Earlier this month, businessman, Presidential candidate and walking controversy Donald Trump, hosted Saturday Night Live. He did what everyone thought he would; offended people. People protested Trump being included on the show, and predictably, the show’s ratings were down the following week.
Many argued that his performance wasn’t funny, but it was about as funny as an SNL hosting job could have been for a Presidential candidate. He’s been saying racist things for years, and it got him excommunicated by NBC earlier this year when he essentially said the only Mexicans in the United States are criminals. Adding controversy on top of controversy, Trump recently said that French firearm restriction was to blame for the high casualty count in the recent terrorist attacks. While it is possible that an armed citizen or two in that concert hall could have dropped a couple of the AK-wielding pricks before too much damage was done, bringing politics into a tragedy earned him few friends, if any. But when it comes to controversy, this was just another week at the office for “The Donald”.
For Saturday Night Live however, the fury has not stopped. Even heading into the weekend after Trump, fans and critics alike are still fuming over the show allowing Trump another loudspeaker for his “hate-speech”. While SNL usually tries to keep the humor somewhat pleasant and upbeat, this is not the first time they have been the subject of public outrage. Here are fifteen other times when the show came under scrutiny for controversial content.
Honorable Mention: Chippendales
The 1990 Chippendales skit saw Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze auditioning to be members of the Las Vegas male stripper troupe. While many viewers loved the skit at the time, friends close to Farley have argued that it was the beginning of the end for the funny man who would die of a drug overdose seven years later.
Farley was frequently the butt of jokes which he called “fatty falls down”. While he enjoyed performing, he quietly objected to the jokes about his weight that became constant at SNL. Chris Rock, Adam Sandler and a few other friends have said that much like other comedians, Farley was a tortured soul and The Chippendales skit sent him into his first bout with drugs and alcohol during his time on the show. For a more thorough run-down of his life and how this skit affected him, read The Chris Farley Show; a biography released by his brother.
While Chippendales wasn’t an offensive skit by any means, many believe that it was part of what started Chris Farley down the final seven drug addled years of his life.
15. Ashlee Simpson: Lip Sync
It’s hard to say whether this is a real controversy or just a case of a sexy starlet who can’t sing. Come to think of it, it can definitely be both. Back in 2004, Ashlee Simpson was the featured musical act on the show. She started off with “Pieces of Me” and when she seemed ready to perform her second song “Autobiography”, her first song started playing again and she started to dance like a pirate with a hornet in his pants.
Fans were expecting a live performance, but she was caught lip syncing, which she attributed to a stomach bug.
14. Rage Against the Machine
Back in 1996, political rock group Rage Against the Machine were scheduled to play a couple of songs during an episode of SNL that would be hosted by billionaire Steve Forbes. They were set to play with two upside down American flags as part of their set. This is of course a recognized sign of distress and danger; their own way of demonstrating their ideological difference from Forbes’. They were approached by NBC employees and taken out of the building for their attempted rebellion.
13. Elvis Costello Plays “Radio Radio”
Back in 1977, Elvis Costello had just reached mainstream success in his musical career and was just 23 years old. British punk group the Sex Pistols were originally set to play but were unable to get visas into the United States. Costello was instructed to play Less than Zero, a catchy song about British fascist Oswald Mosley. A few short seconds into that song however, he stopped his band and announced to the crowd that there was no reason to be singing that song. They then performed Radio Radio, a tune critical of commercialization and corporate control over radio broadcasting. Lorne Michaels banned him for over a decade.
12. Blind New York Governor
After starting off our list with three musical scandals, we get to the first of our controversial skits. David Paterson was the governor of New York from 2008 to 2010, and for those not familiar with his life and career, he is legally blind. The cast of SNL probably meant well when they aired a segment of the ongoing Weekend Update that depicted Paterson walking into furniture, squinting constantly and being generally clumsy. While mocking political figures is essentially the show’s bread and butter, this skit was not well received as disabled peoples’ advocacy groups argued that it mocked the blind, rather than Paterson himself.
11. Tim Tebow
Free agent quarterback Tim Tebow is as well known for being a devout Christian as he is for being a football player. The former Heisman trophy winner hasn’t had nearly the career many thought he would have in the NFL, but the media has had a field day with his personal beliefs. In 2011 Jesus showed up to confront Tebow and give him some pointers on his game. He indicated that reading the playbook may be better use of his time than reading the bible and that God prayed to the Broncos’ kicker Matt Prater (who now plays with the Lions).
Christians were enraged, despite the fact that the skit was pretty tame and made fun of Tebow himself rather than his religion.
10. Nude Beach
Back in the late 1980s, it was still considered offensive to broadcast the word “penis”. The nude beach skit was cancelled from airing twice before it actually made it into the October 15th episode hosted by Matthew Broderick. The word penis was said and sang over forty times by several men casually discussing their genitals at a nude beach. Over 40,000 angry complaint letters were sent along by people who probably didn’t have enough to do that weekend.
