For nearly 40 years, NBC’s sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live has pushed the envelope with its political commentary. While most of the segments executives determine are funny enough eventually end up on air, there is at least one subject that remains off-limits.
Just as with cartoons and other forms of entertainment dealing with Islam, SNL writer Robert Smigel revealed that network bosses sensitive about the subject were wary of allowing one of his submissions to be included.
A recurring segment, ‘TV Funhouse,’ became a reliable vehicle for Smigel’s writing for many years. In a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, however, he recalled the one time he was met with corporate backlash.
“It wasn’t until my last season that the network refused to air a ‘TV Funhouse,’” he said.
The live-action skit, he explained, was “meant to be about racism and profiling” and depicted a safety video instructing airline personnel how to treat passengers of different ethnicities.
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“Then it cuts to an Arab man,” he said, “and the narrator says, in Arabic, ‘During the flight, please do not blow up the airplane. The United States is actually a humanitarian nation that is rooted in the concept of freedom,’ and so on.”
While NBC’s human resources department fought to have the segment cut, producer Lorne Michaels fought for its inclusion. As it turned out, the dispute took place during the production of a show on which Barack Obama was scheduled to make a cameo appearance.
“Lorne told me he would show my sketch to Obama, ‘If Obama thinks it’s OK, they won’t be able to argue it,’” Smigel recalled.
Michaels confirmed the plan, noting that Obama was the final voice of opposition to Smigel’s contribution.
“Obama said, ‘It’s funny, but no, I don’t think so.”
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