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‘SNL’ is having a post-Trump renaissance, despite what you may have heard

Elon Musk aside, the spotlight on ‘SNL’ has dimmed since the election. You’re missing a show firing on almost all cylinders.

‘SNL’ is having a post-Trump renaissance, despite what you may have heard
[Photo: Will Heath/NBC]
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During a chaotic few weeks that saw an Afghanistan troop-withdrawal order, a Republican intra-party cancel-culture fiasco, major shifts in CDC guidelines on COVID-19, and a horrendous tipping point in the Gaza Strip conflict, one of the most enduring conversation topics was . . . Elon Musk’s episode of Saturday Night Live.

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The lead-up to the show, its immediate aftermath, and Musk’s subsequent actions around crypto all generated separate, connected discourses. But one thread woven throughout the entire saga—by Musk’s fans and critics alike—was the burning fact of SNL‘s irrelevance and overall state of disrepair. A lot of folks felt compelled to express either that the show hasn’t been funny in years or that they haven’t watched it in years, twin sentiments that cancel each other out. All this slander is a shame, however, because at least in this critic’s eyes, coming out of the Trump era, SNL has quietly become about as strong as it’s ever been.

Trump’s presidency started out as both a gift and a curse for the preeminent late-night comedy show, but it quickly curdled into just a curse. Too much was happening in the news, all the time, and it was often either too stupid or too terrifying to see rehashed in thunderingly redundant cold-open sketches each week. Trump proved intermittently great for SNL‘s ratings, but by 2020, audiences seemed burnt out on all the attendant turmoil reflected on the show, even beyond their exhaustion with Alec Baldwin’s noxious impersonation.

Only the first handful of the current season’s 18 episodes aired before America voted Trump out, though. While the Chris Rock-hosted premiere felt like more of the same, with high-profile pinch hitters such as Jim Carrey and 15-minute cold opens recapping yet another political debate, something had shifted within the show. More Trump-related material seemed to focus on less-explored topics such as the self-serving liberal pageantry around the then-president. One election PSA featured the cast posing as voters, voicing concern about just what the hell they would even talk about if Trump were no longer president—a question that some cynically minded viewers (and the writer of this article) might have wondered about the show itself.

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As much as Trump seemed to delight in being the main thing Americans were talking about at any given time, two topics had already superseded him in conversation by last fall: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Sure enough, SNL got some of its best material in years by paying more attention to those issues than the outgoing chief executive.

Over the past 15 months, the show has had the unenviable task of first finding a way to even exist during a pandemic, and then mine humor from every discrete phase of it. SNL was still in production as serious fears about COVID-19 seeped into the U.S., took a brief break during the early full-tilt panic stage, and then closed out its 45th season with a series of remote episodes. By the time the show resumed last fall, COVID-19 had become fodder for material rather than an inhibitor of it. SNL weighed in on ridiculous anti-lockdown protesters, the awkwardness of outdoor hangs with friends and indoor hangs with one’s pod, the inability to go home for Christmas, and the agony and ecstasy of pre-vaccine horniness and post-vaccine dating. The pandemic hit each person in different ways, but in casting a wide net SNL likely nailed at least one of them for just about everybody.

The show’s commentary on racism this season has been equally sharp and incisive. The show touched on corporate pandering and the icky motivations behind it, misguided white allyship, and wide-ranging discord around the Derek Chauvin trial. One sketch, however, approached a certain class of ostensibly well-meaning white people with particular acuity, humor, and intelligence. The fake ad for 5-Hour Empathy laid bare the fleeting nature of those heavy donations and antiracism reading lists; how empathy was something many white people might just flick on and off like a switch (or never flip on in the first place, or think they flipped on when they actually did not.

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Elsewhere on the show this season, the absurdist current that has always run through SNL (if too often relegated to the “10 to 1” spot) has flourished with delightfully unhinged sketches such as the Mr. Chicken Legs pageant, the Tiny Horse song, and Bowen Yang’s tour de force turn as the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

In its topical sketches, delightful turns toward nonsense, and everything in between, the show has lately often been firing on all cylinders.

The forever problem with Saturday Night Live has always been inconsistency. No matter what any random viewer remembers as their favorite season, I guarantee it would not hold up from episode to episode upon revisiting today. And guess what? The show remains inconsistent. That Elon Musk visit wasn’t the only time things went a bit off the rails in the current season. Fortunately, SNL is navigating the post-Trump and possibly soon-to-be post-COVID-19 era with aplomb and finding other areas of How We Live Now to tackle in its own way. Although it looks like there may be fewer reasons than ever to stay in on a Saturday night by the time the show returns next season, odds are that something well worth watching will be on for those who do so.

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Have a look below at some other memorable sketches from this past season.

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Parents, this is what happens to your child tax credit if you don’t file by the Monday deadline

If you miss the May 17 tax deadline, you can file for a extension, but expect a delay in your credit by as much as a year.

