has yet to be seen.”


Clearly, Michaels no longer feels that politics and show business are an “ugly mix.” And there are a few other key differences here as well: Andrew Dice Clay is a comedian, while Donald Trump is a joke.

The real question is if SNL will be brave enough, or Trump game enough, to actually reference the controversy. In Clay’s case, he did so in his monlogue, where, apparently suicidal, he wanders out in the snow, meeting Jon Lovitz as Satan, who persuades him to do the show, by showing a fearsome alternate universe where Frank Zappa was the host, and Nora Dunn appeared on the show after all and was crushed to death by Sinead O’Connor’s amp.


It was not, um, a comedic triumph:


A few SNL cast members also responded. Jan Hooks, in a video that’s apparently been lost to time, said she would walk through scenes in protest as well as “give a lackluster performance.” Kevin Nealon joked that he would object “by appearing in only three sketches.”

The Los Angeles Times declared the Dice Clay show “a disaster,” with critic Lawrence Christon writing, “Last year, when Saturday Night Live celebrated its 15th anniversary, a lot of people knew it had long ago become a mediocrity. Last Saturday, it became a disgrace.”


But surely, unlike the Dice Clay disaster, giving Donald Trump an hour to show how funny, likeable, and non-racist he is will probably be pretty funny, albeit unintentionally. If you can’t get them to laugh with you, at least get them to laugh at you.

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The Noble Renard

The problem here (and maybe then as well) is that for all the screaming to get Trump off of SNL, we are playing directly into his hands. If a Latino group actually does have people start shouting things during the taping, it will be an instant PR success for Trump. If the protesting is big enough, again, PR success for Trump. This is one of those things were I completely sympathize with the protests but think they are absolutely counterproductive. It’s preaching to the choir for those who already dislike him and actively whipping up fervor for those who support him.

By inviting him on the show, knowing what the backlash would be, SNL has ensured that no matter the outcome, Trump will get publicity.

Honestly the only way to ensure he doesn’t get a boost from this is to just let him hang in the wind and be completely unfunny, with no pressure from outside.