Have you watched “Saturday Night Live” recently? You know — that 40-year-old-plus weekly sketch comedy show that tries to capitalize on the cultural zeitgeist?
If you’re like me, you catch a few of the sketches on YouTube on Sunday mornings. I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched “SNL” live.
But I know people — and I know you know people — for whom “SNL” has been a cultural touchstone. It might be a sketch from the past or a particular cast member or a series of recurring characters that always bring out a laugh and the retelling of a fond memory. It’s as though the person in question is reliving those laughs for the very first time.
Inevitably, we all know — and at times are — people who pine for those long-gone Saturday nights, who have for whatever reason given up watching the show in whatever form because it’s just no longer good. “I haven’t watched ‘SNL’ since…” A particular cast member left. An oddly specific date on the calendar. Some skit offended in one way or another. Fill in the blank.
Humor, of course, is something we all experience differently. I’ve been in more than a few situations where a friend or family member showed me a video that they found absolutely hilarious, and it was all I could do to muster a smile. It doesn’t mean the clip was bad; it just means I didn’t find it funny.
A few weeks ago, I was listening to an interview with an author who writes at the intersection of culture and humor. “SNL,” naturally, was a show he was highly invested in. And he admitted — as anyone would — that some seasons of “SNL” do better than others. There are always some sketches that just flop.
But he said something that I found revelatory. In short, he said that a show like “SNL” — a show that has to appeal to a vast and diverse audience, that strives to make all those people laugh at least once in less than 90 minutes — makes a very intentional choice.
And this is it: Not every sketch is written for you.
My mind was blown. There have been plenty of Sunday mornings when I scroll through those “SNL” sketches excited to see a celebrity I admire and am disappointed. That one bit was funny. But what were they thinking with the remaining eight?
The answer, of course, is simple: In those remaining eight, they weren’t thinking of me.
I wonder how our spiritual lives would change if we assumed such a perspective.
For one, as we dip into the tremendously vast and diverse wealth of resources that is our own faith tradition, we realize that what speaks to us — a particular branch of spirituality, a certain prayer, the legacy of this or that saint — doesn’t have to speak to everyone else in the same way. That’s okay. The Spirit has offered us one thing and another thing to our friend, family member, neighbor, what have you.
But even more importantly, we remind ourselves that we are part of the great fabric of creation — and necessarily not its center. Each of us is gifted with what we need. That means we can celebrate the gifts of others. We can recognize the needs of others. We can validate the experiences of others. And we can do all of this without making it about ourselves. Without asking, Why isn’t this about me or for me or determined by me?
If “SNL” can strive to touch the depths of the global human experience each and every week, imagine what God is up to. Sometimes we understand the script, other times we simply have to trust the writer.
Either way, we each get a sketch. Enjoy yours. There’s no need to tear down someone else’s.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. His next book, My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality, is due out in February 2024 from Loyola Press.