Late-night television is a drastically different beast than morning news television. Where an NBC News broadcast might strive for serious journalism and top-notch reporting, a Jimmy Fallon or Seth Myers show will often devolve into goofiness. Which is probably why these shows are often so popular—people want to laugh and be entertained on Saturday nights (and some Fridays and Sundays).
One of the best examples of this is the long-running NBC show “Saturday Night Live.” While many people may know the show for its famous fictional guest stars and parodies of current events, “SNL” actually has a long history of funny people portraying real-life figures. Some of the more memorable portrayals from the show’s forty-plus year history include:
If you’re unfamiliar, Pete Davidson is a comedian and actor best known for his work on Saturday Night Live, a weekly Saturday night live show which he co-hosts with Chris Pratt. As mentioned, the show is often funny and often makes fun of current events, celebrities, and the culture at large. But sometimes the show also does more serious content, especially when it comes to social issues. One of the best examples of this came in 2001, when “SNL” took a satirical look at the Columbine High School Massacre. Using all of their famous fictional characters, the show mused on the horrific events that took the lives of fourteen people, including the two assailants.
While many people have criticized the show for being too violent, the real question is whether or not it was appropriate for a comedy show at the time to be depicting such a serious subject matter. Regardless, the episode was a success, and arguably one of the best “SNL” episodes ever.
Since then, “SNL” has tackled a variety of issues head-on, from obesity in children to same-sex marriage. While many other late-night shows have shied away from these kinds of topics, “SNL” continues to address topical issues with hilarious results. As a host of a weekly show, Davidson is often involved in these discussions, whether he’s lampooning Donald Trump or just having some fun with one of his guests.
Another example of “SNL’s” satirical take on real-life issues is the 2014 episode, where Davidson and Pratt hosted an entire episode about the celebrity world – and the absurdity of much of the modern-day media obsession – from the perspective of a pet dinosaur. The episode was named after legendary actor Robbert Pattinson, who played a character named “Bert,” an Australian sheepdog who was a cross between Lassie and Flipper (from the cartoon Tom & Jerry).
Though most people know Pattinson for his famous canine transformations, he was actually a guest on “Saturday Night Live” earlier in his career, back in the seventies. While many other celebrities have popped up on “SNL” over the years, most notably Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, and John Goodman, it was Pattinson’s appearance that was most memorable. As a guest host, he brought his dog to the studio, and even changed outfits with the pooch (yes, really).
While most people remember “Bert” from that single episode, it was actually one of the most memorable scenes of the entire series. In one scene, after Pratt and Davidson ask Bert if he’ll pose with them for a photo, the dog replies, “I don’t do photoshoots. I’m a dinosaur.” The two men are momentarily taken aback, but quickly recover and ask if he’ll help them find their shoes (which are located under a chair). With the help of his dog, who is still none-too-pleased with the paparazzi, they are able to locate their shoes and leave the building.
More recently, “SNL” has tackled some pretty heavy topics, like gun control and mental illness. One of the most recent episodes, for example, featured Kate McKinnon as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, arguing that the Second Amendment is “a mental health issue.” During an interview with Amy Schumer, McKinnon’s character notes that she has “a big question about why someone with so much power could be so disturbed.” On another occasion, Schumer played a college student whose mental health issues lead her to believe that the election of Donald Trump is causing her depression (her monologue was interrupted by a joke about Putin’s election).
These types of jokes may not make everyone happy, especially people who have suffered directly from mental illness or who have lost loved ones to guns. But as long as “SNL” continues to tackle social issues and current events with a funny touch, I think we’ll be okay.
Another celebrity who has appeared on “Saturday Night Live” multiple times is Jimmy Fallon. Since his first appearance, in the early 2000s, Fallon has become one of America’s favorite late-night hosts, co-hosting “SNL” not only with Davidson, but with Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Trump, and more recently, with Jason Alexander. His celebrity guests have also included Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, and more.
Unlike many other late-night shows, “SNL” has managed to maintain a sense of humor even in the face of some extremely serious topics. In an episode from 2001, titled “Tricky Tornados: How to Deal With a Category 6 Storm,” one of the stars of the Disney-produced thriller The Locket, Shannon Elizabeth, plays a woman who is unexpectedly in a life-or-death situation. While riding on a bus with her boyfriend in the middle of a category 6 tornado, Shannon’s character notes that the situation is “kind of like that dream you have where you’re at the airport and there’s a big storm outside and everyone’s freaking out, but you’re just chilling.”
Towards the end of the episode, after her character passes away in his arms, Fallon opens up and acknowledges how close she came to actually dying. The scene is touching, as Fallon breaks down in tears and hugs his now-dead co-star. While this scene may be the most iconic from the episode, it’s also one of the more serious moments from “SNL.” Still, even in the face of such a tragedy, Fallon and “SNL” continue to be funny. It’s almost like their writers knew what buttons to push to keep people watching.
Though most people know “Saturday Night Live” for their comedy, the show’s lengthy history of interesting guests and relevant topical jokes prove that it is, in fact, very capable of producing heartfelt dramatic moments. And if anybody is going to produce those moments, it’s going to be Jimmy Fallon.