Anniversary Post: Two Jokes, One Intentional

Mario BiaggiOn this day exactly 40 years ago, Saturday Night Live premiered on television. I have all kinds of problems with the show, but one thing most people don’t want to admit is that it always just moderately successful. Think about it. The first big star to come out of the show was Chevy Chase. Now I don’t have anything especially against him, and I still think his 1980 album, Chevy Chase, was a unique comedic work. It was also something of an aberration in a career of almost uninterrupted mediocrity. And that was what people were just crazy about that first season.

But there were really great things on the show. Andy Kaufman was on it. It had some amazing stuff from Michael O’Donoghue. There was and always has been a decent amount of stuff to like. But it didn’t take very long for the show to give up even a pretense to having any edge. I can’t imagine that it would offend anyone for the last 35 years at least. Oh, except for Sinead O’Connor — who like so many other people were banned from the “edgy” show for coming anywhere near being edgy.

But an even bigger joke took place exactly a year later: President Ford signed Public Law 94-479. And what did this important piece of legislation do? It appointed George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States. What’s more, it was done retroactively to the date 4 July 1976. It is a stunningly pathetic thing to do.

Understand: I think these kinds of symbolic gestures are important. But doing this for George Washington?! Like Washington had been mistreated by history? It was introduced by Democrat Mario Biaggi. He was an interesting guy, who only died a couple of months ago at the age of 97. Most of his Wikipedia page is dedicated to his conviction for corruption, which got him sentenced to 8 years. (He only served a couple for health reasons, which is strange, given he lived another 24 years after his release.) But the other big part of his Wikipedia page is this stupid law. Such were his accomplishments: selling favors and celebrating over-celebrated figures from our history.

So there you go: two jokes in one anniversary post.

22 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Two Jokes, One Intentional

  1. Symbolic stuff isn’t just symbolic. It matters a lot if we respect each others’ backgrounds. If your granddad was a dick, and he hurt my family, the best way to start that conversation isn’t “your granddad was a dick.” It’s “your granddad, who sired so many amazing kids and did so many amazing things, made this one mistake that harmed my family this way.” You never know; maybe the person you’re talking to hates their granddad even worse than you do. But start by insulting them, and you’ll get nowhere.

    Hard for me to have any SNL love. Especially as I was more a fan of Upright Citizens’ Brigade, which produced Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Key & Peele. SNL did give us Will Ferrell, though.

    • We are creatures of symbols, so I don’t might the symbolic stuff at all. I just think this particular thing was a joke.

      I was much more into SCTV at that time. For one, SNL is more caught up in itself — thinking it is “edgy” and “cool” when it generally isn’t. For another, SCTV did a lot of long form stuff and they played with meta themes. There has been a lot of talent in SNL. I think the fundamental problem with it is Lorne Michaels — a hack of tremendous proportions.

      • Michaels did give us Kids In The Hall, which had good moments as it got better. Maybe of note, it had no female or non-Caucasian members, while its openly gay actor usually played a super-queen. Could be that Michaels’ sense of humor is just insanely square. I dunno.

        • I never got the impression that he was that hands-on with the show. I remember I liked it, but I don’t really remember it. I think their movie Brain Candy was brilliant. But by far the best skit they ever did turned out not to be them, but The Vacant Lot: Blinded by the Light.

          • I haven’t watched it since it was on cable. I’m afraid to, because I liked it a lot and I probably wouldn’t as much now. I think Michaels did find the troupe. But then again he found lots of talent he criminally misused. He’s like the George Steinbrenner of TV comedy. “Get enough of ’em, they’ll make me richer!”

            • I certainly don’t question his nose for talent. It’s just the other stuff. And oh so many horrible SNL movies!

                • I think it is the writers. They use the same TV comedy writers. I have a great deal of respect for them, but they know little of writing feature length stories. And then they are constrained by the fact that SNL skits are based on a single idea — think of the androgynous Pat. SNL people do make decent films — but generally only when they break free of SNL.

                  • I actually remember thinking “Coneheads” was rather sweet. But Dan Akroyd wrote it. He wrote some pretty terrible other movies, though.

                    Now I remember one other great SNL bit. Where Elvis Costello was told not to play “Radio Radio.” So the band didn’t play it in rehearsal. Then they rocked the hell out of it live. Yeah, tell Elvis Costello what not to do, that’s a good idea.

                    • Yeah, he got banned for a decade or so. It’s telling, because it was his record company that didn’t want him playing it. So Michaels is just a corporate tool? Either that or a micro-manager. Or both.

  2. I have never understood the love people have for SNL. Outside of a few skits here and there and a few people who come from it, most of the show has just been “meh.”

    Most of the big names from the Founding Fathers (TM) have been overblown. I wanted to hear more about people like Benjamin Rush who advocated for things that make him a surprise to anyone who checks into his story. Opposing the death penalty? In 1792?
    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendVIIIs16.html

  3. @ Frank: Jeez, so the record company — which presumably heard the song and its lyrics — said don’t sing “I wanna bite that hand so badly.” Wow. Great call, folks. Very persuasive. What, did they think they were dealing with Bono? Oh, wait — U2 wasn’t big then.

    Sorry I’ve been polluting your comment thread, I’ve been putting off real work because it’s daunting and I’m depressed and Elizabeth/RJ are fun fresh voices. I’ll back off until I’m less psycho.

    • It was a disagreement. “Less Than Zero” was a hit in the UK, so they wanted it pushed in the US. It was about the British fascist Oswald Mosley. But Costello thought that it wouldn’t play in the US because everyone would think he was talking about Lee Harvey Oswald. He was right: it was not a hit, and when I heard the song I thought that. But I think he got banned because he didn’t do exactly what he did in the rehearsal, and that was a no-no.

      I’m glad you guys are commenting so much. I’ve been super busy in addition to dealing with my main computer dying.

      • Oh, I always go through these stretches of spending more time on the Internet when I’m depressed. It’s a distraction. No harm meant, glad no harm taken.

        I never knew what “Less Than Zero” was about! I love the song a lot, I always assumed it was about incestuous porn-film producers. Whoops! But sometimes the sentiment is more important than the meaning. I loved “Tramp The Dirt Down” as a kid because I was an angry kid, I had no clue what it meant.

        Then years later Norm Coleman (yup, him again) ran a campaign ad with a cancer-afflicted kid. I immediately thought of the song. Went back, listened to it again, and realized, OMG, this is about Thatcher. Only took me 20+ years to figure it out. But I’m glad I knew the song, because it helped me not smash my TV when I saw the Coleman ad.

        Sorry about your computer!

        • Well, it is kind of about incestuous porn-film producers! I don’t know much about him, but I do know there was a big scandal about his son and some military themed sex. It was in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed? You should read it if you haven’t.

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