SNL, stop relying on nostalgia

SNL should appeal to the younger generation, not cling on to old bits.


Steven Dahlman

A recreation of the iconic “Saturday Night Live” set on display at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. (Photo by Steven Dahlman, via Wikimedia Commons)

Alexandra Cohen, Opinion Editor

I used to leave parties early on Saturdays in high school to lay in my parents’ bed and see what was happening “Live from New York!” Those nights, we tuned in from the other side of the country to laugh at sketches and jokes. We waited to see who would appear in what sketch and which headlines they’d touch on during the Weekend Update. Much of my generation and our parents’ generation share my experience. Saturday Night Live is a universal laugh that extends beyond coasts and generations. But, it’s not that funny anymore. 

With 82 Emmy Awards, SNL has an exceptional track record — its sketches are widely known. I can guarantee that at least one NYU student you’ve met so far dreams of being on or interning at SNL. The show is iconic for a reason, but SNL is leaning into what has made it iconic in the past a bit too much. 

On the most recent episode, with Jack Harlow as the host and musical guest, the writers and producers put all their eggs in the if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it basket and very few into, well, comedy. The show employed two bits that have worked in the past, but only one barely holds to the test of time. 

One of them was Bobby Moynihan’s iconic Drunk Uncle on Weekend Update. The character is known by SNL fans for being the uncle that you’re embarrassed to be related to — the one who voted for Donald Trump and just doesn’t get why you chose to go to NYU. In 2022, Drunk Uncle gained a sense of clarity. Amid all the gibberish he spouted, he called the recent antics of the formerly known as Kanye West “crazy,” proof that the political climate in 2022 is too bizarre for even the most unreasonable of personalities to defend. Moynihan’s character worked it was the kind of nostalgia that makes you feel like even through the treacherous, there’s some consistency. 

SNL has the pull to get faces like Tom Hanks into Studio 8H for a two-sketch cameo, but it relies on its prestige too much. In the other nostalgic sketch of the night, Hanks reprised beloved David S. Pumpkins, a character from a sketch that didn’t work the first time and doesn’t work now. As boring and confusing as the 2016 sketch was, it was a fan favorite. I watched the older lifelong fans on r/LiveFromNewYork Reddit blow up with excitement for the return of this character, clinging on to the familiar. I do admit, there’s a certain comfortability in knowing what’s going to come, but familiarity doesn’t equate to humor. However, as I turned to my peers and Twitter, there was a consensus that the sketch wasn’t funny in 2016, and remains not in 2022. My friend and I even went back to watch the original sketch, hoping we were wrong. We weren’t. 

Older generations will cling on to nostalgic concepts and characters, but Lorne Michaels needs to take a long look in the mirror and focus on making the show both prosperous and beloved. The younger writers and cast members Sarah Sherman, and NYU alumni comedy sketch group Please Don’t Destroy, Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang are consistent hits for a Gen Z audience. Yet, they’re constantly overshadowed by cast members like Kenan Thompson and Andrew Dismukes. SNL needs to find its footing, especially in the first season without Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant. It needs to embrace its tradition and winning streak but not get so cocky. Now is the perfect time to steer SNL in a different direction. 

My suggestion: put me in the writer’s room — I’m just kidding, though I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity. In earnest, SNL needs to embrace the new. The show can only employ so many old concepts and characters per season until it becomes stale, rather than nostalgic. Sure, they don’t have the constant stream of bizarre news that came with the Trump presidency anymore, but there is still so much insanity all around us. Its most iconic sketches aren’t those based in current events, but those based in absurdity. Our generation isn’t LOL-ing over a sexist jab or racist rant — we’re laughing every day over the silly videos on our TikTok feeds. There’s a way to translate this to TV, but it seems that Michaels isn’t ready to embrace that quite yet. 

It’s a new time for comedy a comedy that’s funny without being offensive. Just look at the diversity and true hilarity of Vulture’s “Comedians You Should and Will Know in 2022” list. We’re in an era where comedy can take us out of the unprecedented times we’re living in. Comedy reminds us to laugh at ourselves, to laugh at the world and to distract ourselves for a few hours from the scary headlines that haunt our phones. Even though SNL isn’t funny anymore, it’s still my favorite show. It’s an integral part of our culture, our political landscape and our Saturday nights — we’re all rooting for it. SNL is always going to be iconic, nostalgic and political, it has to be — but it won’t be able to do any of those things if it’s not funny enough to even be on TV.  

Contact Alexandra Cohen at [email protected].