SNL creator has no problem making fun of Obama
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- After tussling with conservative radio host Blanquita Cullum on CNN this morning over the issue of why some humorists think they can't make fun of Barack Obama, I decided to make sure today to ask the master:
So, Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, why are other people finding it so hard to lampoon the Democratic candidate?
"He's still defining himself and he's primarily cast as heroic," Michaels said. "But sooner or later, everyone does something to irritate us. He becomes more and more familiar...you sort of find what the take is, and everyone agrees with it. In the summer of 2004, the May shows, Darryl (Hammond) did Al Gore twice on Weekend Update at dress (rehearsal), and neither time it worked, and he'd already been vice president for seven years. It took the fall, when everyone was paying attention, for people to get clear on where they were prepared to laugh."
"I think that Obama can't be mocked until somebody finds a way in," he added. "As a sketch thing, it only works if everyone laughs. The only way everyone laughs is if it seems right...You can't preach to people about this stuff. It only works if everybody goes 'Absolutely -- that's exactly what I was thinking.' We give voice to that. It doesn't mean we're partisan in any way, we just give voice to that."
Michaels faced TV critics here Sunday with the cast from SNL to talk about a wide range of stuff: NBC will make two more live SNLs than last season, 22 episodes total, and four new episodes straight out of the box; the network will also present SNL: Thursday Night Live, four half-hour episodes on Thursday in October centered on the election; Michaels will be helping Jimmy Fallon prepare his new 12:30 p.m. late night show, expected to take Conan O'Brien's slot in 2009; he also will be helping O'Brien move to Los Angeles and take over the Tonight Show next year; he'll be helping out with 30 Rock as a producer.
And, oh yeah, he'll have to deal with SNL's utility player, Amy Poehler, having a baby later this year -- "hopefully, after the elections," Michaels quipped of Poehler, who plays Hillary Clinton -- and hiring two new cast members for the 33-year-old variety show.
"A lot of comedy people are like procrastinators who hate failure," said head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor Seth Meyers. "So, when they have to actually do a show, they all come together -- I'm not worried."
It's a interesting sight: After enduring inevitable talk last year that the show might again be on the decline, Michaels has spread his unique brand of SNL-forged humor across the showbiz landscape -- from 30 Rock star Tina Fey's successful movie Baby Mama, to Michael's dominance of NBC's late night plans. (he said Fallon, for example, will debut Webisodes online in the fall five or six months before his actual show debuts).
But one thing Michaels wouldn't dish much on: How he feels about the fact that NBC made a deal to center their late night lineup on his proteges O'Brien and Fallon, without finding a role for the guy currently winning the ratings war in late night, Jay Leno.
"I have so little to say on that," he said, smiling. "I only work there...One of the things that I learned from the first years of Conan, was how tough it is to find the show on the air. in 1975 with SNL, we were in a relatively obscure time period...we were able to stay experimental and keep finding it...Beginning (Fallon's) show online will give us a chance to find the show before it debuts."