Controversy Over Theatre Westminster’s SNL Performance

Originally published on April 5, 2019 in The Holcad Student Newspaper.

On March 23, 2019, Theatre Westminster hosted a student-led SNL show based on the popular TV show “Saturday Night Live.” A live video was posted on their Facebook page, and, judging by the consistent laughter, one would assume that this event was a success. However, there seems to be some controversy shadowing the event. Some audience members had issues with particular jokes and skits throughout the night.

Junior Lauren Brooks described her experience as an audience member. “I just don’t feel that the jokes landed well. Most of the reactions from the audience were the awkward laughs you get from uncomfortable situations. However, I definitely don’t believe that the writing team meant anything malicious by their jokes,” said Brooks.

Sophomore Cheyenne Keith explained that she felt the performers were trying to do shock humor just because they could. “Some of the things they said and did I couldn’t believe was actually happening, especially considering the performance was being filmed live on the Internet,” said Keith.

Brooks also mentioned that she doesn’t personally find shock humor very funny. “I understand that that is the style the writers were going for and they were trying to emulate the original content of the skits they were adapting,” explained Brooks.

I asked Junior Alison Tinker for her perspective regarding the performance, and she explained that it seemed like an attempt at lighthearted fun, but that she did understand why some students were upset by it. “Some of the humor centered on sensitive topics, and while I don’t think any of the content was intended to hurt, it can be difficult to account for people’s emotions or accurately judge their reactions,” said Tinker.

Sophomore Amanda Walter was a stage hand during the performance. She enjoyed the jazz set and the segments with audience participation, but explained that some of the jokes were not to her taste.

“I think Theatre Westminster should have more student-run events. They’re fun and a good learning opportunity, but I also think that this event needed more rehearsal time, clearer organization, and heavier professor involvement,” explained Walter.

Controversy over comedy sketches is not new territory in today’s world. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” takes criticism all the time for their political skits, amongst other things. For example, just a few weeks ago, Pete Davidson made a joke about the Catholic Church in the “Weekend Update” segment, and a lot of people were upset about it. The Catholic Church’s Diocese of Brooklyn even made a statement about the joke and demanded an apology.

Also, this past November, Davidson mocked Texas Republican-elect Dan Crenshaw, a wounded war veteran who lost his eye when he was hit by an IED blast. Davidson jokes that Crenshaw looks like a “hitman in a porno movie” and then continues to say “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever.”

Chris Strangfeld, the Performing Arts Technical Director for the Theatre, noted: “Part of Theatre Westminster’s programming initiative is to allow students to create, produce, and explore different theatrical artforms on their own (such as 24-Hour Theatre, Capstone productions, and Whose Line Is It SNL). This exploratory and collaborative process amongst students can lend itself to something truly amazing, or perhaps something that not all will understand or even appreciate. When improvisation is involved, who knows what could happen. We want to make it known that the theatre is an open, inclusive, educational, and fun space where we will enable students to work together to create/produce the things that interest them and others.”

A lot of issues in the world seem very distant from us because we live in the little town of New Wilmington, but the recent SNL performance on campus has started making people think more about bigger-picture ideas. Is there a clear line between comedy and offensive comments, and, if so, where exactly is that line? Comedy has always been an intricate art form. Not everyone has the same sense of humor. Yet, with that in mind, one wonders if there is a form of comedy we can bring to Westminster that everyone will enjoy.

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