SNL Bans Critical to Shows Problems

Sinead O'ConnorI’m not proud. Last night I saw the link and I clicked, 15 People Who Have Been Banned from SNL. And I learned a few things from the article. The most basic thing is that Saturday Night Live has this ridiculous thing about banning entertainers for life. I don’t know what this is about. It would seem that Lorne Michaels is a megalomaniac who thinks he is doing something more important than producing a banal comedy show. Regardless, many of the reasons for bans are petty.

The best example of this is Elvis Costello’s appearance on the show in 1977. This was right before his first album My Aim Is True was released in the United States. His record company wanted him to perform “Less than Zero.” That was the first single off the album in the UK. But the song is about the British fascist Oswald Mosley—a subject that wasn’t of particular interest to an American audience. Costello wanted to do “Radio Radio.” So on SNL, he started “Less Than Zero,” stopped the band and then did “Radio Radio.”

Why exactly this got Costello banned is not clear. I think there are two aspects of it. One is that Michaels is a corporate lackey. Another is that he hates it when anything happens that wasn’t approved His Mediocreness. The ban stayed in effect for 12 years, but was eventually lifted. According to Wikipedia, Costello was “one of only three people to have their ban from SNL lifted.” To my mind, this is kind of like a bookstore deciding to lift its ban on Stephen King and start selling his books. There are other such cases where SNL is punching much too high: Milton Berle, Frank Zappa, and Martin Lawrence, to name a few.

Another person banned was Sinead O’Connor. In 1992, the young singer-songwriter made a protest against child abuse in the Catholic Church. She ended her a cappella version of “War” by tearing a picture of Pope John Paul II. She was banned, apparently because the only thing worse than the Church covering for pedophilia among priests is talking about it. In retrospect, O’Connor looks like an oracle and SNL looks just like the purveyor of lukewarm inoffensive comedy that they have consistently been for the past four decades.

The whole thing reminds me of Tim Minchin’s foul mouthed, “The Pope Song.”

If you find me more offensive than the possibility
That the Pope protected priests when they were getting fucking fiddly
Then listen to me mother fucker this here is a fact:
You are just as morally misguided as the mother fucking,
nbsp;power hungry, self aggrandizing
nbsp;nbsp;bigot in the stupid fucking hat.

Good comedy requires taking a stand and SNL has pretty much never done that. The original head writer, Michael O’Donoghue originally left the show because the comedy was too staid and safe. He later said of the show, “It’s like watching old men die.”

But I believe the article was wrong about Charles Grodin getting banned. It says:

Before he was a political television commentator, Charles Grodin was a comedian and actor who pissed off more than a few people during his October 29, 1977, hosting gig on <i>Saturday Night Live</i>. Grodin ad-libbed much of his performance, and not well, leading up to an incident during a sketch where Grodin broke character and caused a stir.

I know the episode they are talking about, and it is one of the best ever. Grodin played an amiable buffoon. The idea for the show was that he was totally unprepared because he spent the week sightseeing and buying the cast members presents. For example, in a sketch with The Killer Bees, Grodin supposedly broke character asking if the bees were supposed to be actual bees or men dressed up as bees. Another part of the show was that John Belushi was really angry with Grodin for his lack of professionalism. Now, there could have been something behind this. But Grodin did exactly the same character when on The Tonight Show.

Regardless, before I read the article, I had a low opinion of the show. Now that opinion has slipped even lower. Saturday Night Live is truly the Sinbad of sketch comedy. Sinbad, of course, being the amusing but totally inoffensive comedian who has never been banned from SNL.

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