Unethical Maybe, Unprofessional Definitely: Saturday Night Live With Host Donald Trump

donald trump larry david snl

Last night, Saturday Night Live was terrible, even for Saturday Night Live. The skits were flat and desperate, the performances were slack and lacking energy. My reaction from the almost joke-free cold open (if an actress can’t do a better impression of Rachel Maddow than that, it’s time to hang it up) was, “They are intentionally tanking this!”

My impression got stronger as the show went on. If anything, SNL’s current young cast usually tries too hard. The key to live comedy performing is radiating energy and control, as well as communicating that you are having fun. Last night it was the mostly opposite: no energy, no enthusiasm. An off night that just happened to fall on the night that Donald Trump was hosting? Maybe. You can say my suspicions are born of confirmation bias, but I was surprised. These are supposedly pros. They should be able to deliver if they had to perform with Satan.

Trump wasn’t phoning it in. He was doing his best, and it wasn’t bad by the standards of a non-performer. The SNL cast acted as if it didn’t want to associate with him.

I was going to let this pass, but so many other commentators have mentioned the cast’s lassitude that it needs to be said. If SNL’s comics intentionally pulled back, it is a betrayal of trust and duty to, yes, Donald Trump. I don’t care how much they or their smug peer group hate him; I’m not crazy about him myself, as my posts attest. He was their guest, however; they invited him, and Trump had every reason to expect to join a cast and production staff determined to make his show as funny and entertaining as it could be. The writers knew Trump was coming for a month: that was all they could come up with? Really? Amazing.

As expected, Trump was a ratings bonanza for NBC and the show. He fulfilled his end of the deal, to the TV audience and the show. Not the cast and writers, though.  At best, SNL was  unprofessional. If the cast and writers couldn’t rise to the challenge, couldn’t rouse themselves to get laughs along with someone whose politics they didn’t support, then they are a disgrace to their art. They aren’t even amateurs. They are hacks.

Unless some tell-all memoirs are published years from now in which a cast member admits that they and the writers agreed to leave Trump hanging, we will never know for sure if last night was sabotage, or just incompetence under stress. I know this: the biggest audience SNL has had in a long time saw the show at its abysmal worst, and saw the much reviled Donald Trump prove that he knows how to meet his obligations in a professional setting—even an unfamiliar and apparently a hostile one—-as the supposed comedy pros failed.

To their shame.

I won’t be coming back.

Gilda and Belushi must have been rolling their graves.

Addendum: You have to read this  by Daily Beast writer Matt Wilstein to appreciate the full force of Trump hate in its ability to make a pundit write nonsense. His assessment: Trump bombed. Not the hundred writers, actors, techies and the director who delivered pathetic material and support that Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope couldn’t have survived—Trump, because he “only deigned to play a character other than himself a grand total of twice” ….even though that was all he was there to do. As if he wrote this stinker.

44 thoughts on “Unethical Maybe, Unprofessional Definitely: Saturday Night Live With Host Donald Trump

    • Bull. He didn’t write the skits. He didn’t direct them. The celeb hosts always have a lot of control, and he only had any control over the skits he was in. I’ve directed these celebrity guest things. You literally don’t know what you’re talking about. He didn’t write the lousy skits, did he? He didn’t play all the parts, did he? The worst of the show was the down-beat, who cares performing. Go ahead, expert, explain how Trump controlled THAT. I’m sorry, but its late and I’m really sick of people adopting a fantasy world to justify avoiding the truth because it interferes with their ideological narrative. You cannot blame Trump for last night. He was exactly what they and I expected. If you invite a non-professional performer to star, it’s 100% up to you to make it work. You’re the pro.

      It sounds like SNL is putting out back channel alibis for its own failure, for people who know nothing about producing, theater or performing to lap up. Don’t. If I were the director of the show last night, 1) a lot of those skits wouldn’t have got on the air, and 2) about 4 actors would be on probation today.

      • SNL has been lousy for many, many years now. So the barometer shouldn’t be whether the skits were lousy. Of course they were. That was pretty much a guarantee. Did you see what they did with Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, and Kevin Hart, all actual gifted comedians? This batch of writers knows how to suck the energy out of a crowd, and almost no performer has escaped from that energy black hole (except the Rock).

        The Trump appearance was the usual lousy writing, compounded with other issues. He, by his own admission, tossed anything too risky. He also wasn’t around very much to rehearse, so they had to work around him in the skits. The audience was on edge, as there was a bounty to scream at Trump, and people were looking to see if one of their members was going to try to collect it. The producers knew this, and thoroughly cowed the audience about it. It must have been a nightmare to try to perform live under conditions like that, of course everything is going to be “off”, and the energy levels inconsistent. I think the performers did the best they could, considering.
        Another assessment that will undoubtedly leave you seeing red: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/11/08/donald_trump_on_saturday_night_live_why_it_was_so_much_worse_than_his_2004.html

        Just to appear on Saturday Night Live is seen as an act of self-deprecation. (“I can take a joke,” Trump said during his monologue.) But Trump should get no credit for being self-effacing. SNL’s impersonation of him, its understanding of him, carries no bite. Yes, he’s a ridiculous personality beloved by drunk uncles everywhere, but Trump knows and loves this about himself. SNL made multiple cracks about Trump’s racism during the episode: Larry David called him racist during the monologue, a sketch about Trump’s tweets ended with a remark about black people, and Weekend Update’s Michael Che skewered the guy “hosting this show” for getting Che’s “negro senses” tingling with the subtitle of his book “Making America Great Again.” But this is perfect for Trump, who gets to affably take his punches for being racist, which only makes his racism appear less virulent, a boon to him and his voters.

