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Saturday Night Live Retains Too Many of Its Head Writers

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Yeah, there are three of them. There were four. Four co-head writers. Head co-writers?

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Co-head writers.

Yesterday Vulture and probably a lot of other sites reported that SNL was going to have three co-head writers for its upcoming 44th season. Those three gentlemen made up 75% of the four co-head writers from last season (because even when comedy shows increase the number of head writers by 400%, they’re still all dudes, somehow), and you might recognize some of their names: they’re Michael Che, Colin Jost and Kent Sublette.

Che and Jost, of course, co-host the Weekend Update segment of the broadcast, and also are hosting some kind of industry event this upcoming Sunday night. Sublette, meanwhile, has been a co-head writer for a couple of years now. Last year’s fourth co-head writer, Bryan Tucker, who’s been co-head writing since all the way back in 2014, will now occupy the position of senior writer.

You might wonder why three of the co-head writers of that season have been asked to return. Despite a lot of gripes and well-considered criticisms lobbied at the show last year, the fact remains that it was a successful season by most conventional metrics. The ratings were fine, it racked up social media views with the constant stunt-casting of its political roles, and it’ll probably do pretty well at that function Che and Jost are hosting this weekend. It might have been an exasperating season to watch unfold in real time, with the cast consistently shuttled into the background while almost every major figure in American politics today was played by celebrity guests, and with the tiresome political agnosticism of its fake news anchors, but clearly some people somewhere didn’t mind that season. They probably watched it in four-minute bursts on YouTube on their phone, and weren’t paid to watch it in full every single week. (Yeah, we get paid. I know!) That’s probably the ideal way to watch SNL right now, in pieces, à la carte, skipping the stuff you’re pretty sure you won’t like (political cold opens, Weekend Update, anything involving Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump) and only watching the good stuff (basically anything Kenan does). SNL is perfectly calibrated for the viral model, if only by virtue of the inconsistency baked into the very idea of the show.

Still, though. It’s hard to imagine the writers who, on paper at least, are most responsible for last season’s work deserving to keep those positions. Che and Jost especially have proven themselves incapable of rising to our current political moment in a way you’d hope to see from the highest-profile network source of political and media satire. If Jost actually has any opinions about anything other than where to golf in the Hamptons, he’s kept them remarkably close to the vest during his several years at the Weekend Update desk. And Che is so thoroughly devoted to ambivalence and bothsidesism that he’s openly defended Sarah Huckabee Sanders from criticism about routinely lying to America. This is the guy who said he doesn’t care if Trump is racist, and that it’s actually not even his job to care. SNL has given its biggest segment over to two guys who don’t understand or appreciate what that job could entail, at a time when it should be more vital than ever before, and the show’s producers seem thoroughly satisfied with the job they’ve done so far.

SNL returns on Sept. 29. We don’t know who’ll be hosting it, or who the musical guest will be. We know who the three co-head writers will be, though, for better or worse.


Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.

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