Parents, this is what happens to your child tax credit if you don’t file by the Monday deadline
[Photo: ayzek/iStock; rawpixel]
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Pandemic parents everywhere are woefully behind on 2020 accounting. Don’t fret: If you don’t file your taxes by the extended deadline on Monday, May 17, you likely won’t receive monthly checks for the newly expanded child tax credit. But you’re not completely out of luck.

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The March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act includes a credit of up to $3,600 per year for children under age 6, and $3,000 per year for children ages 6 to 17. Half of the credit will be paid in monthly checks from July to December 2021, with the rest available to be claimed on 2021 taxes.

If you miss the filing date (which is the game plan of this pandemic parent, who at this moment is bolstering your tax strategy rather than finishing her own accounting), you can file an extension, which gives you until October 15 to file your 2020 taxes. Then you will simply claim the credit next year on your 2021 taxes. This could delay your credit by as much as a year.

Stay tuned for specific instructions from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has not yet released specific guidance on this scenario.

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Pro tip: the folks at the IRS just want to hear from you regularly. As long as you let them know what you’re doing, whether that’s filing an extension or setting up a payment plan, they’ll generally leave you alone and spare you catastrophic fees and interest rates. Just make sure to remember to actually file an extension this weekend (penalties for not filing are much steeper than penalties for not paying), and to keep in mind that interest will accrue on unpaid balances from May through October.

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CDC loosens indoor mask guidance as Fauci urges Americans to start shedding masks outdoors

Big changes are in the air.

CDC loosens indoor mask guidance as Fauci urges Americans to start shedding masks outdoors
[Photo: Greg Nash/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]
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As Americans continue to get vaccinated and coronavirus cases continue to drop across the country, big changes are in the air. Literally, because there are fewer infected droplets floating around. But also figuratively: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will today be loosening guidance on wearing face masks indoors for fully vaccinated people.

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To qualify as fully vaccinated, you must be two weeks past your last required COVID-19 vaccine dose. The extra time allows for disease immunity to build up within your body.

If you fit that description, as of today, the CDC will not recommend wearing a mask inside most places. That includes restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and clothing shops. It will, however, still advocate wearing masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters. It emphasizes that people should follow state and local guidance, which may be different.

The new guidance will also stop recommending masks in outdoor spaces, whether sparsely or densely populated.

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That’s a shift echoed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading bellwether of COVID-19-safe herd mentality, who said today on CBS This Morning, “We’ve got to make that transition . . . if you’re vaccinated and you’re outside, put aside your mask. You don’t have to wear it.” (Note: Fauci did say a mask should be worn if you’re in “a completely crowded situation where people are essentially falling all over each other.”)

The new policies are a reversal from two weeks prior, when the CDC was still recommending masks broadly, save for isolated outdoor spaces. In recent days, the Biden administration has been facing pressure to join the likes of Krispy Kreme and Shake Shack in elevating the benefits of getting inoculated, by easing restrictions for fully vaccinated people. As the pace of vaccination has stagnated, with some regional pharmacies and hospitals reporting piles of leftover doses, it appears to be answering the call.

As of yesterday, 35% of the American population has been fully vaccinated, and 46% have received at least one shot.

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Dear political candidates: Please stop calling me

Yes, my company is advising the Yang campaign. I appreciate the irony. But it’s long past time for the FEC to create a Do-Not-Call list—and to enforce it.

Dear political candidates: Please stop calling me
[Photo: natasaadzic/iStock]
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“Hi, you’ve reached Bradley Tusk. Please leave a message—unless you’re a candidate for office seeking a contribution. In that case, please don’t leave a message.” That’s the outgoing voicemail on my phone. I wish it weren’t.

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I don’t know about you, but I am inundated with solicitations for campaign contributions. They come in every conceivable form—calls from candidates, emails from candidates, emails from campaigns, texts from both candidates and campaigns—and that doesn’t even start to account for fundraising on social media.

Yes, it’s annoying. Really annoying. But the problem goes much deeper. The constant need to raise cash further erodes faith in our elected officials, our faith in government, our faith in the political system. When every candidate is endlessly begging for money across every media platform imaginable, it cheapens them. It turns Congress, state legislatures, City Councils, City Halls, Governor’s offices—even the White House—into a bunch of desperate carnival barkers. CSPAN has morphed into the Home Shopping Network.

And it gets worse. You can’t just issue a fundraising appeal based on your qualifications or ideas. That doesn’t work anymore. So you have to find specific ways to scare the recipient into donating. Republicans have to threaten that if you don’t send $20, Bernie Sanders will raise the tax rate to 99%—or, god forbid, that Donald Trump will be personally disappointed. Democratic subject lines, always warning of some Handmaid’s Tale-inspired apocalypse, are equally pathetic: “Bradley, this is our worst nightmare.” “This is your last chance.” “We’re running out of time.” Or they invent some absurd occasion like “It’s Steny Hoyer’s birthday! Give $10.” Who cares? We’re stuck in a race to the bottom on both sides that is making our political system more dysfunctional, more polarized, more awful in every way.

