Erin Cummings

Live from New York, It’s a Feminist Analysis of Saturday Night Live

Throughout history, humor has predominantly been considered a masculine form of entertainment. Because of this track record, female comedians have received less credit, respect, and success than their male counterparts, especially in televised comedy. Many critics believe that, in general, women should not take part in something as aggressive and unrefined as humor because they are too delicate and restrained. However, women have fought these gendered norms and have been able to achieve celebrity status as comedians. Saturday Night Live (SNL) is one television show in which women have been comedic stars since its beginning in 1975. However, even though SNL has hired many female comics over the years, statistics reveal that the show predominantly casts a certain type of comedienne. A vast majority of SNL’s female cast members fit the postfeminist ideal of thin, white, attractive, young. It is troubling that an iconic and trend-setting show is mainly showing one type of female comic. Qualitative content analysis of the Saturday Night Live sketches of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig (three of the most famous cast members in recent years), reveals that these women participate in status-quo affirming and subversive comedy. In some sketches they can portray women in stereotypically acceptable ways through exploiting their socially approved bodies. However, they often defy hegemonic structures of humor and create female characters that expand what it means to be a woman in comedy. This paper argues that through such comedy these women achieve both mainstream success while also expressing feminist ideals. Because of this, SNL has the potential to take a social justice stand by portraying more controversial and diverse images of femininity and creating a cast that is representative of the real American population.