        Trump was probably not willing to explore anything on SNL that might actually jab him— like his un-electability, his relationship with Fox News or his issues with women. (In fact, he got to insult poor Rosie O’Donnell yet again, and, at the end of a campaign ad for him, starring Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong’s recurring porn-star character, he got to disavow their endorsement, while also suggesting he had once slept with them: what a hound that virile Trump is!) But did SNL have to do an entire sketch about how fearful the cast is of Trump’s searingly mean tweets? His insulting tweets are nothing but a compliment! And these are comedians! “Total loser” would not send them to pieces.
        It’s hard to make fun of the person on stage with you, but SNL has successfully dinged political candidates—Sarah Palin—to their face before. Hillary Clinton’s recent appearance with Kate McKinnon, while ultimately positive for Clinton, was pointed. McKinnon, with her rictus grin, and her fixation on Clinton’s inability to relax or jibe with regular people, gets at an aspect of Clinton’s persona that is actually a problem for her. The night’s opening sketch saw McKinnon’s Clinton wishing she could speak “casual language.” Larry David played Bernie Sanders as an unfriendly kook with a problem with black voters. Meanwhile, Trump was getting teased for imagining he can save the world. With insults like that, he has no need for compliments.

        • Wow, you can actually almost hear the sound of a bitter, fuming crank pounding away at an old-fashioned typewriter as you read that one. (And another thing!! Poor Rosie O’Donnell!) I wonder if people love Trump mainly because he inspires this kind of insufferable fury.

  1. I didn’t see the show. However, if the SNL people deliberately gave a bum performance just to embarrass their invited host, they risk having this blowing up in their faces. No reasonable viewer is going to associate their lackluster showing as being the fault of Donald Trump. But they may very well suspect what you do, Jack. If so, they stand not only to give Trump a Carson-like upsurge in public support, but concurrently break the bonds of trust with their across-the-board viewership. SNL is something of a national institution. But this is the sort of thing that brings institutions down.

    • This crosses my mind every time someone does this. Regardless on whether it’s Politico or SNL, even if you think the ends justify the means, you are sinking all your credibility into an attack, and just hoping you survive. I’d love to have a conversation with the guy who crunches those numbers and deems it an acceptable risk.

    • “No reasonable viewer…”

      What wishful thinking.

      Find me a handful of reasonable viewers in the “already hates Trump” Left wing column.

      Nope. There are juvenile types who already loathe non-lefties so much they’ll think SNL was utterly brilliant in some type of subtle lampooning of Trump and there are mature types who will shrug and rationalize this in many ways.

  2. I remember reading that there was some similar unprofessionalism when Andrew Dice Clay hosted. Nora Dunn boycotted the show, and she got fired.

    Maybe Lorne Michaels needs to do the same thing here.

  3. Having not watched SNL for years, I assumed that this lousy show was nothing out of the ordinary for this crew. I won’t be back, either. I do wish I’d seen Amy Schumer.

      • AOL/Huffington Post Headline:
        “Donald Trump Heckled On SNL; Famous Actor Calls Him A Racist.”
        Turns out it was a guy named Larry David, who freely admitted he was told he’d get $5000 for doing so. One of the comments from readers of the story; “Who and/or what is a Larry David?” So much for being a “famous actor”.

        • I was curious too. I feel somewhat embarrassed not knowing the factoids, but apparently Larry David was a co-creator of Seinfeld. Though the 20 year old comedy was absolutely hilarious, I doubt that most people other than devout trivia aficionados could spout out Seinfeld’s creator.

          In more recent news however, he’s the creator and star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”…a much acclaimed show (according to cult-fans and professional reviewers) that was able to net 1.7 million viewers for it’s most viewed episode…which I guess is alot…or something…supposedly though it benefited from following immediately after “True Blood” which had 5 million viewers. Which seems like alot more…does anyone you know watch True Blood either?

          I would think for the “heckling fan” joke to be very recognizable as a joke and not a complete humor miff the deliverer would need to be more recognizable as well. But then again, I can’t fully evaluate…I didn’t watch the SNL episode. All I can say is the name didn’t ring a bell.

    • That was scripted. They were poking fun at the very real offer from some outside groups to have an audience member shout that out at Trump.


      I hate to shout, but in the name of God, are people really this ignorant? Larry David is a full-time cynic and curmudgeon–if he shouted “I love America!” it would be joke. That’s why it was funny!!!! I am shocked and nauseated that anyone would treat that GAG as an actual protest.

