Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hallelujah (SNL)

I’m not giving up and neither should you.
Guerrilla Theater Company opened You Have The Right To Remain Silent on October 23, 1992, with performances every single Friday and Saturday night beginning at 11:00 PM until closing for a summer hiatus the following May.

We had received good advice from friends operating a different late night theater production in Chicago. They said for the first two years, they most performed to a small number of dedicated family and friends.

It was our mission to write new work for every weekend (seven new out of twenty-one short plays, every week) and to never cancel a performance. We canceled one, during a blizzard. No one showed up for that one regardless, and I am glad to say it was the only performance where no one did.

My partner Torque had a dream, which was that when something important happened, in Cleveland, or in the world, people would want to know what the Guerrillas had to say about it. That our satiric take on events would be important.

After all, pre-internet, up-to-the-moment political satire was relegated to the television, and the television didn’t traffic in political satire. Johnny Carson and Arsenio Hall were your only nighttime talk show hosts, and they kept it light.

There were no network hosts willing to take strong political positions like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers, no Daily Show, Full Frontal or Last Week Tonight. The only program that might comment on current events would be Saturday Night Live.

Three weeks before we opened, on October 3,1992 the network allowed host Tim Robbins to shame General Electric in his opening monologue -- but then were caught flat-footed when musical guest Sinéad O’Connor surprised everyone by tearing up a photograph of John Paull II. It was rare moment of protest on a program that had famously avoided that kind of controversy.

The fact is, we didn’t really watch the show anymore. Core company members Rob Schneider, Chris Farley and Julia Sweeney were not exactly daring in their performances, Kevin Nealon one of the most toothless Weekend Update hosts, and Dana Carvey departed shortly after George H. W. Bush left office.

There have only been a couple times in recent memory when tuning in to (or most recently, checking the YouTube page for) Saturday Night Live was something absolutely everyone wanted to do, to see what their their take was going on.

The first was eight years ago, when Tina Fey’s iconic impersonation of Sarah Palin so defined Palin’s character that ever since it has seemed like Palin has only been impersonating Tina Fey.

Most recently, it has been the Clinton/Trump debates. Kate McKinnon has impersonated Hillary Clinton during the entire 2016 campaign season, but it was Alec Baldwin’s scabrous take on Donald J. Trump that caused a sensation.

There are those who have criticized these debate sketches for “normalizing” the person of Donald J. Trump, which is ridiculous. You don’t blame the fool. Only the Republican Party can be blamed for nominating and promoting an outspoken, xenophobic misogynist who never condemned the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan and embraced the support of the Russian government for normalizing Donald J. Trump.

And their gamble won. By standing idly by while American integrity was compromised and American dignity was decimated, the Republican Party has near absolute power of the government. Lines that few had dared cross before certainly have been, and we can only imagine what happens next.

But Hillary Clinton is (fill in the blank.) Okay, whatever. She lost* and between she and President Obama reminded the American people what it means to step away with dignity, with whatever dignity it is we as a nation have left.

I was sure that few who have enjoyed watching SNL during the past few weeks were looking forward to last night’s program. I mean, do we ever want to see Baldwin’s Trump ever again? What could possibly be funny on November 12, 2016?

Well. As my father always reminded me, when you aim at a king you must kill him. And the folks at SNL created a cold open to conclude this traumatic election season with class, style, pathos, breathtaking timeliness and most of all talent.

Who knew Kate McKinnon could sing and play the piano like that?

Leonard Cohen died the day before election day, on November 7 and for better or for worse, his Hallelujah is his best known and most covered song. But is because of our familiarity with that song, as performed by McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, that makes this tired paean once again mournfully triumphant.

*The Electoral College. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a sizable margin.

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