Tuesday 22 October 2019

In defence of Saoirse Ronan amid the caustic SNL 'Aer Lingus' sketch backlash

Let's all calm down for a moment...

Cecily Strong and Saoirse Ronan on Saturday Night Live
Cecily Strong and Saoirse Ronan on Saturday Night Live
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Saturday Night Live's all-Irish episode has caused a bit of a furore over here after its ill-judged Aer Lingus sketch, featuring Saoirse Ronan (and myriad random dogs). Allegations of racism and lazy stereotyping have been levelled at the writers while Saoirse is bearing the brunt of our collective ire for taking part. But maybe it's time to take a deep breath, step back and calm the hell down.

Granted, the sketch was appalling.  It saw Saoirse and Cecily Strong posing as Aer Lingus flight attendants in bottle green uniforms and bouffant hairstyles.  They made lame jokes about Aer Lingus sounding like 'cunnilingus' and there was lots of talk of potatoes and dogs, one of which appeared on the runway with 'sad eyes and the soul of Oscar Wilde'.  And everyone, including Saoirse, sounded a bit Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

It was embarrassing - for the writers of SNL more than Saoirse and more than Irish people.  The show, which has been running since 1975, is a bit hit and miss in recent years.  The Aer Lingus sketch was about as bad as it can get.  It was dire.  It was lazy.  It was criminally unfunny.  But that was its only crime. 

It had all the hallmarks of a sketch that was cobbled together at the last minute with an actress they had only just met.  Had Saoirse had any reservations about the quality of the script she with which she was presented she may not have been in a position to question it, or felt she could.  There may not have been time for rewrites.  If she's guilty of anything it's probably of being too obliging.  And that's a national failing.

Cecily Strong and Saoirse Ronan on Saturday Night Live
Cecily Strong and Saoirse Ronan on Saturday Night Live

It was a two minute sketch in a show which also featured Saoirse in a funny video schooling Americans on how to pronounce her name.  It wasn't fresh - we've seen her do this before - but it was funny.  Ditto the sexual assault in the entertainment industry sketch.  Outside of Saoirse, U2 were the musical guests and they were, as usual, fab.

Outside of her work, Saoirse seems like a genuinely warm, approachable young woman with a fairly playful sense of humour. She took the Mick out of pal Ed Sheeran earlier this year by getting a tattoo artist to etch 'Galway Grill' on his arm instead of 'Galway Girl'. Earlier this week she appeared in a video for Popsugar in which she attempted to pronounce the difficult names of fellow stars and she was gas.

What could go wrong on a comedy show?  It's a comedy show with a long history and being asked to host it is something of an honour.  Just this year stars including Gal Gadot and Ryan Gosling have taken the reins and previous hosts have included James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe and many, many more in its 42 years.  Does anyone say 'no' to SNL?  Probably not.

Saoirse has earned her place amongst these top stars of Hollywood.  Nobody can argue the Carlow woman's credentials.  She is a superb actress who has two Oscar nominations under her belt at the age of 23, and possibly another if the reviews of her performance in Lady Bird are to be believed.  She chooses her film roles very carefully.  But when you hand yourself over to the SNL gods, your fate lies in their hands.  The fault for the sketch lies firmly at their feet, not Saoirse's.

Saoirse Ronan hits turbulence as 'not funny' Aer Lingus SNL skit nosedives Andrea Smith: 'Some of us are deeply disappointed at one of our own brightest stars reinforcing stereotypes that are outdated and insulting'

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