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At the moment, it’s like any arms race. My consulting firm is advising Andrew Yang’s campaign for Mayor in New York City, and we do it too. But if we changed the rules, we could give all candidates, from both parties, an opportunity to stop debasing themselves and regain their dignity. When they were a kid dreaming of becoming Governor one day, odds are that sending out mass emails begging people to chip in $3 to elect them so they can stop the aliens from invading wasn’t part of the fantasy. So even if candidates find the new rule inconvenient, if they take the time to think about it, they may actually appreciate it—because it saves them from themselves.

So let’s help them. To start, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) should create a version of the Do Not Call list, where anyone can opt out of all solicitations and communications from candidates for office at any time. The First Amendment makes it impossible to enact an outright ban, but an opt-in list should be fine. Make that option available to every American, on-line 24/7, and disqualify any candidate who violates the rule (that would put a stop to the problem very quickly). The FEC likely doesn’t have jurisdiction to impose the same rule on every state and local election, so we need Secretaries of State and Election Directors to follow suit.

While the lawmaker who proposes this will be reviled by their colleagues, legislating this ban is good policy and better politics. No voter likes getting constant solicitations. It may be the single issue in Congress with the least interest from members but the most bipartisan support from actual voters. And if you ask voters if they’d rather spend some taxpayer money on public financing for campaigns or if they’d rather be constantly harassed—and, even worse, have their elected officials remain dependent on every special interest—they’d choose the former. Citizens United may mean that private money in campaigns isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to even the scales.

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Obviously there are far bigger problems facing society than undignified and annoying texts from desperate politicians. But it does speak to the underlying reasons why our government is so ineffective, so distrusted, so disliked, so incapable. Banning solicitations isn’t a solution to our biggest problems but it is a way to start restoring trust in government again, to get more substantive people to run for office, and to make the entire process of running for office more appealing and less demeaning.

In fact, just to make it a little sweeter, I’ll personally max out to any candidate running for Secretary of State or any office that oversees local elections who supports this idea. I’ll even do the same for the lead sponsor of legislation banning political solicitations. You won’t even have to leave me a voicemail to collect.


Bradley Tusk is a venture capitalist, writer, philanthropist, and political strategist. One of his firms, Tusk Strategies, is advising Andrew Yang’s campaign for mayor of New York City.

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Why is bitcoin crashing? What Elon Musk’s Tesla comments mean for the cryptocurrency

Musk goes cold on bitcoin, sending the cryptocurrency crashing over 13%.

Why is bitcoin crashing? What Elon Musk’s Tesla comments mean for the cryptocurrency
[Photo: Daniel Oberhaus (2018)/Flickr]
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It’s another wild day in the world of cryptocurrency. And a bad one at that if you’re an investor in bitcoin. That’s because, as of the time of this writing, bitcoin’s price is crashing. Bitcoin is down a staggering 13% in the past 24 hours, dropping from around $57,000 per coin to around $49,600. So what’s driving the drop?

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Elon Musk (of course).

Yesterday, Musk tweeted that Tesla would suspend vehicle purchases using bitcoin as a payment option. However, unlike other of Musk’s comments about cryptocurrency, this was more than just an off-the-cuff remark. Musk gave a good reason for his decision to suspend bitcoin as a payment option for Tesla purchases: the environment.

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“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk said. Those concerns are valid, as peer-reviewed studies have shown the energy (and thus environmental) cost of mining bitcoin can outweigh any economic benefits. Of course, this is Elon Musk and cryptocurrency and the future of digital tokens we are talking about, so naturally, the internet and stakeholders hunkered down on all sides after Musk’s comments.

Fellow billionaire Mark Cuban’s hot take was bitcoin is actually good for the environment because: gold.

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Several bitcoin Twitter accounts accused Musk’s statement of being deceitful and self-serving.

Other people shot back that bitcoin will somehow save the planet.

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Some big investors came out to announce they’re hitting the cable news shows to talk about how bitcoin is good for the environment (again).

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Then there’s whatever this is:

But what does Musk’s decision (and all the pushback) mean for bitcoin going forwards? Look, no one knows, and if they say they do they are lying. Bitcoin has become much more “respectable” over the last few years but, relatively speaking, the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem is still nascent—and extremely volatile—and no one knows what bitcoin is going to do today, tomorrow, or next month.

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If Musk’s tweet (and the helpful follow-up, above) accomplishes anything it is that it helps put a spotlight on the real-world impact bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have on the environment, which is a conversation the world should be having—and bitcoin enthusiasts should want to have—if there’s any hope of the coin becoming a true instrument of economic value for everyday people in the future without destroying the planet.

About the author

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. You can read more about him at MichaelGrothaus.com

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