John McCain’s political challenge on Saturday Night Live—we can agree there are political stakes in it, right? that you don’t devote time to a national TV appearance three days before an election just for yuks?—was that he had to balance being funny with being funny. That is, he needed to seem likeable and self-deprecating (which he long has been on comedy shows) without seeming like Bob Dole after ’96, i.e., a candidate best admired for his good humor in defeat. (Here’s the video, which I will embed above when and if I can determine that WordPress can be forced to do it.)
On the one hand, the skit made some of McCain’s sharpest campaign arguments for him: the blank plates commemorating the townhalls he didn’t have with Obama, the knives for “cutting through a tough piece of pork.” And of course, the very premise that he would go on QVC because he took public financing while Obama opted out and bought network primetime went meta on the fact that, the weekend before the election, here he was going on SNL because he took public financing while Obama opted out and bought network primetime. On the other hand—well, he was quite a good sport about the “Palin 2012″ T-shirts.
I’m not going to guess whether SNL helped him—you’re wading through enough specious punditry already. But his appearance helped SNL, sparing it from going the same route with Obama’s infomercial it had with the debates (i.e., recreating it with Fred Armisen). SNL probably could have done a technically sharp, snarky parody of the Obamarama, but having to find an alternative for McCain forced the show to be more creative.
In all, whether there was any political dividend or not, SNL did right by McCain (less so with the Weekend Update sketch). After he picked Sarah Palin, after all, it was the least they could do to pay him back.
Your thoughts on McCain’s skits, or Ben Affleck’s Keith Olbermann (dead on, but I got the vibe that only part of the audience got the parody) welcome. Vote early, vote often!