The Saturday Night Live (SNL) parody of the Toronto Crack-Smoking-Mayor-in-name-only Rob Ford has been roundly declared, from many sources in radio and blogs, and me, to be not funny. A post-mortem is in order as to why SNL, the foremost bastion of coolness-and-funny, dropped the ball bigtime on this one with last Saturday’s show opener regarding Rob Ford.
Writing comedy is hard work. Parody and satire are the worst to write about. Satire can’t not be funny. Satire that does not make you laugh quickly becomes a big turn-off. And to make things worse, in this situation, it is Rob Ford himself who has all the best lines, and he delivers them deadpan, with no sense of irony. That would be the mark of a great comic actor, but he is not acting. He is the definitive windbag, with his grandiosity billowing in full sail, and no one wants to tell him how full of it he really is. And so not being told, he keeps going full steam ahead, the gift to The Comedy Network that keeps on giving.
SNL was going for something truly ambitious when they broke ranks with other comic satirists such as Bill Maher, David Letterman, Steven Colbert, and the best of the bunch Jon Stewart by actually making a skit of this.
A skit. Like, you know, with actors and saying lines, and stuff.
And who would play Rob Ford? And would they do justice to him and the whole situation? It’s hard. Try it, sometime. That would mean that your punchlines have to compete with Ford’s. And SNL, populated with the best comic writers in America, couldn’t match him. All they could muster were a few sentences ending in “eh?”, a drunken “best mayor” song and dance followed by a “crowd-surf” dive gone badly and couple of penis jokes. This kind of weak offering is the kind of writing a comic writer resorts to under a 3-day deadline with blank paper and 6 hours left. The story changes from underneath you, Ford steals your goddamn lines by saying something better in the interim, the wastebasket getting fuller and fuller with ideas that no longer work, and telling excuses to your boss at NBC won’t pay the bills. That had to be the scenario that produced the skit.
Jon Stewart, and just about everyone else, however, took the easy route, and in actuality the only sensible route. They played back recordings of Ford himself speaking the punchlines, with the real comedians playing “straight man” and reacting to him. That is really the only sensible way out. Rob Ford has to be understood as “the comedy which writes itself”. Literally, and there is really no choice. If you come up with something funny, Ford will blindside you with something more brilliant. Then, you’re not funny anymore. Your only hope is to know your place and play second fiddle to him, and just react.