Friday, 6 November 2015

An Alternate Timeline...

Saturday, November 7th, 2015. 11:29 PM.
Studio 8H, New York, NY.

Trump readies himself behind the set of the Oval Office in semi-darkness. He believes this cold open, “President Trump”, will set the proper tone for the rest of the evening. In the wings are Taran Killam dressed as Vice President Donald Trump, and, as a special guest for the evening, former cast member and current announcer Darrell Hammond is dressed as Secretary of State Donald Trump. After several rewrites at his insistence, Trump believes this sketch is just the way he wants it.

“Ten seconds!” the director bellows, and the crowd hushes expectantly. Cloaked by a moving panel, Trump makes his way through the darkness to sit behind the President’s desk. The panel will be moved just before the lights come up. The big reveal. “Five seconds!” the director uses a strangled, panicked voice that makes the crowd laugh. Trump adopts his “cat who ate the cream” smile. The On Air light flashes, and the monitor reads, “An Alternate Timeline: 2017”, while the announcer intones, “And now, a message from the President of the United States of America.”

The panel rolls away and the lights come up simultaneously. Trump is greeted with applause and a few boisterous “Woo’s!” There are a few unmistakable boo’s from the crowd as well. Trump is prepared for this, and heeds the advice he gave to all of the cast and just ignores it.

“My Fellow Americans,” he begins, but the boo’s grow louder. He smiles patiently, and puts up his hands, as if to silence applause. “My Fellow Americans…” he tries again.

“You’re a racist!” an audience member shouts. The audience member is cheered, as the booing gets even stronger. Trump glances offstage, where he sees NBC security personnel quickly advancing. He holds his grin and waves, again, as if addressing applause. Security will take care of the troublemakers, he thinks. Inexplicably, the security guards enter through the stage. They are on the set. Trump frowns—this completely overshadows the sketch. Surely there’s an alternate route to get to the audience! Instead of walking down into the seating area, guards appear to be advancing on him!

“I’m sorry sir,” says one of the security guards, quietly. He is not wearing a microphone. This can’t be a bit. The second guard says, “You are not permitted on the premises. Your relationship with NBC is terminated and, as such, we ask you to leave.”

The audience is quiet, save for a few uncomfortable giggles. The booing has stopped. The cheering has stopped. As a guard advances to take Trump’s arm, he jerks it away. His red face reddens further. “This isn’t…” he falters. “Lorne…” he looks to the control room, but can’t see past glaring studio lights. He is about to scream. This is a travesty. This is un-American. To humiliate him this way, so publicly! But he bites his tongue. A tantrum would only satisfy the haters and losers. He turns, silently, slowly. Following suit, the guards move slowly too. They walk off the set.

There is no sound. A static shot of the fake Oval Office is being broadcast to millions of homes around the world. An audience member starts to clap. Others join in. The applause grows to thundering, and the “Woo’s!” start again. This is the loudest sustained cheer in SNL history. People are screaming, stomping their feet. The noise is deafening, cacophonous. This is louder and more frenzied than any cameo appearance, and the stage is empty. After nearly a full minute of near riotous reaction, Killam and Hammond, in full Trump drag bound onstage and, abandoning any pretext of an impersonation, they yell, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

The credits roll. The real Trump, already in his limousine, tweets his fury, but nobody’s paying attention. By this time, anyone DVRing the broadcast has been alerted via texts and social media that this is not an episode to be “watched later.” Every bar changes channels on their television sets. Twitter nearly crashes with the #SNL hashtag. On the broadcast, the announcer finishes the cast and featured player credits, says, “Musical Guest: Sia!” and the music plays over a shot of the skyline and no host is announced. Then the announcer says, “Ladies and gentleman, the cast of Saturday Night Live!”

