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‘SNL’ tells the hilarious truth about Pride—and its own LGBTQ evolution

The show’s nuanced depiction of Pride month’s wonderful and terrible messiness reveals just how far ‘Saturday Night Live’ has come in a short time.

‘SNL’ tells the hilarious truth about Pride—and its own LGBTQ evolution
(Left to right) Musical guest Lil Nas X, host Anya Taylor-Joy, and Chris Redd during promos in Studio 8H on Thursday, May 20. [Photo: Will Heath/NBC]
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Things change so fast sometimes, you can barely believe the way they were before. The season finale of Saturday Night Live (SNL), for instance, is steeped in awe at radical change—from jokes in both the cold open and Weekend Update about how different the world looks now from the time of the season premiere, to a razor-sharp game show sketch about since-disgraced public figures who thrived in the ’90s.

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One sketch from this episode stood out, however, for showing how thoroughly the winds of change have blown through Saturday Night Live itself. “Pride Month Song” is a savagely honest depiction of the corporate-sponsored, drama-filled, always unmissable LGBTQ celebration, and it’s a far cry from the kind of queer content that appeared on the show until fairly recently.

Back in the ’90s, Saturday Night Live had an impressively progressive sketch achieve mythic status with its take on hypersexualized beer commercials. Schmitt’s Gay dropped Adam Sandler and Chris Farley in one of those fantastical—and fantastically horny—premises common to advertising of the time, but casually made the pair gay. The joke wasn’t on Farley and Sandler’s characters for being gay; it was on the dude bros duped into believing a brand of alcohol might get them laid.

Unfortunately, this sketch proved to be a rare flash of nuance, not just for the show but for pop culture of the era altogether. For many years to come, most televised jokes relating to the LGBTQ community were created by straight writers and performers, at the expense of the community. Early-aughts SNL was steeped in throwaway jokes about (gasp!) men wearing dresses or even (gulp!) kissing each other. That queerness was even depicted on TV at all in any way during the ascension of out cast member Kate McKinnon nearly a decade ago was intended as a sign of progress, even if the writers had few ideas of what to say about it.

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Eventually, however, the mere fact of representation ceased being sufficient. Clearly, the queer viewership didn’t just want to see themselves represented onscreen; They wanted more of their sensibility represented as well. Just as the show began hiring more racially diverse cast members and writers in the past decade, SNL also brought on more LGBTQ talent in front of and behind the camera, bringing the specificity of lived experience along with their comedic gifts.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it started happening, but at some point between the hiring of Julio Torres in 2016 and Bowen Yang in 2018, SNL began its slow pivot toward queer content with as much authenticity as humor—and little regard for whether straight audiences would enjoy or even understand it.

While the show still stumbles on occasion, the season finale’s Pride sketch, a brilliant skewering of what actually happens at Pride beneath the Instagram grid veneer, marks a high point in SNL‘s burgeoning inclusivity. Have a look below at some more recent sketches that helped take it there.

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