9. Rosetta Stone: Thai
While Thailand has a reputation for being a great place to go for an amazing party and awesome sight seeing, the country also has the reputation for having…well…a sex trade that supports every “lifestyle”. This skit featured a Rosetta Stone linguistic learning program that would help a person learn all the phrases they would need to know to participate in this part of the “Thai experience”. Some of the key phrases included “how much?”, “is that for the whole night?”, “oh God, what have I done?” and finally “ping pong ball”. Thai officials hated the skit, claiming that it implied that Thailand was a place to go to satisfy one’s sick fantasies.
8. A Couple of F-Bombs
Because the show airs “live” as its name indicates, any verbal slip up cannot be acted upon prior to the audience seeing the show. Much like Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl, the word f*** has shown up on the show a couple of times. Actor Samuel L. Jackson said both the f-bomb and the expletive version of male bovine excrement back in 2012, and Jenny Slate accidentally said “f***in'” rather than “fricken” in 2009. Jackson has denied ever using the words and Slate was fired after the 2009/2010 season.
7. Martin Lawrence
In 1994, when his popularity was starting to peak, comedian Martin Lawrence hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live and went on one of the most offensive tirades the show has ever seen. He started off with a few jokes lamenting the John and Lorena Bobbitt incident in which wife Lorena severed her abusive husband’s manhood while he slept.
His monologue then took a turn for the worst. He started to talk about female hygiene, shouting at women everywhere to pay more attention to the subject, urging women to either use douching products or “put a Tic-Tac up there”. His rant disgusted the audience and offended plenty of female viewers.
6. NFL Crimes
In the wake of the NFL’s bungling of Ray Rice’s domestic abuse incident in 2014, SNL aired a skit in which players for the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers introduced themselves along with the crimes for which they have been arrested, rather than stating their college. Most of the players were smiling while announcing they had committed heinous crimes, and at one point, an announcer says there will be no discussion of what punishments the players received as they had received none.
The skit was considered pretty funny by plenty of viewers, but some felt that making light of the criminal activity “epidemic” in the NFL was inappropriate. Announcing that the halftime show would feature Chris Brown didn’t earn back any of those dissenting opinions either.
5. DJesus Uncrossed
The Djesus Uncrossed skit was a movie trailer meant to parody other history-based flicks like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. The premise was that Jesus Christ had come back to life and he and his apostles were taking brutal revenge on the Romans. It was met with criticism from many Christian groups who considered portraying the son of God as a rampaging murderer was extremely offensive. Basically, showing JC decapitating Roman soldiers in a scene that looks like something out of Kill Bill is a step too far.
4. Word Association
This goes back to one of the first episodes of SNL, when Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor, two of the funniest men in the history of business, sat down to do an interview. Chase had been harassing Paul Mooney, who was in charge of writing a skit for Pryor, to put the two of them on set together. Lorne Michaels had indicated his eagerness to have Pryor on the show, though most of his staff were nervous as Pryor was a loose cannon on the best of days.
His skit with Chevy Chase started out around the end of a job interview. Chase, the interviewer, decided to end with word association. They started off with the word dog, but as the exchange went on, Chase started using increasingly derogatory ethnic slurs, which Pryor countered with his own. Chase even dropped the N-bomb.
3. Sinead O’Connor
Irish singer Sinead O’Connor has seen her share of controversy in her career that is coming up on its third decade. It was 1992 when she took the stage for SNL; singing her own rendition of “War” by Bob Marley. She used her performance to call attention to child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and during her performance, she held up a picture of Pope John Paul II and tore it up. NBC received thousands of complaints in the following few days. The following week, Joe Pesci taped the picture back together and said if he had been in charge and O’Connor had done such a thing, he “would have gave her such a smack” to thunderous applause.
2. Tiger Woods
Back in 2009, just after that infamous evening during which Tiger Woods was outed as an unmitigated booty-hound, SNL had a mock news segment in which Kenan Thompson played Woods. He explained (with his right arm in a sling and a golf club twisted over his head) that he had a small accident with his golf clubs, all the while writing on the back of his cue card that his wife Elin Nordengren, was “so strong” and that he was scared and needed help. The implication was that Tiger was being routinely assaulted by his wife for his infidelities.
The skit was criticized for making light of spousal abuse, and because one of the week’s guests was Rihanna, objectors found the jokes to be in poor taste. Some even said if the genders were reversed and Tiger had hit his wife, there would have been no such skit making fun of the event.
1. Daughter Joins ISIS
These days rule one seems to be “do not make light of the war on terror”. Well, it seems the good folks at SNL either ignored or misinterpreted the memo, because they aired a skit earlier this year in which Dakota Johnson joined the terrorist group ISIS. It was meant to be a parody of a heartfelt Toyota commercial, but was not met with high praise.
Many people argued the joke was in atrocious taste and made light of the biggest threat to the United States. On the other hand, a small few pointed out that it’s comedy, and ultimately, the enemy is the first group who should be lampooned. The skit was considered particularly offensive in the wake of several young women going to the Middle East to join the terrorist network.