        • Well, since about a third of the public can’t ID the four guys on the mountain, I’m sure a lot of people didn’t know. Thus they can’t understand current events satire, show-biz humor, or Comedy Central. Such people should shut up about pop culture until they have some basis for an opinion.

          David is as much of a character as an actor. In that case, he was IN character,

          • “It’s Larry David, guys… Larry, why did you say that?”

            “They told me they’d pay me five thousand bucks.”

            I got the joke immediately. I feel old again.

          • “Such people should shut up about pop culture until they have some basis for an opinion.”

            So if someone doesn’t enjoy specific aspects of pop culture they still have to suffer through it to comment on it?

            • Huh? They can always say “I don’t like it.” They have a right to utter uninformed opinions that make them look foolish too. What is objectionable is criticizing what they don’t understand because they don’t under stand it. “Larry David” the character from his HBO show WOULD yell that just for the 5000 dollars. He’s also the alter -ego of George Costanza from Seinfeld, and HE’d do it too. Either way, it wasn’t about Trump.

              • The show that a percentage of a percentage of America actually watches?

                Those are the only people who will get that joke. SNL miffed on humor (like usual). It’s as simple as that.

                • His line was sufficiently clarifying.

                  SNL is supposedly for people who follow edgy humor, satire, pop culture and current events. More than half the jokes from SNL’s best shows involved events that few American knew about than know Larry David.

                  We all have our holes in cultural literacy, and this is why we cross generational lines at our own risk. But we are still handicapped, and avoiding that is a constant battle. I can now only ID three contestants on “Dancing with the Stars,” and when the show started, I knew them all.

                  By the way, I gave you a hint about Larry David here. Note that I suggested that David would be a perfect actor to spoof Sanders BEFORE SNL unveiled him for just that.

                • The mitigating factor of this, is I bet a larger percentage of the average SNL-watching Public also watches Curb Your Enthusiasm than the .0053% of the Greater Population (on a good day) does…so they might have had a better chance of getting the humor behind “oh, that’s just Larry David!”

                  • You win that bet—it’s largely the same audience: thirty-something, college educated liberal Seinfeld re-run fans.When he first appeared in the SNL Dem debate skit as Sanders, the audience roared on sight. So that’s the context, and the context SNL was assuming this time.

                    • Sure. Trump even set it up. “Oh, boy, what’s this, I was afraid something like this…” and then the line about “Oh, well, as a business man I completely understand.” There was no “oooooh!” as there would have been if anyone took David seriously. On “Curb…” (which I bet you would like)…there were several episodes where Larry stumbled into political correctness landmines and could understand it at all. Larry David calling anyone a racist—a lot of critics accused “Seinfeld” of being racist–is inherently funny.

                    • “(which I bet you would like)”

                      Maybe someday… With a near 3 year old and a near 1 year old…. the only TV that gets watched is News, Walking Dead (which is fighting hard with just a enough success this season to keep my attention), an occasional movie, maybe something historic, and lots of Thomas the Train.

                      “Larry David calling anyone a racist—a lot of critics accused “Seinfeld” of being racist–is inherently funny.”

                      That involves me getting more intimate with someone’s life 1,000 miles away than I have the time or inclination for…if being *that* perfectly attuned to the behind the scenes personalities of everyone involved is your standard of being able to “understand the industry”, then you’re right, I can’t comment.

                      Seems like a high standard to me though.

                    • Hey, I wasn’t saying you couldn’t comment. I’m saying the idiots who post stories on the Huffington Post and in newspaper columns can’t comment unless they do their pop culture homework. Comment sections are, or should be, to talk about stuff like that and learn. Now you know that the incident wasn’t “an actor out of character” shouting “racist” as a protest, but an actor IN the only character he is famous for making fun of himself (as that character) AND the protests about Trump.

  4. I think there are many on the left who don’t hate Trump, they just can’t figure him out. He’s an asshole — that we know, but his policies (to the extent he has articulated them) seem to be to the left of many of his competitors. I personally think he is an uncouth, egotistical jerk, but I (and I can’t believe I am saying this) would vote for Trump over Cruz, Paul, Huckabee, Graham, Santorum, Jindal, and Carson in a heartbeat. I would vote for the rest of the field (Bush, Christie, Kasich, Rubio, Fiorina) over Trump.

    Hmm … I think I am going to pose this question to my liberal friends. I am guessing that my placement of Trump in this field is not unique.

    • My split would be substantially the same. I’d differ with you over Graham.

      I am reaching the point where I would vote for Trump over Hillary before blowing my brains out. Definitely over Sanders.

      • Ugh…the 2016 election is sounding more like having to pick between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus…the kind of choice that, regardless of what happens, Republics do not survive.

        • I’ll write about this when I have some time. I’m not there yet, but I think Trump has shown a capacity to learn and grow, and has genuinely felt pro-US beliefs. He may be redeemable. Hillary, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is not.

    • Well, he used to be a Democrat, right? If his goal is actually to become president, and he doesn’t really care how, then the Republican side is the more open field.

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