SNL influences 2020 presidential election


Photo by Juan Garibay

Reporter Juan Garibay observes how an SNL episode is influencing American politics through satire.

As I searched for Channel 2, I couldn’t believe it.

Saturday Night Live returned on Oct. 3, with Chris Rock as host and Megan Thee Stallion as the musical guest. This was a special episode because of the hiatus COVID-19 caused. Lorne Michaels and his team gave America what it needed: laughter. SNL could be the new way for young people to learn about politics and current events, even though the skits are satirical

Over the pandemic, I started watching SNL more on YouTube, and I fell in love with their creative and humorous comedy style. I am currently on a quest to watch all of the 880 episodes SNL has to offer, starting from the pilot episode, which aired on Oct. 11, 1975. It will not be an easy task, but it is one that I am willing to take. 

Before the summer of 2020, SNL was preparing to finish its 45th season with some major changes. They could not film in Studio 8H on 30 Rock due to the pandemic. The cast took matters into their own hands and filmed their sketches from their homes. It was an experimental concept because it was the first time they did this in the show’s history. 

But all of that changed when SNL finally returned with Chris Rock. This was an amazing episode. It gave me a feeling of normalcy in light of these dark times. 

This year was important for SNL because it was an election year. It gave the writers a lot of great material because of the two intriguing candidates. The Chris Rock episode started with a bang with a parody of the presidential debate, which I found to be more realistic than the actual debate itself. 

Alec Baldwin returned to portray President Donald Trump, and a new but familiar face came to the stage to portray President Joe Biden — Jim Carrey. Before, Jason Sudeikis and Woody Harrelson portrayed the presidential candidate, but Carrey was born to impersonate Biden. 

The skit was hilarious and insightful, and it brought non-stop laughs from the audience. After watching this 14-minute skit, I realized that SNL could help young people learn about politics and current events through humor.

According to Morning Consult, 3 percent of voters were undecided before this election. This was much smaller compared to 2016 when the percentage of undecided voters was 11 percent. 

And from the Pew Research Center, 2020 had around 157.6 million registered voters in the US. This means that there were 4.728 million undecided voters, using the percent from Morning Consult.

The Harvard Kennedy School surveyed the 2,026 undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project. Out of that sample, 6 percent was undecided.

I took that 6 percent and calculated that there were 283,680 undecided young voters. 

That group was probably diminishing with SNL’s releases. One production team member, Dean Obeidallah, pointed this out in 2017. 

“Eighty million people watched the debate, 130 million people will vote, 50 million others are still looking for places to get their news, and comedy can fill that gap,” Obeidallah said.

And 2020 was no different. I believe those undecided voters, especially the age group of 18 – 25 year olds, were probably influenced by a show like SNL.

Recently, the hosts pushed heavily on this election and encouraged people to vote. Chris Rock joked about how the government does not want people to vote because Election Day is on a Tuesday afternoon.

Besides encouraging people to vote, SNL presented the candidates and current events with pop culture references. One example was the controversial scene in the new Borat film, where Rudy Giuliani makes an inappropriate motion. SNL features this scene in the cold opening of the latest episode (with Adele). The scene featured a quick joke where Giuliani, played by Kate McKinnon, is apparently fixing his microphone. Young viewers may have gotten the joke if they saw the Borat movie, which I assume most people did.

SNL even made an “ad” about the election.  It started like a regular political advertisement showing the two candidates. As it progressed, the ad lost sight and instead talked about what would happen if Trump left the presidency. What will the American people talk about now? You can watch the “ad” by clicking here.

I recommend watching what I call the 2020 SNL Political Journey, which is four videos that have touched the tw0 presidential debates, the vice-presidential debate and the ABC and NBC town halls

Election Day has passed and SNL has done its job by covering it. On Oct.7, Joe Biden was announced to be the U.S. president-elect. I am assuming that SNL was elated to hear this. Funny enough, Oct. 7 was on a Saturday. I imagine the crew and writers were working like ants to structure and modify the skits around this announcement.

Dave Chappelle hosted the show, and I have to say, this episode was the one that felt most satisfying. All the hard work that was put into this episode paid off. I believe SNL knew that they influenced this election because the media has declared Biden as president-elect. 

And this proves my point about how SNL can be the new way for young people to learn about politics through humor. 

So America, I mean, Bellaire High, watch SNL to be a more informed person and get a laugh from it. You can watch clips on the official Youtube account of SNL  0r  if you have the subscription, watch it on Hulu.