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Late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” parodied the testimony of Harvard President Claudine Gay in its cold open sketch Saturday, as well as the remarks of the two other university presidents at Tuesday’s congressional hearing on campus antisemitism.
In the sketch, actors mocked what critics described as the presidents’ overly academic and indirect responses as well as the aggressive questioning they faced from committee members — in particular Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.).
Asked whether antisemitic language from students was acceptable, the actress Ego Nwodim, playing Gay, replied, “On this subject, I would like to speak not from the heart, but from the thesaurus.” She went on to call such speech “vis-a-vis me, repugnant.”
At one point, actress Chloe Troast, playing Stefanik, asked Gay with exasperation, “Oh my God, can you take a moral stance on anything?”
Later in the skit, Bowen Yang, playing Rep. Mark A. Takano ’83 (D-Calif.), asked Gay — as part of a series of questions on the limitations of free speech — how she would respond if “someone on campus yelled, ‘I poisoned the water supply.’”
“If they poisoned it with diversity, that could be wonderful,” Nwodim answered as Gay.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.
As of Sunday night, the clip on YouTube had received more than 1 million views.
The SNL writers’ room includes three graduates of the College — Erik J. Kenward ’99, Colin K. Jost ’04, and Ben A. Silva ’14 — all of whom belonged to a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine. The three writers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saturday’s sketch came amid backlash to Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce concerning antisemitism on college campuses.
After the hearing, more than 70 lawmakers called for Gay to step down in a bipartisan letter to the University’s governing board members. On Sunday, however, more than 500 faculty members signed a letter urging the University’s top governing board to reject such calls.
Gay apologized for her remarks at the congressional hearing in an interview with The Crimson Thursday, explaining that she “got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures.”
“I am sorry,” Gay said. “Words matter.”
Harvard affiliates varied in their opinions of the SNL parody and its portrayal of the hearing.
Economics professor Jason Furman ’92 wrote in an email Sunday that though he has not seen the video of the sketch himself, “no one on Twitter seems to like it.”
Jack Griffin ’25, who is involved in comedy at the College, said the sketch was not “the funniest skit in the world” as it lacked comedic escalation and seemed meandering.
“If you’re bringing up a controversial issue, you gotta have a good punch line,” Griffin said, though he added that he found some of the one-liners amusing.
Alessandro M.M. Drake ’26, a Crimson Arts editor, said the skit captured “how unable all the presidents were to give honestly pretty simple answers.”
“I think they nailed what the absurdity was, the indirectness of the questions, the crazy insistence of the questioning, and how intense that whole thing was,” Drake said. “I’d say it was pretty fair.”
—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jackrtrapanick.
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