'Saturday Night Live' Has a Mikey Day Problem
Right off the bat, before you all start yelling at me, I want to clarify that headline up there. Let’s make sure it’s 100 percent clear: I really like Mikey Day. I’m a huge fan, and I think he’s upping the quality of SNL with his mere presence. His perpetual high energy lends itself to endless charisma, and his impressions are spot-on, and his character work is spectacular. Mikey Day does not have a Mikey Day problem.
Saturday Night Live, on the other hand, very much does.
The problem is they, like myself, love Mikey Day. They put him in everything. And once again (don’t yell at me!), I don’t think he should be in everything. His Donald Trump Jr. impression is perfection and no one else’s dopey, smiley face should be playing Trump’s ice cream social boy Paul Ryan.
But let’s look at the other roles Mikey Day plays, the ones more befitting a Featured Player — which, by the way, HE STILL IS. He’s not even a fully official cast member yet. He’s still in the “Featuring” portion of the opening credits, despite being in nearly every sketch, usually with a middling to major role.
In his first-ever sketch, he played Margot Robbie’s unattractive love interest. In that episode, he was in four other sketches as well. That’s not normal for a featured player’s first time out, even if he did spend three years prior in the writers’ room. (And that should not be discounted, but it still doesn’t seem enough to justify just how much screen time he gets.)
He is hilarious, and malleable, and he should be a full cast member. But right now, he’s in nearly every sketch, because in addition to his great original characters and impressions, he’s also playing more generic roles, the ones usually befitting a featured player, as well as everything in between. Day is the show’s go-to Everyman. And that’s where the Mikey Day problem lies. Because this character:
And this one:
And any number of roles he plays in every episode: they’re nothing special. Day makes them special, but with the number of comedians struggling across the country, every cast member should be able to shine in these roles. You know who else could sure as shit have shone in any of those roles? Melissa Villaseñor. Sasheer Zamata. Any number of women, POC, or otherwise marginalized comedians doing open mics in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York or anywhere else.
But SNL is still at the place where they can only view the “Everyman” as looking like Mikey Day. Why couldn’t Zamata play that Jurassic Park ride attendant? Why couldn’t Melissa Villaseñor, who’s been MIA in recent episodes, be a game show host? Anyone can fit these roles. But SNL is dragging its feet when it comes to representation.
I get that Saturday Night Live is not an egalitarian democracy. My understanding, via a few writers’ room acquaintances and an unapologetic love of Studio 60, is that at best, it’s a meritocracy, and more realistically, it’s an unending hustle of talent and connections. Nonetheless, by putting Day, a talented actor, in every sketch that calls for both his talents specifically and also a universally relatable figure, it only serves to be a part of the problem, to perpetuate what we see as “universally relatable.”
The Mikey Day problem is the Everyman syndrome, which means SNL is stuck in a place where it can’t help but only see faces like Day’s as “universal.” But here’s the thing, on SNL, literally anyone can be a theme park ride attendant. Villaseñor, Leslie Jones, even— get this— the Asian cast member you’ve never hired, presumably because you don’t think you have a reason to hire them, or enough fitting roles to justify their presence.
SNL very clearly falls into that Hollywood thinking of only casting people who in their minds, “fit the role.” Like— *pulling name out of hat filled with recent examples*— Tim Burton, who tried to justify his films’ incredible whiteness with the old “I don’t have a reason not to cast white people” excuse, as if a black or Asian or Latinx person can only exist for a reason. Are these institutions causing the problem or reacting to it? Well, “both” is not an out of line answer.
To be fair, a ton of these somewhat generic Everyman roles go to Kenan Thompson. But I’d argue that he’s the exception that proves just how comfortable SNL needs to be with something before they can deviate from their own norm. Because when the show has a character that doesn’t really need anything but a funny actor with kind of goofy expressions, those roles shouldn’t be evenly split between these two men.
If SNL refuses to use a Latina cast member in a role, or doesn’t even think of doing so as a possibility, simply because there is no reason for that character not to be a white man, that is keeping in accordance with an old, racist world view while simultaneously HEAVILY PERPETUATING IT.
A show that has been on the air for 42 years should not be succumbing to a society’s lack of willingness to embrace diversity and representation; it should be fucking leading the charge. And a great way to start is to get over the ingrained, false notion that any role other than a Trump brother should instinctively go to someone who looks like Mikey Day.
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