Tina Fey taking a selfie with Maya Rudolph and Martin Short.
The reviews for S.N.L.’s 40th anniversary were basically positive: “Funny, except when it wasn’t (40 years on, same as it ever was).” It’s hard to be funny at a family reunion, though. How can you be funny for the kids and funny for grandma at the same time?
It showed Sunday. Chevy Chase, Joe Piscopo, and Eddie Murphy, not to mention Robert DeNiro, weren’t funny, and Jane Curtin, Ana Gasteyer, and Martin Short (and others) hadn’t lost a beat. Oldsters guffawed at the “Point Counter Point” skit where Dan Akroyd mimicking “60Minutes” journalist James K. Kilpatrick wise-cracked to Jane Curtin (as Shana Alexander), “Jane, you ignorant slut,” while millennials thought that horrendously politically incorrect. Lorne Michaels, the godfather of S.N.L., was alternately praised and parodied, but at the end honored for his endurance and achievement, but something showed. Time.
And speaking of time, “The Daily Show’s” comedic genius, Jon Stewart, said it was time to move on. “This show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host,” he told his audience during his announcement, some of it choked up. And for good reason. He had changed TV comedy from sketches to scathing journalistic truth. But as Ethan Hawke told Charlie Rose talking about what it had meant to act with Robin Williams and his great performances: “It didn’t come for free.” http://www.charlierose.com/watch/60514287.
Is there significance in the coincidence–S.N.L. forging on at 40 while Stewart bowing out after a Sweet Sixteen run at “The Daily Show”? I don’t know. But I think so. I think TV comedy’s at an inflection point. The blurred lines of journalism and satire aimed at what Will Ferrell called Bush’s “truthiness” is indeed in need and ready for its next act.
Perhaps not a coincidence either is the sudden catapult of 80’s movie star and wise-cracking comedian Michael Keaton to the top of the heap in nominations for Best Actor for the movie “Birdman,” also nominated for Best Picture. Why is that, you ask? A movie about a guy trying to make a play and reinvent himself and his career, accused of being a celebrity impersonating an actor, and whose flights of fancy, real and imagined, make the movie soar. It’s the story of blurred lines, which may be what we’re seeing and experiencing in the arts, and that includes what makes us laugh and what makes us cry and what makes us sit up and listen.
This is truly a great time for the arts. In the end, great acting and great comedy tell us what we are and what makes us tick. S.N.L. did that and so did Jon Stewart. But as Ethan Hawke, who also choked up when he said it, “It didn’t come for free.”