And the winner is…SNL. The Dec 9, 2023, show features a skit about seniors being pranked, apparently based on pranks published on TikTok.
The voiceover begins, “Every year seniors get pranked” and there’s canned laughter.
The premise is a satirical PSA where the “seniors” complain about being pranked. They show older people being pranked which encourages the audience to laugh at the pranks…and the old people. Young SNL regulars dress up as old people, complete with gray wigs and outdated clothes.
The pranks include throwing a blanket over an older man in a supermarket. (And laugh really loudly when he pees his pants.) They claim an older woman will be shocked when someone comes out as gay (which of course turns out to be a prank). It’s hilarious when someone leaves a baby with an older person. There’s an old joke about asking “who” about an owl.
The point of these jokes is, it’s supposed to be funny when the prank targets an older person. Or, in other words, older people aren’t to be taken seriously.
Some comments on YouTube showed the audience’s awareness, such as:
“What a weird sketch, it’s set up as though you’re supposed to be laughing at the old people but it’s just sad.”
“I love SNL but this was kind of mean spirited. I mean, I laughed a little bit here and there. But honestly, this just made me sad.”
And the best: “never got why this was supposed to funny. Assaulting and harrassing people isn’t cute.” (Actually it’s a crime.)
A few others pointed out it was “pure ageism” or even “cheap shot ageism.”
But a horrifying number of comments on YouTube were supportive. They loved to laugh at older people.
One person wrote about being just a few months away from the age of these “old coots.” Some people said they work with “the elderly” and these depictions are “realistic.”
Someone pointed out that a character who claims to have “blocked schools with Governor Wallace” was too young; he’d have been a kid at the time. “Dementia?” he wonders.
Naturally, the commenter associates “old” with dementia, although the majority of older people do not have dementia. This is just bad writing.
The vast majority of “older” people don’t fit the stereotypes.
Someone who’s capable of shopping in a store will have bladder control (there are medical remedies available). Many older people are happy to support their gay relatives (and many are gay themselves). Some “older” people are running marathons and lifting weights. And if someone hands you a baby and takes off, you call the cops…at any age.
You could say, “It’s comedy. People shouldn’t take themselves so seriously.” But…
Imagine an SNL skit directed at Black people, Jewish people, gay people, or Asian people. Would you say, “It’s just comedy?”
Imagine what would happen if SNL’s actors put on blackface for a show about Black people being pranked. Or found wigs with Jewish orthodox side curls or masks with Asian faces. Or a skit with swishy body language meant to be gay.
The New York Times would post an editorial. The story would go viral. Advocacy groups would attack. SNL would issue an apology.
In fact, a few years ago, the NY Times ran an article about blackface shows in Great Britain. Shows that featured white people with blackface masks were removed from streaming services. BBC pulled a show that featured a white male playing “an obese Black woman in a sauna.”
Gina Yashere, a Black British comedian and show producer said it shouldn’t have taken the George Floyd story to make this happen. She said, “It isn’t characters. It’s always in comedy and it’s always sending up black people.”
Another British comedian, Ava Vidal, said blackface has promoted “harmful stereotypes that are often not even based in truth.”
Netflix also acted to remove blackface comedies.
A former president thought it was okay to make fun of a reporter with a disability. He got lots of pushback.
Why not have a whole show where you make fun of people in wheelchairs? people with speech defects or hearing loss?
The jokes about old people aren’t any different. Every characteristic of older people – memory loss, physical decline, slow walking – can be found in younger people with certain physical conditions.
If you think about it, the premise of a PSA about pranking older people is already insulting. These actions would qualify as assault and could be prosecuted as criminal.
Let’s think about that song, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” When I do stand-up comedy, I ask the audience, “Would this be funny if we said ‘Little Chinese boy got run over by a reindeer’ or ‘Gorgeous gay dude got run over by a reindeer?'”
They always get it.
SNL has an account on Facebook. Shockingly, people wrote comments saying they found this funny.
One woman commented that her mom stuck in a “crappy” nursing home, complained about the food situation. Funny? If you were trapped in a “crappy” home, with nothing meaningful to do and frankly no reason to keep on living, the food may be all you’ve got. I bet you’d complain too.
This is why it’s important to speak up…and not insist it’s funny to call yourself a “geezer.”
It’s important to demand dignity and self-respect at any age. It’s why in my book I’ve called out that video where a woman ridicules herself for going the wrong way into a carwash and wearing mismatched earrings. She did none of those things. Most older people function just fine and want to be treated with dignity.
It’s why older people are treated so cruelly in medical settings… and why many of us would rather be dead than end up in a care facility.
There’s a fine line between laughing at a demographic and moving on to ridicule, which is a recognized form of harassment.
Then it’s a slippery slope to decide it’s okay to abuse these people because, hey, nobody cares.
It’s the bridge to hate crimes: if it’s funny to throw a blanket over an old person, why not hold them up at gunpoint? Hilarious.
I’d love to see more people go over to the SNL Facebook page and register their discontent.
You can also write to the NBC network. Write to journalists who focus on aging and ask newspapers to run articles on the topic. Write articles on Medium. If you’re an AARP member, ask why they’re not speaking out about this.
Remember this next time you (or someone you care about) gets treated disrespectfully because of ageism. Remember all those articles where the authors called themselves “geezers.” Remember videos where people laugh at old people dancing…even if they’re not really old. (Google “dancing grannies.”)
Brene Brown makes this point in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me. She lists stereotypes that “fit so closely that they give us permission to dismiss anything that deviates from that image,”
For instance, Brene Brown explains, a “perfect grandma” knows her grandchildren are teasing when they say, “Dance for us, Grandma.” She does, although she feels hurt and ashamed. They want to see her as a clown, not a whole person.
For 2024, resolve never to make fun of older people – including yourself – ever again…especially in publications that can be read by anyone and twisted for cruelty.