Monday, December 15, 2008

Gov. Paterson's office criticizes SNL skit

From The New York Times Dec. 14, and blindness organizations complained about the portrayal in a Dec. 15 AP story.

Gov. David A. Paterson’s office criticized a skit on this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” in which Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, was portrayed as disoriented and buffoonlike.

The governor’s communications director, Risa B. Heller, said on Dec. 14 that the skit amounted to nothing more than cheap ridicule — a surprisingly strong reaction considering that the governor is well known for making light of his vision problems.

“The governor engages in humor all the time, and he can certainly take a joke,” Ms. Heller said in a statement. “However, this particular ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit unfortunately chose to ridicule people with physical disabilities and imply that disabled people are incapable of having jobs with serious responsibilities.

“The governor is sure that ‘Saturday Night Live’ with all of its talent can find a way to be funny without being offensive,” Ms. Heller added.

In the skit, which appeared on the “Weekend Update” portion of the show on NBC,
Fred Armisen (pictured) portrayed a bumbling, lispy Mr. Paterson who referred repeatedly to cocaine use and compared his path to the governor’s office to “an actual plot from a Richard Pryor movie.”

Mr. Armisen, wearing a fake salt-and-pepper beard and a three-button suit similar to ones Mr. Paterson frequently wears, mocked the governor’s blindness throughout the four-minute segment. For most of the skit, he squinted his right eye closed and looked askance with his left eye.

The governor can see nothing out of his left eye and barely enough out of his right eye to make out large objects and see colors, he has said.

Rebecca Marks, a spokeswoman for NBC, said on Sunday night that the network was unable to locate anyone to comment on the skit.

Mr. Armisen first appears rolling his chair around aimlessly behind the newscasters’ desk. A “Weekend Update” host, Seth Meyers, then reaches out to steady Mr. Armisen and points his chair toward the camera.

“So have you heard about this guy Blagojevich? Boy, this guy is a real criminal,” Mr. Armisen says, to which Mr. Meyers responds that Mr. Paterson himself has confessed to wrongdoing — a reference to the governor’s admissions of past cocaine use and marital infidelity. Mr. Armisen then says: “But my crimes were merely crimes of the heart. And drug crimes.”

And at one point, while referring to Mr. Paterson’s decision about whom to choose to fill the Senate seat that Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to vacate, Mr. Armisen declares, “I’m tired of all these fancy two-eyed smart alecks from the big city running the show,” alluding to the governor’s reported interest in appointing somebody from
upstate. The appointee doesn’t have to be blind, Mr. Armisen says, maybe “someone with a gamey arm, or maybe giant gums with the tiny teeth.”

At another point in the skit, he holds a chart, representing the unemployment rate, upside down. After Mr. Armisen leaves the desk — he first tries to shake Mr. Meyers’s hand but misses — he reappears on screen talking on his cellphone.

“Did you see me on TV?” he says, standing directly in the camera’s path, obscuring its shot.

Mr. Paterson is known for a having an irreverent sense of humor that is cheekier than most politicians would dare. And he has spoken at length about developing an ability to tell jokes at a young age as a way of making him seem more normal to his peers, who sometimes ridiculed him for not being able to see.

“I think people who have a good sense of humor do have in them a little bit of loneliness,” he said in an interview this summer. “When I was younger, I was certainly that way. So I think I used humor to entertain myself. That was my way of enjoying time, my way of finding the frivolity in situations.”

Speaking to reporters on Sunday night at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he was addressing a group from Yeshiva University, the governor was somewhat circumspect about the skit and avoided mentioning it directly. When asked if it had offended him, he kept any anger or embarrassment in check and deflected the question with an answer about high unemployment among the disabled.

“There is only one way that people could have an unemployment rate that’s six times the national average — it’s attitude,” he said. “And I’m afraid that the kind of third-grade depiction of individuals and the way they look and the way they move add to that negative environment.”

“I run the place that I work in so I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against, I think,” he said. “But the point is that a lot of people who don’t get promotions and don’t get opportunities and don’t even get work are disabled in our society.”