As expected, this weekend’s Saturday Night Live made great use of Melissa McCarthy to make some deep digs at the Trump administration’s expense. Before the host even took the stage, they were already skewering Trump for his decision to fire Comey “because of Russia” and his total lack of interest in any sort of positive optics.
But in McCarthy’s big Sean Spicer sketch, the show really went all in. After reports came out that Trump was allegedly furious not just with SNL’s mockery in general, but specifically the decision to cast a woman to play Spicer (the most unbearable insult for misogynists), the show has often seemed to hold “make Trump mad” as its number one objective. And if simply casting a woman to play Spicer angered Trump, it was clear what would push him over the edge. After they dug into Spicer’s hedge-hiding–
And his general rage–
They gave us an anxious Spicer, searching for Donald Trump, desperate to prove to himself and the press that his friend does care about him and would never use him to perpetuate a lie. And once the two were reunited, Trump’s patronizing, controlling treatment of Spicer turned physical.
The sketch was funny, but more than that, it seemed entirely designed to humiliate the real-life Spicer and Trump. And it worked because it managed to walk that precarious line of never slipping into the lazy “gay joke,” but rather stuck to making fun of those who would be offended by the gay joke. The punchline isn’t that Spicer and Trump are romantically involved. It’s that we know they’re watching (because they’ve told us), we know they hate it (they’ve told us that, too), and we know that in their misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted minds, there is no worse insult than this moment:
The joke was at the expense of these men’s fragility and prejudices, not at the expense of gay viewers, which is a big part of why such a one-dimensionally targeted takedown worked.
The other reason why building an entire sketch around the idea of making Donald Trump and Sean Spicer kiss worked was because the show started with one of the most genuinely nice segments we’ve seen on television in a long time. McCarthy’s monologue, like the Trump/Spicer sketch, seemed to have “funny” as a secondary goal. Instead, the opening bit felt designed, very simply, to make our hearts swell.
Normally, when a host’s monologue is crowd-work-based, the “audience” bits come from cast members posing ridiculous questions. I’m not sure it’s never happened before, but it’s definitely rare to see McCarthy picking out actual audience members, talking to mothers about their children. She then dedicated nearly the entire monologue to giving one mother–Joan–what will probably be the best few minutes of her life.
McCarthy pulled Joan out of the audience and guided her through the halls of Studio 8H, getting her hats and ketchup and foot cream. She introduced her to Alec Baldwin in his full Trump getup as well as Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively (or, as McCarthy referred to them, “The Livelys”) for some reason. She took Joan down the corridor only hosts get to see, and sent her out on stage to introduce Haim and deliver the iconic “Stick around, we’ll be right back!”
The whole thing was a bit overwhelming. It was that thing we don’t see often enough on television, in the news, or in the world in general: it was just plain and simple niceness. It felt like a whole season of The Great British Baking Show crammed into five minutes. McCarthy got a great segment out of it, so I don’t want to oversell how selfless it felt. But she could have had some great jokes, or a musical number, as hosts often do. Instead, this opener was all about Joan, about just making a woman feel nice. And that was heartwarming to watch.
All of which made the ruthlessness with which she later attacked Spicer all the more satisfying.
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