In Egypt one of the promoters told us that Hosni Mubarak’s people had reached out to make sure none of us had any jokes about the president. We didn’t, but a few years later he was overthrown in a revolution anyway. Maybe a few jokes would have been better for him.
Fast forward to 2018. The other day, President Trump tweeted that “Saturday Night Live” and NBC are colluding with Democrats to defame and belittle him, and that their actions “should be tested in courts.” The suggestion was that joking about him might be illegal. When I read this I was shocked. Just kidding. I wasn’t shocked. I haven’t been shocked since Trump said he grabbed women in the privates and people voted for him anyway.
“Saturday Night Live” has been making fun of Republican and Democratic presidents since it started in 1975. From Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford to Darryl Hammond’s Bill Clinton to Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush to Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush to somebody’s Barack Obama. (Does anyone remember who did Obama? He was a pretty bad president for comedy.) The obvious point being — so obvious even Trump has to know this — “Saturday Night Live” makes fun of everyone.
That’s “Saturday Night Live” doing its job. Throughout our history, comedians have lampooned our politics and political leaders, along with everything else that happens here. Whether or not you like a joke, whether or not you think it’s funny, would you really want it any other way? And whether Trump knows it or not, our jokes are good for him. He gets to serve in a free society where even the top leader can be made fun of, relentlessly, helping us all to burn off steam and get through his crazy reign without serious disruption and unrest. Comedy is a friend to normalcy. Jokes are good for democracy!
Trump might be afraid of comedians and comedy shows because he thinks they threaten his job security. I suppose he might be right, but that’s not comedy’s fault — he’s the one supplying us with so much great material. But as Americans, we should all defend the right of “Saturday Night Live” and comedians to say whatever they want. Otherwise we risk becoming those autocratic countries we have historically fought to democratize and pretty soon, for all of us it will be “Hello and Goodnight!”