Comic Relief: I am (sort of) an ‘SNL’ apologist

Quinta Brunson

Saturday Night Live features celebrity hosts performing alongside a cast of repertory characters. The April 1 episode will star Quinta Brunson of “Abbott Elementary” as the host. Lil Yachty will perform as the musical guest. (Courtesy Kyle Dubiel | NBC)

As the world prepares to watch Quinta Brunson grace the screens of Studio 8H for the first time on Saturday, I am reminded why I watch “Saturday Night Live.” The lineup for the next three shows is top tier, with Brunson’s episode followed by “SNL” alum Molly Shannon and “Knives Out”’s Ana de Armas. 

I’m not going to go as far as to say I think “SNL” is funny, but I will say that the show has become a constant in my life. During a particularly sad and lonely era of my life when I did not leave my house for a month, when I was decaying in my bed that now has a permanent dip, I was also decaying in front of the television. At the time, around 2019, I would watch anything that I thought had a chance of making me laugh. 

Hulu had “SNL” from season 30 onwards and considering I had already caught up with “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” I had to find another way to get my Andy Samberg fill. I then launched on an odyssey to watch all streamable episodes of “SNL.”

As I worked my way through, I discovered one thing: To any person that says “‘SNL’ isn’t funny anymore,” I’m here to tell you it has never been truly funny. I am biased toward the late 2000s seasons, but if you actually try to sit through an episode, I promise it is quite often as painful of an experience as current seasons. 

Still, the wonderful moments of Stefon and “Laser Cats” brightened my somber days and kept me watching. 

As I began working my way through the seasons, I found that I finished season 33 at an alarmingly quick rate. A quick Google search led me to the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, a 100-day event where television writers sought increased payment. Due to the strike, “SNL” missed out on six scheduled shows of the season, between early November and late February.

An interesting piece of television history, I found myself most concerned about NBC’s reaction. According to Page Six, 90% of the show’s production team was laid off during the strike. 

As I sat on my couch, watching the show’s return to the screen in February 2008 with Tina Fey, my energy towards the show was undoubtedly different. Originally a way to keep me distracted from the fact I was rotting away on the couch, the show became less of a magical escape. In my hardest times, consuming comedy was a way to cope. I myself couldn’t be funny, but I could rely on Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph and Seth Meyers to be. But it’s much harder to enjoy a show that lets its workers struggle.

The world of comedy can quickly get serious: punchlines become punches, scripts become strikes and laughs become layoffs. 

Between a long history of sexism and a strong lack of diversity that seems to just now be getting fixed, “SNL” has always had its problems. 

The recent threats of strikes from the “SNL” editors led me to learn even more about the problematic aspects of the show. The Motion Picture Editors Guild reported pay much lower than industry standards. Planning to begin a strike April 1, the group of workers gave NBC around a month to meet their demands. 

Last week, the editors managed to negotiate a contract with NBC, winning a pay increase and health care benefits. Their success is an incredible feat and will hopefully pave the way for better benefits for all the workers responsible for keeping the weekly show running.

At home, I’ll continue to watch the show on Sunday mornings. At school, I will continue to hold watch parties with my wonderful friends, Emma and Hadyn. Although we are often not on top of it and end up streaming episodes weeks after airing, it’s always a chance for us to catch up and spend 90 minutes hidden away from the pressures of school. 

I love “SNL.” I am grateful for the comfort the show has provided me these past four years of my life. Still, my relationship with the show will always remain complicated, but I am hopeful for positive change. The actions of the show have tarnished my love, but there is love nonetheless. 

Kimberly Aguirre is a sophomore writing about comedy. Her column, “Comic Relief,” runs every other Thursday. She is also the arts & entertainment editor at the Daily Trojan.