Over the years, Saturday Night Live has written plenty of sketches that haven’t made it to the live airing. Sometime sketches are cut in the early stages, while other times they are cut after bombing during rehearsal or simply due to time constraints. Now and again, however, there's a weird reason, like this one. Veteran SNL writer Robert Smigel told Live From New York biographers James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales that there was one political sketch that President Barack Obama actually got cut.
The bit in question was one of Smigel’s “TV Funhouse” sketches. It would have been a live action sketch following a video with colorful commentary on how the American populace often perceives race. Here’s what Smigel had to say, below.
“It wasn't until my last season that the network refused to air a "TV Funhouse." It was a live-action one that was meant to be about racism and profiling, an airline-safety video with multilingual narration, and whenever you heard a different language, they would cut to people of that nationality. First, typical white Americans, then a Latino family, then a Japanese family, all being instructed about seat belts, overhead compartments, et cetera. Then it cuts to an Arab man, and the narrator says, in Arabic, "During the flight, please do not blow up the airplane. The United States is actually a humanitarian nation that is rooted in the concept of freedom, and so on.”
According to the writer, the sketch did not go over well with “the standards people.” Smigel says Lorne Michaels had his back, though, eventually coming up with asking then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama whether or not the sketch worked.
“Lorne said, ‘I have a plan.’ Obama was doing a cameo in the cold open. Lorne told me he would show my sketch to Obama. ‘If Obama thinks it's OK, they won't be able to argue it.’ I thought it was a brilliant idea, except why would Obama ever give this thing his blessing? What if word got out? ‘Hey, everybody, that guy over there said it was cool. The one running for president of the country.’ But I loved Lorne for caring this much and being willing to go that far to get this thing on TV.”
As you may have guessed, Obama wasn’t exactly down with the basic premise of the sketch. Michaels says he called it “funny” but the “TV Funhouse” segment was ultimately cut for the very reason the standards department was worried about. It’s less of a shame that the sketch never made it to air than it is an amusing story with a terrific punchline. I can just imagine the sketch hanging in the balance with Obama getting the Gladiator task of giving it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It makes the story way more exciting than the sketch that never was.
Live From New York is getting reworked with an added 200 pages that give insight into Saturday Night Live in the 2000s. THR has more excerpts from the new book available for avid SNL fans. Or you could always tune in to NBC, live from New York, on Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. ET.