A former Saturday Night Live writer, speaking to the Daily Beast, says producer Lorne Michael’s decision to allow now-President Donald Trump to host the comedy sketch show back in 2015 was a “mistake” because the show “normalized” Trump for the home audience.
Mike Schur wrote for SNL for several years starting in 1998, was instrumental in helping SNL greats like Will Ferrell craft their iconic characters, he tells the Daily Beast, and was a large part of the show as it grew from a simple Saturday night comedy program into a political powerhouse.
The show, Schur says, was on an “upswing” when he joined it in the late 1990s, but really hit its stride as a vehicle for political commentary in the George W. Bush administration, with Ferrell playing Bush.
“Suddenly, dumb sketches you wrote were being played on CNN,” Schur says.
But, Schur believes, SNL’s political impact hasn’t necessarily been positive. Ferrell, he believes, helped make George W. Bush palatable to Americans, and may have pushed Bush “over the edge” into office in the year 2000, when the Texas governor bested the presumptive winner of that year’s presidential election, former Vice President Al Gore. Schur blames, specifically, the “debate” sketches from that year, that showed Bush as something of a likable, bumbling idiot, but Gore as “a wooden, boring technocrat who couldn’t stop sighing with frustration.”
But that wasn’t as dangerous, Schur says, as having then-presidential candidate Donald Trump on to host SNL in 2015, just after he declared his intention to seek the nation’s highest office. At the time, Trump was a joke, and the media gave him plenty of attention, perhaps on the presumption that forcing Trump to the head of the race for the 2016 Republican party nomination would ultimately benefit 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Lorne Michaels made the decision to put Trump front and center — a decision Schur calls a “critical error.”
“That was a critical error and many, many critical errors were made in 2016,” he told the Daily Beast. “Because it wasn’t attacking him, it was tacitly endorsing his existence and normalizing his attitudes and behavior.”
“If you’re that unreasonable of a person you don’t get to be part of our thing we’re doing here,” Schur adds.
Plenty of leftists have made similar claims: that culture’s embrace of Trump somehow made his “sexism,” “racism,” and, in rarer cases, “white nationalism,” mainstream, though most have difficultly pointing to specific examples. Trump was a well-known character, particularly in New York, for years before he ran for president (the first time), and was a favorite subject of pop culture — including Saturday Night Live’s comedians — for nearly three decades before he became President.
But Schur says Trump’s appearance wasn’t so much because he was interesting, but because Lorne Michaels wants to stay “relevant.”
“Lorne likes it when the people who are being talked about in the culture come on the show,” Schur says.
“I think most people were—and he was too—kind of blindsided by the fact that that can backfire,” he added. “It’s never backfired like that before. It’s one thing when Nancy Kerrigan is attacked and then she hosts the show because everyone’s talking about Nancy Kerrigan. Trump was a different story and it was a mistake. No one would say it wasn’t a mistake to put him on the show as just another person who’s being talked about in the culture because that’s not what he was.”
Schur doesn’t just blame SNL for “normalizing” Trump, though. Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert share the blame.
Of course, Schur doesn’t feel the same way about any potential political guest who shares his “ultra-progressive” leanings and insists that SNL gives equal time to skewering both Republicans and Democrats.
“Lorne’s attitude is, the show was forged in the boiling cauldron of Watergate and the attitude of the show is ‘we are skeptical of whoever’s in power.’ That’s the deal,” he says. “I have no problem with that as a philosophy. I think that part of what makes America America is that its art gets to take down its leaders. And it’s not hard to make fun of Democrats even if you happen to side with them politically.”