It's been about a week since Lorne Michaels took the biggest chance he’s taken on late night in decades. He invited Donald Trump to host Saturday Night Live. When it was initially announced, Latinos went into a frenzy. My inbox was flooded with petition requests for the producer to retract the invitation. But I didn't sign any of them. Michaels was dead set on winning sweeps and I was willing to gamble that his need to do it on our backs would pay off for us.
He could’ve invited Paula Dean to host after she admitted to using the "n" word to refer to African Americans, or Mel Gibson could’ve hosted after his anti-Semitic "stupid ramblings of a drunkard," as he called them. But no, Michaels chose us, mi gente! He handed the stage to the man who is calling Mexicans rapists and murderers to rake in the much-needed ratings, and nobody but us batted an eye. SNL’s Trump ratings were the highest the show has enjoyed in years.
But here’s the thing. You know us Latinos, there’s always a lime twist. The episode was universally panned by critics.
Millions of people got to see that Saturday Night Live, once the incubator for the fiercest comedians around, has lost its teeth. And from the sound of it, it can’t find its dentures.
Generally I don’t write about entertainment because it puts me at odds with my peers. Comedy is hard. I have tremendous respect for the process and I don’t like to publicly criticize it, but Saturday Night Live was one of the reasons I became an actor and a writer.
My Cuban dad would let me stay up and watch the Not Ready for Prime Time Players and they got me when I was young. My first time in front of an audience was playing Jake in the lip-synch of ‘Someone to Love” from the Blues Brothers. To this day my mom swears it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. In my Latino household, SNL has always been a family affair.
John Belushi’s relentless pursuit of a laugh and Gilda Radner’s absolute possession of character were as thrilling as Dan Akroyd’s cool command. Jane Curtain, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman and the much underused Garrett Morris were all in my pantheon. The ultimate outsiders, they constantly needled the establishment, playing in the unseen corners of society and bringing the counter culture into our living rooms every week.
Sketches like ‘Hamburger, hamburger,’ Belushi’s ‘English Lesson’ and Steve Martin’s ‘Wild and Crazy Guys” illuminated the struggle to fit in. The Richard Pryor skit with Chevy Chase was a lightning bolt to the heart of white privilege. Later casts would take the baton with ease.
Eddie Murphy would save the show in the eighties by showing us pop culture through the African American lens. Poehler and Fey would break new ground for women.
Through the years I marveled at the commentary, the rebelliousness and the fearlessness with which SNL, lead by Lorne Michaels, attacked the status quo. Latinos were mostly ignored. With a few exceptions.
But last Saturday’s contemptuous confirmation of his disregard for us made me yearn for the tired rolling ‘r’ jokes or cartoonish writhing Penelope Cruz impersonations.
Millions of people got to see that Saturday Night Live, once the incubator for the fiercest comedians around, has lost its teeth.
Larry David was brought on the show to mock Latino group Deport Racism’s offer to call Donald Trump a racist on live television for a $5,000 reward. Michaels could’ve chosen to call Trump out on his race baiting and fear mongering. He could have skewered him as brilliantly as he skewered Palin in 2008. But instead, he chose to make fun of the people who were so desperate to make a point, they offered a cash reward for anybody would would speak for us.
But the real misstep was that the show fell flat. It just wasn’t funny.
With brilliant writers and actors at his disposal, Michaels laid a big fat egg in front of one of the largest audiences he’s had in years. He was so quick to throw us under the bus that in one episode he went from being a funny cool Dr. Evil to an empty suit more concerned with a stunt than speaking truth to power. Which ironically has made the whole episode hilarious to me.
The show's numbers will surely drop this week. And like John Leguizamo, I won't be watching shows that have such little regard for our humanity, they would rather laugh at us than with us. It’s our time to take the stage and show them all which horse they should have bet on.
Carmen Pelaez is a filmmaker, writer, actor. Her works include the critically acclaimed award-winning "Rum & Coke" and "The Acting Lesson."