Despite twice hosting "Saturday Night Live" -- appearances in 2004 and 2015 that surely were helpful to his rise -- the President of the United States is no longer a fan of the late-night comedy show.
"It's truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of 'the other side.' Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows ...," Donald J. Trump tweeted the other day as part of 24 hours of stunning social-media invective, an attack on perceived enemies that made Richard Nixon look like a shrinking violet.
"Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this?," Trump typed on. "There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News."
Predictably, the Trumpian outburst caused outrage from a plethora of liberal critics marveling (a), at the troubling presidential dismissal of the established parody protections of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (b), the incomparable thinness of the presidential skin and the myopic fragility of the presidential ego and (c), the questionable use of presidential time.
In the case of Donald J. Trump versus "Saturday Night Live," it was hard to find any party who took the presidential side. By now, you likely have read hundreds of posts or columns castigating his "SNL" tweets.
So here's one saying that Trump had a good point.
In part, anyway. It is just hard for those on the left to admit -- or maybe even to see.
And I think Trump's problem -- which is not necessarily the same thing as America's problem -- specifically began in Chicago.
"Saturday Night Live," along with the other late-night shows, does indeed "go after" the right more than the left. No question. Trump is absolutely correct when he implies that the shows hosted by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers do not worry about political balance in the way their predecessors once did (Jay Leno made this very point in a recent interview). And Trump, a shrewd man who is very sensitive to the amassing of a dangerous competing narrative to the one he prefers, is also right when he says that this hurts him.
It does. And he can blame Second City, circa 2000.
Throughout the first 40 years (mostly the era of co-founder Bernie Sahlins) at the famed Chicago comedy institution, Second City's revues generally maintained the kind of political balance that Trump has realized no longer exists. Things waxed and waned a little in the 1990s, based on who was president -- anyone who does satire will tell you that the main target should be power and the satirist is always more successful when punching up -- but anyone who saw those shows can recall plenty of caustic takedowns of the values and personalities of the left. The prevailing idea, which Sahlins often articulated, was to offer something for both political sides. Ideally, Sahlins used to say, the show would not have a dominant narrative political view. That was not the point.
But around the first Iraq war, I noticed something had changed. The revues on the Mainstage and at the e.t.c. were no longer equal opportunity offenders, the targets of the barbs oscillating from Republicans to Democrats, but they had started offering a stinging political critique from the left. Specifically. And unmistakably. Often quite brilliantly.
What happened? Formatively, this was partly a consequence of Second City's move away from independent sketches, each only loosely connected to the other, and toward repeating themes and characters. By 2000, most Second City shows had a clear arc. Often a political arc. (Trump can blame Tina Fey, among others, for that).
Who was around Second City during this time? Colbert, for one. Meyers, flying back and forth between Chicago and Amsterdam's Boom! Chicago, for another. Adam "Veep" McKay for a third. But perhaps more importantly, these shows were created by the very people who went on to change the face of late-night comedy in America.
Since I reviewed every revue, I noticed that shift at the time and I remember making a phone call to Kelly Leonard, then the producer of those revues, asking why Second City had abandoned so many years of political neutrality. I asked Leonard, who now works in a different branch of Second City, about my long-ago call just the other day. He remembered.
Leonard's recollection, which gelled with mine, was that everything had shifted during the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and the ignition of war in Iraq, hostilities authorized by then-President George W. Bush that most of the creatives at Second City felt had little to do with the terrorist attacks.
The most significant revue in this sea change was "Curious George Goes to War," a seminal 2002 Second City e.t.c. show dominated by a young guy named Keegan-Michael Key ("a lanky and savvy performer with restless eyes," I wrote at the time, suggesting he had a bright future without realizing the half of it). At the time, Key was still one of Second City's few actors of color, and he liked to play characters from the Middle East. As is often the case with diversification, Key's presence opened up a whole new range of comic vistas for the company. His work helped the director, Ron West, come up with a sustained critique of the war in Iraq. For the entire show. West, a political type, had no time for balance.
But Key wasn't the only person with a future in "Curious George Goes to War." That cast also contained a brilliant newcomer named Peter Grosz, who would go to write for "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central between 2007 and 2010. Since 2014, Grosz has been a writer for -- guess what? -- a little show called "Late Night With Seth Meyers." He is one of the thorns in Trump's side.
So is Amber Ruffin; when she joined Meyers' staff in 2014, she became the first African-American woman to write for late-night network television in the United States. And you can probably guess where Ruffin was hanging out in the first decades of the 21st century.
Second City never went back to the old way of doing business. It took longer for late-night comedy to become as politically liberal, but the change happened there, too. You might decry this as more erosion of the political center, and you'd have a point. And so does Trump.
There are many other names who were part of this origin story. But let's acknowledge the clear evidence. None of them have a history of affection for the likes of Donald J. Trump. And in the years that followed, none was unduly worried about balance.
The prevailing view was, and is, that sides have to be chosen. And Trump has to suffer. And tweet his heart out.
This article is written by Chris Jones from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.