Interesting if true. Is it?
Are there any basic rules for what works and what doesn’t politically?
Republicans are easier for us than Democrats. Democrats tend to take it personally; Republicans think it’s funny. But we’re not sitting here every week going, “We’ve really got to do the First Family.” This week, our cold open is about three big stories. We have Piers Morgan interviewing A-Rod, Chris Christie, and Justin Bieber. We’re doing more of that kind of thing than stuff about Benghazi or the new budget agreement. The country has lost interest in it. I can’t tell you why. It’s no less important, but in some way you can’t do health care more than twice, at which point there’s just nothing left. But Jay Pharoah does a really good Obama…
[W]e’ve never been agenda people. Our job—and it sounds too grand to say and none of us ever say it—is speaking truth to power. I’m registered as an Independent, not because everything that we do would be undermined if we were partisan—Jon Stewart has that role. Us? Theoretically, whoever it is in power, we’re against them.
Are Republicans better at taking a joke or are they just more diligent about laughing it off when they’re in Lorne’s presence? I’ve never seen a detailed analysis of how many conservatives get hit on SNL versus how many liberals, but the public widely assumes, I think, that the right gets it worse than the left. Partly that’s because the right gets it worse from comedians generally and partly it’s because the last few political impersonations on SNL to really take off culturally were Republicans, namely, Bush and Palin. The actual numbers don’t matter here, though; it’s the perception that counts. If you’re a Republican and you perceive that SNL leans a bit left, it’s in your interest to laugh off the jokes when you’re around the producer. If you don’t, he might decide to goof on you more. Taking the high road is a way to keep your head down and to seem magnanimous. If you’re a Democrat, the calculus may be different: You’re confident that the show’s left-leaning writers won’t turn you into a running gag so you feel safer telling Lorne to get bent. You may even feel genuinely betrayed. Democrats take for granted that the entertainment industry is on their side and that it’s an asset in winning cultural battles with the right, so when a show with a media profile as high as SNL’s goes after them, it may hurt more because it feels like a knife in the back. A knife in the front should hurt just as much in theory, but there’s an honor to the latter that the former lacks.
Which is not to say that the different reactions are always strategic and all for show. It may be that Republicans really have grown a thicker skin over time because they’ve come to believe they’ll never get a fair shake from the media. Case in point: The Christie/Bridgegate feeding frenzy. If you’re trying to contain a media inferno over the accusations, some of which have fallen apart and others which are being overhyped by breathless reporters, who cares if SNL does a three-minute gag of a fat guy sweating through over-the-top lies at a fake presser that’ll be forgotten 20 minutes after it airs? You’ve got bigger problems with MSNBC and the NYT. The weird thing about Democrats taking special affront at SNL gags is that they’re the ones who are supposed to be tuned into pop culture and yet it’s been five years at least since the show scored any solid shots on a politician. Maybe that’s because they’re pulling their punches with the Dems in power, but I don’t think so. I think they’re just not in the heavyweight class anymore. I’d be curious to hear what sort of feedback Jon Stewart, who is in that class, gets from the two sides. We’re four days removed from that Pelosi car-crash last week and I’ll bet Democrats are still grousing at him over it.