In this unfunny and infamous 1980 SNL sketch, red hats go commie hunting

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/21/in-this-unfunny-and-infamous-1.html

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Unfunny then, frighteningly accurate now.

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Not funny, but the aggressive lack of humor is kind of interesting. I’ve scarcely seen anything from the infamous sixth season. I guess I haven’t missed much.

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I don’t think the audience quite know what to make of Beafheart

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The sound guy needed to turn up the Captain’s mic.

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Most bad sketches on Saturday Night Live are just unfunny or boring. This sketch is cringe-inducing at best and chilling at worst; easily the worst three minutes in the show’s 39-year history.

“Commie Hunting Season” (also known as “Open Season On Commies” in William G. Clotworthy’s book) was written in 1980 as a response to the November 17 acquittal of six people for their roles in the Greensboro Massacre, where five protest marchers were killed by supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party. The Klansmen are mentioned in passing in the sketch, though instead of pointed satire, this sketch is an exercise in nastiness and shock value…

What follows is a very uncomfortable five seconds of silence, which feel longer. Whether it was because host Malcolm McDowell (playing the governor) missed his cue or, god forbid, they expected that line to get a laugh, in those five seconds one can feel whatever goodwill there was towards this new (at the time) incarnation of the show evaporate.

…Rocket, Piscopo, McDowell and Gilbert Gottfried seem to be all acting in different scenes, as one voter explains: “There are at least three styles of acting going on here: farce (Piscopo), attempted gritty realism (Rocket), and not giving a shit (McDowell).” The punchline to the sketch, with Jim Bob accidentally shooting the governor, features a far-too-realistic gunshot. The whole thing is poorly lit and staged, with many of the players obscured by shadow, making this sketch unpleasant to even look at.

This sketch is bad enough without the knowledge of what it’s supposed to satirize. Knowing the background of the sketch makes it that much worse.

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I teach an information design class and one of my students once made a poster visualizing various aspects of the cast makeup in SNL over the years. Season six immediately jumps out from the timeline because it’s the only season in which both

  1. All twelve of the SNL players for that season were new to the show, and
  2. All but two of the cast were gone by the next season

The only other season that comes close is season eleven, which also had an all-new cast of players but found enough talent among the group that five of them stuck around for several more years.

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I am going nuts trying to find a clip online of the end of season 11.

In the season finale, Michaels invited Wayans back to perform stand up on the show, even though he had been fired from the show two months prior. Also, in the final sketch, Billy Martin is shown dumping gasoline around the studio and then setting it on fire. The entire cast is shown to be trapped in a room as a parody of TV show cliffhangers. Credits rolled with question marks on each name, signaling that the viewer didn’t know which cast members would be returning the next season. Cast members were angered by an ending added to the sketch, in which Michaels has the opportunity to rescue the cast from the fire, but chooses to save only Lovitz.

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Frankly, I never liked any sketch that Joe Piscopo had a prominent role in. He barely scrapes by with his Andy Rooney impression.

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Bloom County also had a couple of “commie hunting strips”

The possibility that these strips were made in response to something specific had not crossed my mind. (At the time I was six or seven, and the new york times didn’t print cartoons. We read them in books.)

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I read a behind-the-scenes history of SNL-- after the original cast left at the end of the 79-80 season, Lorne Micheals stepped down as well, and the head of NBC appointed someone from marketing to run the show (ignoring Michaels’ choice of Al Franken).

New writers, new cast, all the momentum from the first cast gone, and a producer who had no experience running a show (famously telling the writers “all sketches have to be 30% funnier” when the poor reviews came in.)

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The Bloom Country strip probably wasn’t referencing the skit. Bloom County’s target was Reagan-era conservatism and didn’t need a bad sketch for inspiration. And Bloom County was actually funny.

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I remember those, but I think the context was at least in part a tongue-in-cheek lamentation about the dwindling number of old-school liberals in the Reagan era of the early 80s.

He wasn’t really wrong on that point; it was decades before progressives were able to put together a big enough coalition to bring policy proposals like Universal Healthcare back to the forefront.

Whether these strips are funny or sad is subjective, but I can at least understand the basis of the joke.

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but was it referencing the acquittal?

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I remember that exact strip from when it first appeared in our Sunday paper, maybe 1982? 1983? I would have been around 10 years old or so, and didn’t get the humor.

Still not sure what I’m supposed to find funny in it as adult, though…

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Did they seriously drop the N word on broadcast TV? Holy fuck. I mean I was 6 at the time… my parents did let me watch SNL (if I could stay awake).

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That’s not even the only SNL skit that broadcast the N-word, but at least the more famous example (“Racist Word Association Interview” starring Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor) used it in a way that turned the tables on the bigot.

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Ah, this one was a great sketch.

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I came here thinking “oh boy another troll saying Saturday night live sucks”.
Damn. Can you imagine the sketches that got cut to allow this dreck to air? Painful.

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Yes, at least there was a point to the Richard Prior sketch. The 1980 sketch just casually drops the word, I suppose to be edgy or something. I remember that season well. I was 11 and knew it was bad.

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