Sunday, February 24, 2008
SNL avoids the Obama blackface issue
Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live has never displayed much worry about white castmembers playing “blackface” (think Darrell Hammond as Jesse Jackson). But in the case of Barack Obama, who made a cameo appearance in the last episode before the WGA strike, there was some hand-wringing in the media about the need for a regular, politically-correct Obama character, and, with young Kenan Thompson too fat for the role, rumours that a tall, lanky African-American Obama player was about to join the cast (instead, a chubby white girl was added to replace Maya Rudolph).
In the end, they used Fred Armisen. Any controversy was immediately deflected because the makeup was laugh-out-loud good. And they sidestepped the “blackface issue" on a couple of counts: Armisen didn't need more than a light bronzing, as both he and Obama are of mixed race heritage (Obama with a white mother and Kenyan father; Armisen is Venezuelan on his mother’s side and part Japanese).
By the way, last night's SNL episode was one for the time capsule: the first consistently- funny show since the fifth episode of the second season (and as a reminder, Steve Martin made an appearance). The sketches were tight and actually laugh-inducing, and with the exception of Carrie Underwood’s subpar performance (why do the musical acts always sound so bad on this show while there’s never a problem on Conan?) and Tina Fey’s desperate Hillary-flogging during the news segment, the show held up to the end! As it was the first fresh SNL since the start of the Writers Guild Strike, the solution to SNL's quality control problem is obvious (Ben Silverman take note): cut back Saturday Night Live to once every 16 weeks.