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TV TATTLE

Michael Che's controversy over Simone Biles reflects a larger problem at SNL

  • The SNL co-head writer and co-anchor of "Weekend Update" faced widespread backlash Thursday and Friday for sharing jokes about U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, including one referencing her being a victim in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. As Daniel D'Addario points out, Che's "posts fit what has become a career-long modus operandi of punching down. Che’s jokes about Biles, as well as his implication that there’s an endless wellspring of things to mock about a young assault victim having a hard time on the world’s largest stage, comes from a place of strange and familiar cruelty that has often been reserved for his critics. (A good summary of Che’s history of using a style of aggressive posting that barely registers as comedy can be found here.) The comic’s latest incident also rubs up uncomfortably against the current mood of Saturday Night Live, a show that lately has attempted a mood of somewhat affected cuddliness. SNL is capacious and has room for a lot of different tones in a single episode, but an especially pronounced one in recent seasons has been a sort of celebratory optimism, epitomized, for instance, by Maya Rudolph’s take on Kamala Harris as a cool, strong role model. The show has often seemed so hesitant to offend as to sidestep saying much at all. Che can certainly be edgy on SNL, as in the envelope-pushing annual segment in which he and Colin Jost write controversy-baiting jokes for one another to tell. More often, he seems peevish and out-of-sorts, as if he’s being constrained from doing what he really wants to do. His online output helps solve this riddle: Here is a person who desperately wants to offend people simply for the sake of offense, working at a show that’s diametrically opposed to that goal. There’s something eerily bratty and juvenile about Che’s posts about Biles, which — in addition to dragging a person who’d done nothing worthy of being mocked — simply aren’t that funny. For Che, humor and possible offense are braided together as to be indistinguishable. That’s a problem for SNL generally, although not one it’s seemed particularly interested in solving. During Che’s tenure co-writing and co-hosting 'Weekend Update' with Jost (a comic not immune to the tendency to pick on people unlike himself for being unlike himself), the show around it has grown sprightlier and zanier. But the marquee fake-news segment has become a bog of bad vibes right in the middle of the show. And it comes to a head specifically around Biles, a figure who’s been suddenly drawn into an ongoing and all-encompassing debate that our culture grows farther each day from resolving." D'Addario adds: "One wonders how much longer SNL and NBC will be willing to tolerate an act that’s come to swamp the conversation about a show that’s so effortfully all-things-to-all-people, that so plainly understands it’s not built to withstand the culture war its star wants to wage."

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    • Why are "edgy" comedians like Michael Che so obsessed with rape jokes?: "Notably, conservatives who have always for some reason found it appropriate to bully (Simone) Biles, a survivor of sexual assault who's been open about her mental health struggles, have been harsher toward Biles than they ever were toward the man who abused her," says Kylie Cheung. "But Che's so-called joke takes this twisted, racist and sexist hatred of Biles — and really, all survivors — to another level. Che may be backtracking on the Instagram posts now – claiming he was hacked in the wake of massive backlash – but his jokes would be perfectly in line with his history of sexist, transphobic and otherwise offensive jokes punching down at the marginalized, rather than up at the abusive and powerful, which he's faced backlash for spewing, before. Che is hardly the only male comedian who's asserted their rights to make fun of victims, children, LGBTQ folks, and the powerless, in the name of comedy and edginess. Some male comedians have maintained a fondness for and defensiveness of rape 'jokes,' in particular."
    • Of course Michael Che would go after Simone Biles: "She has to be taken down a peg for daring to care about her health and not wanting to risk getting paralyzed or ruining her team’s chances, right Che?" says Claude Weaver III. "It’s one (still sh-tty) thing to crack a joke about her dropping out of competition. It’s another to broadcast a joke about the man convicted of sexually assaulting her and her friends/teammates and many others by saying their situations were in any way similar. I wonder how he’s going to paint this on the second season of his HBO show. I’m sure it’s going to involve saying people are too sensitive or some other bullsh-t."

    TOPICS: Michael Che, NBC, Saturday Night Live, Simone Biles




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