“Saturday Night Live” has also suffered from Stewart’s influence. Instead of Norm Macdonald, “Weekend Update’s” greatest host, who stood above the absurd political landscape while helming the segment in the 1990s, Michael Che (a “Daily Show” graduate) and Colin Jost now have comedic “debates” over gun control where, ever so conveniently, the liberal side is the only one to make an argument intended to stick with the audience.
And while Dana Carvey and Darrel Hammond’s respective caricatures of George Bush and Bill Clinton invited people of all political stripes to laugh at our politicians, current cast member Kate McKinnon has indicated she’ll never allow her Hillary Clinton impression to actually harm the candidate she believes the country needs. McKinnon is probably the best thing SNL currently has going, and her take on Clinton is still hilarious, but such transparent advocacy, even if it’s funny, is not real comedy.
For years, television critics have renamed NBC’s flagship sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Dead” every time the show struggles. But the most lethal thing that’s happened to SNL is not a temporary surge in dud sketches or an abundance of weak cast members. It’s the program’s “Daily Show”-inspired self-importance, its willingness to pull punches for the sake of achieving political victories.
“You’re hurting America.” These words marked the death of late night comedy, at least the death of some of it. But while Stewart’s influence may have driven a stake through the heart of “Late Night,” “The Late Show,” and “Saturday Night Live,” all is not lost. Jimmy Fallon and James Corden are, for the most part, finding great success by eschewing politics and embracing silly ideas like lip-sync battles or toddler choreography. Both also spend less time per episode dissecting the news from cue cards than Colbert and Meyers and spend more time goofing around with guests. The result is two shows that are far more entertaining and engaging than their “Daily Show”-modeled counterparts.