Bring Back the Laughs: SNL at Home Challenges COVID-19

December 21, 2019, the night that comedy mega mogul Eddie Murphy returned to host Saturday Night Live was an incomparable blast to SNL past. It was also the night my once-unattainable dreams came true: After winning an SNL Instagram trivia contest three nights before, I was able to travel to New York City with my mother to sit in the live studio audience for the highly anticipated Eddie Murphy Christmas show.

After his 35-year hiatus from Studio 8H, Murphy’s comeback couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the show’s purposes. That night’s cold open nailed the political events of the time: Alec Baldwin’s dumbly defiant rendition of a recently impeached President Trump came out to “crash” the sixth Democratic presidential debate, held in Los Angeles just two days before with a (formerly) full slate of candidates. Illustrious vocalist/rapper Lizzo, the show’s accompanying musical guest, brought down the house with two glamorous, booty-shaking performances. Above all, the studio was a sea of poinsettias, pom-pom Santa hats, glittery fake snowfall, holiday trees, and golden decorations in anticipation of Christmas just four days away.

On a night where the city buzzed with preparation and excitement for Christmas, Studio 8H buzzed with a celebration of love, immense laughter, and a homecoming like no other. With the stardom and entertainment that the night produced, no one would’ve guessed that four months later, New York City and the rest of the globe would be crippled with fear of a fast-spreading, debilitating, and deathly virus.

Amidst the lockdown due to the international COVID-19 outbreak, New York City is a shadow of its former self. The images are ghostly: schools are closed, Times Square is near vacant, personal protective equipment (PPE) litters the streets, and Central Park now houses a temporary field hospital. New York has seemingly become the world’s coronavirus hotspot, with thousands upon thousands -and counting- having passed away as a result of the pandemic. In a rare and unforeseen turn of events, the city now seems to be asleep against its will.

However, Saturday, April 11, brought the world – and New York City in particular – a long-awaited return to just a bit of standard practice. A return to normalcy? Not quite. A return to laughter? Absolutely.

After not airing since March 7, Saturday Night Live resumed its 45th season from a remote, socially-distanced standpoint, setting a bit of history along the way. The show’s 17 cast members came together to perform the first ever fully pre-taped episode in the show’s history. Dubbed “SNL at Home,” the show featured Tom Hanks, on the mend from he and his wife Rita Wilson’s coronavirus diagnoses last month as a surprise host (his 10th time overall) from his kitchen. In addition, Chris Martin of Coldplay served as the musical guest, and the show didn’t miss a beat.

Relatability: The show’s opening scene featured all the cast members connecting to a Zoom video call just before the introductions showed them working, lounging, and quarantining in their households. In many sketches, the struggle to use, adapt to and accept Zoom served as the comedic focal point.

Recurring characters: Kate McKinnon reprised her role as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this time displaying her home workout routine using tea bags as punching bags and Q-tips as weights. Bailey Gismert, the YouTubing teen movie critic played by Heidi Gardner, spoke candidly about her parents annoying tendencies in their life at home together. President Trump played by Alec Baldwin called into the quarantined installment of “Weekend Update” to as usual, say all the wrong things in regard to the threat of coronavirus and his odd passion for discussing his thoughts on China.

Raunchy: One segment of a fake game show called “How Low Will You Go?” had female cast members portraying sexually frustrated women in quarantine virtually chatting with laughably lowly single men. After talks of numerous broken vibrators, the game show progressed rapidly from contestant to contestant, with each one quickly forging a not-so sexy connection with the men and promptly exiting the show, much to the game show host’s -played by Beck Bennet’s- disbelief.

Reflective: Current (McKinnon, Pete Davidson, and Kenan Thompson) and former cast and staff members (Bill Hader, Adam Sandler, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and John Mulaney, to name a few) put together a tribute video to the unbelievably-gifted late SNL music coordinator Hal Willner, who died Wednesday, April 7, from complications of COVID-19. He was 64 years old.

SNL at Home served as a testament to the groups’ ability to rally a rather melancholic, devastated group and serve them through humor. We’ve seen it in the past: following 9/11 the show brought New York City’s first responders and former mayor Rudy Giuliani onto the stage as Paul Simon performed a deeply moving rendition of “The Boxer.” We also saw it after the 2016 general election, when McKinnon dressed as Hillary Clinton and sang an unbelievably poignant “Hallelujah” while playing the piano on the dimly lit Studio 8H stage.

This much is true: The world cannot and will not simply return to any sort of normal way of living as a result of COVID-19. However, it takes an unabashed leader to declare when it’s time to start picking up the pieces and catalyze that process. For New York City and through the ripples of its worldwide influence, Saturday Night Live has proved to be that necessary, unified show of resilience. They’re the helping hand, the ones who get the ball rolling, and the ones who find even a crack of light in the dark state of humanity.

The consensus? Laughter may not be the antidote to curing all the unforeseen tragedy in our world today. Yet, the simple effort to put a smile on others' faces is a step in the right direction in ensuring that the state of humanity will eventually recover.

Nobel Prize winning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborksa said it best: “In every tragedy, an element of comedy is preserved. Comedy is just tragedy reversed.” SNL at Home, with its poking fun at America’s toilet paper consumption, undying jabs at the Trump administration, and quirky, foolish, giggle-inducing skits about our collective lackluster quarantine experience, proved that such jokes are the beginning of our healing. Though the virus can ravage the spirit of mankind, there is still humor left to find sprinkled throughout the experience. Jokes can’t change the grim reality, but demeanor is bound to be altered for the better.

Winning the war against COVID-19 will not be a timely, easily-calculated feat, especially as a result of the shameful federal response to it. However, this doesn’t mean that the war on our crippling fear can’t be battled with the desire to put even a little smile on other peoples’ faces. Humor is the sweet relief that our world needs to start spreading in order to oppose such hellish, unprecedented hours.

Hanks’ rather punctual line from his opening monologue stayed with me throughout the course of the show’s duration: “It’s a strange time to try to be funny, but trying to be funny is SNL’s whole thing,” he stated.

I’ve been so blessed to witness first-hand just how magnificent the showmanship of Saturday Night Live can stretch in creating a momentous occasion of exuberant, hysterical art. Yet, as I sat sprawled on my parents’ dog-hair-clad couch on a cold, quarantined Saturday evening in New Hampshire, I believe I witnessed a greater spectacle: The heartfelt responsibility that Saturday Night Live undertook in beginning to cure society’s paranoia, all from the socially-distanced comfort of their homes.

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