Saturday Night Live: Lorne Michaels defends cameos over cast

Saturday Night Live (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
Saturday Night Live (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC) /

Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels explained the show’s celebrity cameos

Saturday Night Live creator and executive producer defended the show’s recent practice of using celebrity cameos to portray the biggest names in politics.

Alec Baldwin, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Carrey all figure to play major roles in season 46 of Saturday Night Live. As President Donald Trump, Senator Kamala Harris, and former Vice President Joe Biden, the trio will eat up a lot of screen time during SNL’s election coverage.

Critics have wondered why SNL has relied so heavily on cameos and guest stars in recent years, bypassing talented performers on the cast. Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller, Brett Kavanaugh, and Jim Jordan are just a few of the names that have been played by big-name actors. The show even used multiple actors to portray Vice President Biden in season 45 rather than rely on one full-time cast member.

In an interview with Vulture, Lorne Michaels explained his perspective. He argued that SNL is its own extended universe consisting of friends, past performers and hosts that are always in consideration to reappear:

"I honestly don’t think of them as celebrity cameos. I think that’s the sort of New York Times approach to thinking about things. Alec Baldwin’s probably done the show 25 or 30 times. He’s just part of an extended group in the same way that if Tina Fey has something meaningful to say on Update, we’d welcome her. It’s the same way with Maya [as Kamala] — you saw what she brought to it. So, I don’t think of it that way. And also, you’re talking about candidates who are in their 70s. When you put someone 28 in that makeup, it just different."

Does Saturday Night Live need celebrity cameos to be effective?

Lorne Michaels’ argument isn’t all that compelling. But then again, it’s his show and he is free to do whatever he wants with it. But the argument could be made that the use of celebrity guests and surprise cameos goes against the show’s core.

The idea that a cast member in his or her 20s playing an elderly political figure is especially hard to buy. It hasn’t stopped Kate McKinnon from playing the 87-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the 71-year-old Elizabeth Warren.

And do fans really care if the aesthetics are perfect? Yes, it worked wonders when Tina Fey played Sarah Palin. But Fey also had the voice and mannerisms down on top of clever writing that had some punch to it.

Saturday Night Live can be at its best when it’s a little rough around the edges and isn’t too polished. After all, it’s a live sketch comedy show that is written in produced in a matter of days. And while the set designers, make-up artists, and wardrobe professionals are world-class, the show can survive if things don’t look like a movie every week.

Surprising audiences with a famous face, met with overwhelming applause, can distract from a lackluster performance, too. Was anyone bowled over by Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller? Beyond looking similar, what did De Niro do that was unique?

There are instances where the cameo has worked perfectly for Saturday Night Live. Until it ran out of gas, Alec Baldwin’s President Trump was fantastic. Larry David as Bernie Sanders and Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris deserve the praise they’ve received.

But their success shouldn’t be taken as validation for continually going outside the cast to make a splash. Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton, and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton are all examples of how solid writing can make political impressions just as effective without surprise casting.

So while the current cast may not feature anyone who looks exactly like the biggest names in politics, that shouldn’t limit their opportunities.

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Do you want to see more celebrity cameos or more of the cast? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.