The cast, all in plainclothes, including a quickly changed Killam, stand on the unadorned stage with Executive Producer Lorne Michaels. The applause is thunderous, still. Some cast members appear visibly moved, struggling to hold back tears. Lorne speaks first. “Our show is an open stage for actors, comedians, musicians, sports stars, and yes, even political figures to have their say. Over the years, we’ve had the famous and the infamous on our show, and we’ve created our share of controversy, too. Donald Trump has hosted our show in the past, and done a fine job. But it became clear that inviting him back a second time, in light of his recent comments, was a mistake.”

Cecily Strong speaks next, too quickly to allow for any audience reaction. She is teary, but her quavering voice grows stronger with each word. “Donald Trump’s comments on the Hispanic community, not to mention women, don’t reflect our views at Saturday Night Live. In fact, it was these comments that caused NBC to ban Mr. Trump from our network outright. I guess we just forgot?” she shrugs to her fellow cast members, who feign confusion, generating the first big laugh of the night.

“We like ratings,” continues long time cast member Kenan Thompson. “We thought at first having Trump on would be a great thing for us.” He pulls a face, “Then we went on the internet.” Another huge laugh.

“We heard you,” confirms Bobby Moynihan. “So, we’ve put together a host-less show for you. There might be some bumps along the way, we might be a little under-rehearsed, but when are we not?”

“We also heard rumblings that our show, this show, might have a race problem!” says Sasheer Zamata. “Something that I, frankly, was not aware of.” Laughter and applause. “But we did notice, thanks to a blog post from Margaret Cho, we haven’t had an Asian American appear on our stage in a long time, so… Darrell, you want to take this?”

Darrell Hammond announces, “Ladies and gentleman, Margaret Cho!” The cast scatters, the door opens, and resplendent Margaret Cho takes the stage and crushes. Her air-tight five minute set is irreverent and timely, with just the right amount of Trump potshots. To close, she announces that she is so proud to be the first ever Asian American woman on the SNL stage, only to be interrupted by Lucy Liu, who actually holds that honour, having hosted in 2000. For good measure, Cho and Liu are joined by Constance Wu, again to riotous applause. “We’ve got a great show!” Cho announces, “Sia is still here! So stick around, we’ll be right back!”

What follows is the funniest and most joyful episode of SNL in anyone’s recent memory. The cast is loose and fun, clearly appreciating the opportunity to take the reins of an episode. Killer sketches include “Leslie Jones’ Diary”, where Jones recounts her week working with The Donald with increasing panic and rage. “Family Feud” brings back Margaret Cho, Lucy Liu, Constance Wu, and her Fresh Off the Boat co-star Randall Park to face off against the Trump family (but again, without the genuine article in attendance). Previously underutilized cast members (pick your favourite) shine in hilarious sketches, all with a let’s-put-on-a-show, last-day-of-summer-camp energy and enthusiasm. Aside from Cho, Liu, Wu, and Park, there are no further cameos, no former cast member appearances. This is a 2015 episode, all the way.

Sia slays. The performance art bend to her numbers has never been more appropriate and, as in her last appearance, her dancers are evocative and breathtaking, as she sings from the shadows.

Goodnights are almost melancholy, as no one involved wants the show to end. No mention is made of Trump, but cast members thank the other special guests, the musical performers, and each other. As always, they hug it out as the credits roll.

You could totally do this, SNL. I know the ratings for this upcoming Trumpisode are sure to be “uuuuuge!”, but your audience could triple in minutes if you pulled a stunt like that. Think of what you’d be taking a stand for. Think of the spike in viewership next week, the week after that, and the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. Think of the thinkpieces! The press reaction to the on-air removal of a host would dominate headlines for weeks, and would follow Trump for the rest of his campaign.

Look, what do I know? I don’t run a show. I certainly watch this one, and have been a viewer for as long as I can remember. But I’m not tuning in this week, and I hope other people follow suit. Serious politician or publicity-hungry mogul, Trump is foremost a bigot and misogynist. That doesn’t deserve a platform, guys. Your cast members do. Margaret Cho does. Sia does. Not Trump.

Lorne Michael’s famous quote is, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11.30.” No one’s asking you not to put a show on, Lorne. But consider putting this one on instead.

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