Comedy as a kind of art is a multifaceted tool that combines physical acting and laughable narrative which are accomplished by a particular setting. In the contemporary world that is closely connected with the Internet, the video platform YouTube is the source of information for millions of people. The crew of Saturday Night Live (SNL), whose videos might be easily found on YouTube, is famous for their creative approach to addressing social, cultural, and political issues in their live sketches. However, SNL owes its success and public appraisal to the numerous talented actors who team with the original SNL cast and bring outstanding performance to life. One of the best examples of such productive collaboration is the sketch titled “Space Station Broadcast” starring Steve Carell. The masterful dark humor, in combination with a catastrophic setting, laughable lines, and hilarious physical acting, makes this piece an exclusive video that contributes to the contemporary comedy culture. In this paper, the characters, acting, language, and resemblance with prominent styles and techniques in comedy will be presented to validate the quality of humor in “Space Station Broadcast” by SNL.
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In the episode, the crew of an international space station under the guidance of Captain McGovern played by Steve Carell is participating in a live questions-and-answers session with the American school children. In the course of answering the questions, Carell’s character encounters numerous unexpected events. Firstly, he is informed that there has been a breach in the laboratory section but that it is safe because the problem has been eliminated. However, the animals which participated in an experiment onboard the space station start floating in the cabin showing no signs of life. Trying not to ruin the live broadcast with the students, the captain tries to maneuver between solving the problem and communicating with the children. Finally, a Russian astronaut’s frozen body appears behind the illuminator, and while the crew tries to save her, the broadcast stops.
Setting and Props
The scene is assembled with poor decorations and props which are intentionally applied to create a humoristic effect. Not only the actors are dressed in NASA suits, but also monkeys and a cat were the participants of the experiment. Also, the artificial images of the stuffed animals which were used to represent the frozen bodies of monkeys were too obvious, which also contributed to the comic background.
In the background of a setting that already makes people laugh, the actors’ lines only increase the level of humor in the sketch. When Captain McGovern reacts to a monkey’s broken arm, he screams “Oh God, no-no-no-no-no” (“Space Station Broadcast – SNL” 00:02:28-00:02:36). In this phrase is a resemblance of Steve Carell’s character from “The Office,” a famous American TV show, who said the same line. The phrase is highly recognizable and is often associated with the actor. That is why this technique makes the episode funny retrieving the real experience from the audience. When Aidy Bryant’s character introduces herself, she says that her name is Hailie “like the comet and like Eminem’s daughter” (“Space Station Broadcast – SNL” 00:01:31-00:01:36). These references to modern figures and shows ensure the relation of the comedy to contemporary culture that resonates with the audience.
The more humorous effect is achieved with the help of puns which Steve Carell uses several times throughout the video. The word “apollo-gize” is pronounced with an emphasis on Apollo, the name of the American space mission (“Space Station Broadcast – SNL” 00:01:23-00:01:25). Also, the actor advises the students to “comet” to their studies, thus transforming the word ‘commit’ to the space-related one (“Space Station Broadcast – SNL” 00:02:00-00:02:03). Such words sound funny because of the humorous intention of the character to add profession-specific vocabulary to his speech.
Slapstick evolved with silent movies and the performances of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Although this form of comedy is regarded as one of the oldest in the history of American film, it remains relevant in the modern world too. Slapstick occurs in the background of a particular social context, which is modern for the viewers. It reflects the kinds of things people might find funny at a particular period of their social experience. Therefore, slapstick is a powerful tool in the comedy of all times if it is applied with a sense of “social temporality” (King 159). The performance style in the analyzed sketch is marked with features of slapstick where the absurd flow of events creates a comic background on which characters need to engage in exaggerated physical acting. From this perspective, the episode shows its resemblance to the style of Rowan Atkinson or Steve Martin who acted out the similar comedy of absurd and chaos.
Resembling the acting style of Buster Keaton, Steve Martin, and Rowan Atkinson, Kate McKinnon presents a hilarious bit when acting a frozen corpse of a Russian spacewoman. Steve Carell’s comment on it makes the situation even funnier when he says, “Do not worry. That cosmonaut is fine. The Russians are used to being cold” (“Space Station Broadcast – SNL” 00:04:20-00:04:25). In such conditions where one unexpected turn of absurd events leads to another, a viewer is continuously exposed to funny plot and acting both in visual and audible forms.
Body Language and Physical Performance
The physical comedy of all the actors involved in this sketch can hardly be overestimated. Body language is represented in comic physical performance when the actors simulate floating in the cabin of a spacecraft. The funny facial expressions of the supporting SNL actors are very vivid and make the spectators react to them with laughter. Mikey Day and Leslie Jones’ behavior in front of the camera, which is showing them live to the students on Earth is also spectacular. The scenes where Steve Carell breaks a monkey’s arm, a cat’s face disappears, or Day’s character accidentally hits Carell in the face with his feet are all bright examples of quality physical performance.
In the contemporary world where the Internet is being filled with new information daily, and the number of videos on YouTube is increasing, it is difficult to find quality comedy to enjoy. However, the SNL crew has many quality jokes to present. One of their best works is the episode titled “Space Station Broadcast.” The combination of outstanding physical performance, intentionally poor decorations and props, and hilarious lines with puns makes this video one of the best comedy pieces available from YouTube today. A spectator is constantly exposed to new portions of humor in all its forms, thus not stopping to laugh throughout the whole performance. Its timeliness and relevance to the contemporary culture allows for resonating with people and, in its turn, contributes to the scope of the comedy genre.
Berlant, Lauren, and Sianne Ngai. “Comedy Has Issues.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 43, no. 2, 2017, pp. 233-249.
King, Rob. Hokum! The Early Sound Slapstick Short and Depression-Era Mass Culture. University of California Press, 2017.
“Space Station Broadcast – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live. 2018, Web.