Two Saturdays ago Melissa McCarthy stepped up to the Saturday Night Live stage dressed in a gray suit and high-forehead wig, unmistakably resembling Press Secretary Sean Spicer before she even walked up behind the mock White House podium. In the next eight minutes McCarthy delivered a scathing parody of Spicer’s press briefings, highlighting idiosyncrasies like his gum-chewing habit and the obvious larger issue of his aggressive relationship with the press. The performance, which went viral, was criticized most notably by a major donor to President Donald Trump whose quote was published by Politico: “Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak.” According to reports, the president was angered because McCarthy, as a woman, played Spicer, and on a program so pervasive across all political divides as is SNL.
Well, last Saturday McCarthy was back behind her podium, and after her came Kate McKinnon as Jeff Sessions, and then Leslie Jones donning a golden wig to play the president himself. It was a parade of women mocking Trump and his team, and if fans of the show have anything to do with it, this trend will only continue. One of Trump’s oldest foes, Rosie O’Donnell, recently changed her Twitter profile picture to one of her face layered over White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon before changing it back.
The fact stands: People love these women because they can nail these performances. And these performances can get under the skin of not only the president, but also every man and woman who voted him into office. Sure, the bumbling, raging energy McCarthy brings to her impression of Spicer is an insult to Trump, who has been very carefully invested in how Spicer looks and presents himself during briefings. But it’s not because she’s a woman. Women don’t make Trump’s administration look weak; strong women with strong performances are what makes comedy work. It takes a kind of unstoppable, unsilenceable bravery to determine every one of your subject’s idiosyncrasies and pull them to the surface, especially when your subject is supposed to be the mouthpiece of the highest seat in the land.
The bottom line is that Trump’s administration does not look weak because it is being portrayed by women. They look weak because they are weak, and SNL points out those flaws with a crystal clarity and a mercilessness that defines the resistance. The president displays less emotional stability than an 8-year-old, and his team members resemble old dogs set loose after being muzzled for decades. SNL put McCarthy-Spicer in a bangle and heels not to ridicule Spicer’s physicality, but instead to condemn the unethical behavior of disparaging Nordstrom (which had recently dropped Ivanka Trump’s brand) from the White House podium.
Furthermore, the comment that a woman playing Spicer makes him look weak is degrading because of archaic generalizations: Where Trump and his donor may see a woman, the rest of the entertained world sees Melissa McCarthy — an iconic, versatile comedian. The actress is talented in bodily and spoken humor, leads a sprawling range of films, makes waves as a Hollywood phenom whose jokes can punch your gut as you lay laughing on the floor. That’s why SNL gave her the job — because she’s good, and because she’s funny and the fact that she’s a “she” doesn’t matter to anyone but apparently those who she is ridiculing.
As if we need any more proof how Trump and his team feel about women. Trump and his supporters revile these female SNL performers not because they weaken the image of their leaders, but because they are scared of strong women. If they weren’t, why would they tweet about it and make statements about it, lashing out like bullies whose insecurities have been brought to light in the playground? Because that’s what’s happening. And as long as our leaders keep making decisions that impinge upon the rights and humanity of Americans, strong women will be there to laugh at them every step of the way. Strong women who don’t care as much as Trump does care — that’s where the beauty of this lies. McCarthy doesn’t care. McKinnon and Jones don’t care.
SNL does not occur in an echo chamber. The scope of who it reaches is not limited to those who agree with its content. It is pervasive because it is shareable, inescapable because it is loved and talked about. And that conversation reaches all ears, even those of the president. And I will admit, I take some satisfaction whenever SNL elicits admonishment from Trump, because that only makes its fanbase stronger. And it cements this reality: that SNL’s women scare him, every bit as much as he condescends and looks down upon their work. Simply, the more he complains, the funnier they’ll get.
Zoe Cheng is a sophomore majoring in writing for screen and television. Her column, “Cross Section,” runs every other Tuesday.