According to Descartes, the emotions of joy, hatred, and wonder play a major role in laughter. He points out that the feeling of joy only leads to laughter when it is “moderate and has some wonder or hate mingled with it” (Descartes 22). His theory reminded me of an SNL comedy routine, in which Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon preform as Trump and Clinton in a town hall debate. In the routine, it is evident that an element of wonder in union with the elements of hatred and joy creates a humorous situation.
A layer truth plays a major role in this SNL skit, but it is worth noting that truth alone would not evoke laughter from an audience. It is truth combined with criticism and surprise that makes the mock debate humorous. The skit clearly makes fun of the ways in which Trump and Hilary communicate their points during a debate. Trump is notorious for being blunt and overusing hand gestures and Clinton is known for being robotic and scripted. The skit hones in on these small details and exaggerates them. When Clinton is answering a question from the audience she marches forward saying “let me start by walking over to you just as I practiced, right, left, right, left, plant, speak.” While the fact that Clinton is robotic is a relatively minute detail, it is emphasized to ridicule her entire persona.
The humor of the skit rests largely on the audience’s belief that she is non-genuine and their subsequent hatred for her. While it doesn’t seem like hatred and humor add up, Descartes discusses how hatred functions with joy and wonder to produce laughter. He explains that scorn is a combination of joy and hatred, in which the audience perceives “some small evil in a person whom we consider to be deserving of it; and when that comes upon us unexpectedly, the surprise of wonder is the cause of our bursting into laughter” (Descartes 24). In this case the audience perceives an evil in Hilary, so they are joyful when she faces derision, and they laugh when they are surprised that her flaws are exaggerated and mocked.
A few minutes later in the skit, Bill Clinton’s affair is brought up by Trump when he says his past sexual assaults are “nothing compared to what Bill Clinton has done. Okay? And Martha, Anderson, hold on to your nips and your nuts, because four of these women are here tonight.” Clinton’s marriage failure is brought up to not only criticize her, but to ridicule her and the audience laughs because they believe that she deserves it.
At the same time, SNL is cleverly redirecting the audience’s laughter toward Trump. Hilary gives an expected response: “who’s here? Mistresses?... How will I go on with the debate? I will never be able to remember my facts and figures!... Get real, I made a steal. This is nothing. Hi girls!” her response is not only surprising, it redirects the laughter toward Trump to restore the balance of ridicule. Trump responds “Martha, she is trying to silence these women, but they need to be heard” then Martha says “what about the women accusing you of sexual assault?” and Trump responds “They need to shut the hell up.” SNL equally ridicules both Trump and Hilary to keep a balance. This balance is discussed by Descartes as necessary for keeping the laughter rolling. He makes it clear that “this evil must be small, for if it is great we cannot believe that he who has it is deserving of it” (Descartes 24). The ridicule of Trump and Hilary is not too large and it is limited by simultaneous ridiculing of the other.