Noam Chomsky Almost Appeared on Saturday Night Live During the 90s


Image by jean­bap­tis­teparis

There are those guest hosts on Sat­ur­day Night Live who imme­di­ate­ly become exem­plary cast mem­bers they fit in so well. I’m think­ing most­ly of Alec Bald­win. Then there are those—certain pop stars and athletes—who are too awk­ward even to make for unin­ten­tion­al humor. Some­times the show will choose a host for obvi­ous cul­tur­al or polit­i­cal rea­sons, whether or not that per­son has any sense of humor what­so­ev­er. Lorne Michaels even once con­sid­ered ask­ing noto­ri­ous­ly stiff then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney to host in 2012, a prospect that excit­ed no one except maybe Rom­ney.

Giv­en the show’s many ques­tion­able choic­es, it’s maybe not too sur­pris­ing that it would con­sid­er ask­ing an aca­d­e­m­ic to host. Some extro­vert­ed pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als, like Cor­nell West and Slavoj Zizeck, are nat­ur­al enter­tain­ers. But that they would think of Noam Chom­sky—known for his rum­pled sweaters and inci­sive, unspar­ing geopo­lit­i­cal analy­sis, deliv­ered in the dri­est monot­o­ne this side of Ben Stein’s Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off char­ac­ter—is, well, pret­ty odd.

It does make a lit­tle bit more sense con­sid­er­ing that they only asked Pro­fes­sor Chom­sky to play him­self on the show, not deliv­er a mono­logue or do imper­son­ations. Accord­ing to his assis­tant Bev Stohl, the show called some­time in the late 90s and told her that the “writ­ers had writ­ten a loose script for Noam. The only thing he need­ed to do was show up on the set and play it straight, answer­ing the ques­tions that were put to him. Sort of like, ‘I’m Noam Chom­sky, and I play myself on TV.’” Most­ly, writes Stohl on her blog, “I liked the idea of Noam appear­ing in main­stream media, some­thing that was just begin­ning to hap­pen in small ways in the 1990’s.”

And how did Chom­sky him­self feel about the request? It seems he was vague­ly famil­iar with the show and open to the idea. His wife, on the oth­er hand, was not. “After a brief exchange” with her, writes Crit­i­cal The­o­ry, “he informed Stohl that ‘Car­ol says no.’” We’ll nev­er know if we were “robbed of either the great­est SNL skit ever” or spared “anoth­er ter­ri­bly unfun­ny seg­ment,” but the ques­tion of whether Chom­sky can be fun­ny is still an open one. Matthew Alford at The Guardian writes that dur­ing the Q&A after a lec­ture he attend­ed, “Chom­sky was suc­cess­ful not only at con­vey­ing his rad­i­cal polit­i­cal mes­sage but also at rais­ing bel­ly laughs from the audi­ence with dark-laced, insight­ful humour about his pol­i­tics.” Alford says he mea­sured “a laugh every cou­ple of minutes—very high for a pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al but of course not close to the pro­fes­sion­al comic’s bench­mark of one gag every 20 sec­onds.” He offers some typ­i­cal Chom­sky-an one-lin­ers, such as:

“[The Bush administration’s] moral val­ues are very explic­it: shine the boots of the rich and pow­er­ful, kick every­one else in the face, and let your grand­chil­dren pay for it.”

“If you’ve resist­ed the temp­ta­tion to tell the teacher ‘you’re an ass­hole’ which maybe he or she is, and if you don’t say ‘that’s idi­ot­ic’ when you get a stu­pid assign­ment… you will end up at a good col­lege and even­tu­al­ly with a good job.”

And “It’s to the point where Ronald Rea­gan could put on his cow­boy boots and cow­boy hat and declare a nation­al emer­gency because the nation­al secu­ri­ty of the Unit­ed States was in dan­ger from the gov­ern­ment of Nicaragua… whose troops were two days from Texas.”

Above, you can catch a glimpse of the lighter side of Chom­sky.

via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky Went Gang­nam Style … Ever So Briefly?

Film­mak­er Michel Gondry Presents an Ani­mat­ed Con­ver­sa­tion with Noam Chom­sky

Noam Chom­sky Spells Out the Pur­pose of Edu­ca­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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