Saturday Night Live and Governor Patterson

Governor Patterson rightfully criticized the Saturday Night Live skit that aired this past weekend. This issue is not about a thin-skinned politician or not having a sense of humor. The criticism is merited because the SNL take on Patterson was so lame and stereotypical. Ha ha, he’s blind. That’s so funny. Oh, he held the chart upside down–my god, that’s so cutting edge.

Patterson correctly recognized that the attack was not really against him, but only served to deepen the stereotypes about the blind and the disabled–a group that is having a particularly rough go of it.

Saturday Night Live has fallen into the typical late-night comedian trap and doesn’t know how to get out. Take the most obvious character trait and broadly lampoon that one facet for as long as you possibly can. Bush-dumb, McCain-old, Clinton, H.-shrew, Clinton, B-oversexed and now Patterson-blind. Show him bumping into things. Walk into the camera angle. Ha Ha. I get it. It’s funny ’cause he can’t see.

The difference between SNL having Tina Fey lampooning Palin and Fred Armisen smearing Patterson isn’t just the difference between a gifted comic actress and a lesser comedian. It’s the material. The Palin schtick waded into political philosophy and the writing was sharp. The Patterson stuff–not so much. He did coke many years ago. He hates New Jersey??? Not working, well scurry back to the blind riffs.

Comedy doesn’t have to pull its punches and it should definitely point out the foibles of people. But a disability isn’t a foible. I laughed myself sick watching the video of Tropic Thunder–a movie that traffics in jokes relating to mental retardation and blackface. The movie worked because the jokes were actually about the people who would condone the stereotypes. The writing was funny and inventive. Disability in the hands of Saturday Night Live is just mean-spirited and definitely not funny.

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