How 30 Rock Redeems Celebrities and SNL Destroys Them

How 30 Rock Redeems Celebrities and SNL Destroys Them

One of the first things that amazed me about “30 Rock” was that it was able to make Alec Baldwin cool again. Before he was on that show, people were thinking of him as the dude who got caught calling his 11-year-old daughter a “thoughtless little pig.” Then he became Jack Donaghy, the suave but flawed, whisky-clinking, corporate-minded Republican.

The genius of 30 Rock is in the way it develops characters that not only redeem the actors behind them, but makes them more relevant. Think about how much more famous Tracy Morgan is now than when he was on SNL. Even guest celebrities experience this effect. When I watched Denise Richards speaking as the head of “The Idiots,” I had to give her credit for being humble enough to play that part as herself.

The equation behind this is pretty simple. The show brings to light the flaw of a celebrity, showing that they acknowledge it and are self-aware. Then it shakes out absurdist humor from their flaw in a way that makes you not just feel for them, but also care about them more than you would otherwise.

To an extent, SNL has historically been able to do this. A celebrity guest hosts and touches on their PR disaster with a funny song or skit, and then we like them more. “Let’s let bygones be bygones!” But unlike 30 Rock, SNL seems to benefit more from destroying celebrities.

Don’t get me wrong – some celebrities need to be destroyed. Thank you Tina Fey, for taking down Sarah Palin. (Tina again – she seems to be present whenever one of those shows is doing something right.) Stephen Colbert also deserves awards for destroying some of the bigger dumbies in this country. But sometimes the way SNL approaches the personalities of people it’s parodying feels like a quickly-written, drawn out sketch that pokes fun at a celebrity in a way that’s not even funny. Do I really need recurring sketches reminding me that Cee-Lo is a horn dog?

But beyond their sketches, SNL’s new music strategy – featuring indie buzzed musicians, is having an interesting effect. Look at what happened to Lana del Rey – she came on the show totally green, did a not-so-great job, and has been publicly shamed ever since. While I am excited that they are moving away from the Ashlee Simpson guests out there, this strategy might not be so good for the musician for two reasons.

1. The “mainstream” people watching SNL don’t know who they are, and start buzzing with criticism, angry that this person is on SNL undeservedly.
2. Since hipsters are total snobs, they only like things that mainstreamers don’t know about, so they automatically become less invested that artist.

I definitely don’t think celebrities need to be coddled. They are all famous and totally rich and stuff like that. I will tune into SNL regularly to watch so-so comedy and the chance to watch streamers be confused who the fuck Sleigh Bells is. I just think it’s interesting that 30 Rock is able to look at celebrities in a much more human way and be all the funnier for it.

Becky Lang