A lost art form: Sketch comedy

Different styles of comedy are popular, but a form of comedy has taken a recent downfall —  sketch comedy.

Sketch comedy is a way to explore various concepts or situations that can paint reality in a comedic light and normally takes the form of a series of short scenes called sketches. These pieces of media are between one and 10 minutes long and are usually performed by a group of comedians. 

When most people think of sketch comedy, they think of television shows that specialize in this art form, shows like Saturday Night Live (SNL).

SNL is a live, late-night television show that mainly focuses on sketch comedy. SNL premiered in 1975 and is still running to this day, with 936 episodes in 48 seasons and more to come. It was created by Lorne Michaels, who is still in charge of the show today. 

SNL is widely known and was an incredibly popular show in past years, with 82 Emmy wins to date. In recent years, however, the show has been declining with audiences everywhere.

The recent downfall in sketch material is evident in their ratings, with season 46 having an average rating of 6.5 out of 10 per episode as collected by Rating Graph. It’s the lowest rating the show has seen in years, compared to season 33, with a rating of 7.2. Season 48, the current season, is not looking to be any better so far, rating at 5.9.

To make matters worse, only 34% of viewers like SNL, a new rock bottom for the show. Not many people are watching the show anymore either, with an estimated 3.7 million total viewers recorded in the second episode of season 48. To contrast, SNL averaged 9 million viewers per episode in season 46, showing that viewership has significantly declined.

But why is SNL not as popular as it used to be? There are a few factors that play into the show’s recent shortcomings.

One of those main reasons is the cast; before season 48 even aired in 2022, they were hit hard with the news that a majority of their best stars were leaving the show

This included Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, Chris Redd, Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, Alex Moffat, Melissa Villaseñor and Aristotle Athari. The majority of cast members leaving are considered to be the most recognizable by viewers, as shown by a poll conducted in 2021.

It was one of the biggest cast shakeups in a long time. Normally, two or three people leave the show around the same time, but that wasn’t the case this year, and suddenly the show was off to a rocky start. Many people are likely to stop watching because their favorite celebrities aren't going to be on the show anymore.

Although SNL doesn't have a choice in who leaves and when, they had to hire many new comedians to fill the gaps. While the new cast members are not necessarily bad, they need more time to perfect their comedic style and how they want to be seen by audiences.

However, the cast isn’t all to blame for why the show's failing; the writing is a huge issue.

A main point of SNL is that the sketches are supposed to be funny and relevant so that people will want to tune in every Saturday. 

The only problem is that the sketches are unoriginal and lack humor; they try too hard to be relevant, and it can come off as cringeworthy to viewers. SNL writers rely on a common form of comedy most of the time, repeating jokes and comebacks frequently in their sketches. 

Additionally, there is a tendency for SNL writers to take their jokes a bit too far, to the point where they could be seen as offensive.

In a recent case, SNL took a misguided stab at making light of COVID-19 and the “vacation break” it can provide for people who had less severe cases. Being that COVID-19 was one of the third-leading causes of death in the United States in 2021, the jokes made about it simply being a time to destress and relax are far from appropriate.

Jokes don’t always have to make a particular group of people the butt of the joke, and that happens far too often on the show. The worst case of this was their recent Try Guys skit, which received much backlash for good reason. 

To provide context, one of the members of the Try Guys — a group of men who make videos of themselves trying new activities or skills on YouTube — cheated on his wife with one of his own Try Guys employees. The three remaining Try Guys made a video explaining what happened, how they were affected by it and what they were going to do about it from a business administration standpoint.

This was a huge scandal and a main topic of discussion for weeks, leaving many fans disappointed and outraged.

So, of course, SNL saw this as a relevant cash grab and decided to recreate it, but in all the wrong ways. 

They took a very lazy approach to this skit, and it was clear they didn’t fully understand what happened or who the people involved were. The writers make bad jokes about workplace scandals and seem to downplay the whole situation. 

That was just one example of bad writing, lazy execution and jokes made in poor taste, but there is much evidence to prove the breakdown of SNL and the poor direction sketch comedy is taking. 

While the art of sketch comedy as a whole could be thriving, shows like SNL downplay the good parts of comedy. The show needs sweeping changes to bring it back to life again, with new writers and comedians. But until those changes happen, sketch comedy will continue its spiral into obscurity, and SNL may become obsolete forever.

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