This weekend’s Saturday Night Live featured an unusually timely choice of guest host.
Of course, it’d be hard to pick a week in 2015 that wouldn’t be a good one for Amy Schumer to headline the sketch show. In the spring, her own sketch series had its most zeitgeist-y season yet; in the summer, her big-screen debut cleaned up at the box office. And then there’s the release that finally brought Schumer to 30 Rock: her hourlong, Chris Rock-directed HBO special Live at the Apollo, coming to a distant acquaintance’s HBO Now account near you this Saturday.
But there’s another, more depressing reason why Schumer’s first time headlining SNL both came at the right time and would’ve made sense whenever she made her way into Studio 8H. On October 1, nine days before the broadcast, a mass shooting killed ten and injured seven at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College. On Friday, one student was killed and three more injured at Northern Arizona University; mere hours later, a shooting at Texas Southern University left one student dead and one injured.
Though Schumer’s comedy itself leans more towards the personal than the political, her commitment to reducing gun violence has been a prominent part of her public persona since July, when a theater shooting during a screening of Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana killed two and injured nine. In early August, she joined with her cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, to publicly advocate for stricter gun control laws — laws that, predictably, have yet to make it through the legislature, despite the persistence of mass shootings in the United States and the ever-increasing death toll of gun violence in general.
It came as little surprise, then, that guns overshadowed even the 2016 elections as the primary target of SNL‘s political humor this week. First, there was “Guns,” the short, sweet, and aptly named digital clip advertising firearms as the source of connection and community the NRA would have us think they are. Taran Killam gives his “girlfriend” Schumer a gun instead of jewelry; Kyle Mooney and Sasheer Zamata literally aim for the stars; Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan offer their newborn a fun-sized firearm. The skit is a normcore’d-out vision of an America armed to the teeth, one that pairs SNL’s eye for the aesthetics of advertising with Schumer’s taste for sketches with a message, right down to the kicker: “Guns — They’re Here to Stay!”
Guns came up once again during the night’s Weekend Update segment; per tradition, Schumer stayed offscreen as Colin Jost and Michael Che riffed on the week’s headlines, but the co-hosts’ back-and-forth over guns was a Carmichael Show- esque testament to how deeply the issue’s penetrated the comedic zeitgeist (to say nothing of Jost and Che’s increasingly well-developed ability to use Jost’s inherent, if slight, douchiness to their advantage):
And one of the night’s weaker sketches made three, thus heralding a trend. “City Council Meeting” was mostly ribbed for its obvious resemblance to Parks and Recreation‘s immortal town hall sequences — and to a lesser extent, Schumer’s own “Babies & Bustiers” character — but it did manage to slip in a crack at gun enthusiasts in the form of the host’s adorable-yet-rabidly-conservative little girl, who asks for permission to take one of her “tons” of firearms to school since she’s “pro-life… MY life”:
It’s unlikely Schumer unilaterally imposed her political agenda on SNL‘s two-dozen-plus writers, some of whom, as demonstrated by Weekend Update, were clearly interested in gun control regardless of the host. But while it’s impossible to tell exactly how much and what Schumer contributed to the highly collaborative process of putting an episode of SNL together, it’s also hard to chalk up the show’s focus on gun control while Schumer was in the studio entirely to coincidence.
Before her transition to movie stardom and the expanded platform that came with it, Schumer didn’t exactly shy away from making statements with her comedy, spinning dead-serious issues like sexual assault in the military into surprisingly solid sketch premises. But while even Inside Amy Schumer‘s most explicitly political bits still fit in to both Schumer’s and the show’s broader M.O. of comic feminism (and are bookended by, er, less weighty topics like shitfaced cooking and oral sex), gun control represents a new frontier for the comedian, an issue that’s less a natural extension of her act than one she’s attempting to use her ever-increasing reach to affect.
As Schumer transitions into the headlining-Madison-Square-Garden phase of her career, she’s also transitioning from “famous comedian” to just plain famous person. Part of that pivot is deciding how to deploy the influence that comes with celebrity — and with her SNL debut, Schumer offered her answer.