'SNL's' response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal proves that they probably shouldn't have bothered

Saturday Night Live was roundly criticized last week for pulling punches on the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Hollywood, allegedly cutting jokes regarding the producer during dress rehearsal because they “fell flat,” according to the New York Times.

Tonight’s weak effort, featuring a roundtable of actresses including Kate McKinnon’s doddering old Debette Goldry, missed the mark, illustrating exactly why it’s so awkward and problematic for an industry to make light of its own dark secrets.

The sketch co-starred Leslie Jones as Viola Davis – “Happy to be here; well, not happy, but, you know, I’m here” – and Cecily Strong as Marion Cotillard – “I’m tiny, French, and pissed off” – and engendered an uncomfortable chuckle from the audience as soon as roundtable host Aidy Bryant announced the subject of sexual harassment in Hollywood.

“Have I ever been sexually harassed? Good Friday, where do you want me to start?” McKinnon’s Goldry opened. “Women being harassed is Hollywood, alright? Everything old is new again. Producers are abusing starlets, there’s Nazis marching in the street, suddenly nude pantyhose are on trend – I’ve never felt more at home.”

The harsh sincerity of the first two statements wrapped in a joke felt cringeworthy at best.

“I actually did have one meeting with Harvey,” McKinnon’s character continued. “I was invited to his hotel room, and when I arrived he was naked, hanging upside down from a monkey bar. He tried to trick me into thinking his genitals were actually his face.”

Funny — but when you consider the accounts of women who were allegedly greeted by a naked Harvey Weinstein in his hotel room, who may have then been forced into unwanted sexual situations with him, it becomes markedly less so. 

“Cotillard” and “Davis” related incidents of harassment as well. But neither of those actresses are on the record as victims of Weinstein or other producers or executives – though Davis has spoken out against Weinstein. Satirical shows like Saturday Night Live of course have license to portray real people in their sketches, but with something as sensitive and serious as sexual assault and harassment, perhaps this was not the optimal time to inject reality into the fictional conversation. 

Weekend Update hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che also addressed the assault allegations leveled at Weinstein, and did a much better job of balancing humor with an appropriate level of disgust. Che even admitted, “This is a tough spot for a comedian because it’s so hard to make jokes about sexual assault, but it’s so easy to make jokes about a guy who looks like this. He looks like chewed bubblegum rolled in cat hair.”

Noting that Weinstein is “reportedly going to Europe for sex rehab,” Jost said, “He doesn’t need sex rehab, he needs a specialized facility where there are no women, no contact with the outside world, metal bars, and it’s a prison.” That comment was met with cheers and a loud round of applause from the audience. 

Referring to Weinstein’s statement that “we all make mistakes,” Che noted, “A mistake is me walking into the wrong bathroom and using it anyway because I was crowning. You assaulted dozens of women; that’s not a mistake, that’s a full season of Law & Order.”

Trying to make light of a horrific situation is a tricky needle to thread, especially when the wounds are so fresh. In this case, SNL might’ve been better served by simply admitting that this is no laughing matter.

WATCH: MIT scientist invented a bra sticker that can detect forcible touch in real-time

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