Opinion: I still can't stop watching Cecily Strong's clown sketch

12November 2021

After watching and re-watching the now-legendary segment from Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” that aired last weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about that line from Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns.” The song is from “A Little Night Music,” and is sung by a character who, as Sondheim reportedly said in an interview, “is too upset and too angry to speak.”
Judy Gold
Comedian Cecily Strong, on the other hand, can speak loud and clear. When Strong, 37, playing Goober the Clown, appeared — talking about Goober’s clown abortion — she was really sharing a story about herself on live TV, one that (as she posted to her Instagram stories) she didn’t tell her mother for years.
“You don’t have to do this, Cecily,” said SNL cast member Colin Jost at one point during the sketch, which aired in response to the Supreme Court hearing arguments about a deeply restrictive abortion law in Texas. “Who’s Cecily?” she fired back. “I’m Goober. And I wish I didn’t have to do this because the abortion I had at 23 is my own personal clown business, but that’s all some people in this country want to discuss all the time.”
Abortion is a difficult subject and, as Goober explained, it helps to use “fun clown stuff to make it more palatable.” That’s what great comedians have been doing since the beginning of time. That’s why I can’t — I really can’t — stop watching this sketch. As long we live in a country where abortion is judged and restricted, I’ll keep pressing play.
It didn't go well for Texas at the Supreme Court
Of course, there were anti-choice critics who were quick to voice their outrage. They claimed that there’s nothing funny about abortion. Really? Well, at least we can all agree about that! The laughs did not come from talking about any part of the procedure. The humor came Goober’s/Cecily’s ability to use the phrase “clown abortion” to call attention to an environment that makes it practically impossible for women tell their abortion stories without stigma. Don’t let my glad expression give you the wrong impression.
Some opined that the bit was too absurd. But it had to be: How else could she point out the absurd lengths that the Texas legislature (and other states) have taken to deprive women of their constitutional right?
The best part of Goober the Clown was that she got people to listen. More than that, she got people to open up and talk. She started a dialogue and that’s the point of comedy, folks.
When you think about it, only a clown could have delivered this message. Clowns, though some are creepy, are non-threatening. They are non-sexual. They’re not real. Clowns are simple and uncomplicated, so who better to uncomplicate this issue than Goober.
Let’s face it, there’s no way Strong could have told her story through the lens of any of her other brilliant characters. The girl you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party? Too annoying and inarticulate. Cathy Anne? Too wasted and distracted to make a cogent argument. Jeanine Pirro? I’ll leave that one alone.
And it is clear that Strong talking about it as herself wouldn’t have been funny, because as we have already established, abortion is not funny to real women — especially to the millions who have made the very difficult choice to have one.
If it’s true what Cole Porter wrote, “Be a clown, be a clown, all the world loves a clown,” then maybe we should use clowns to give a voice to other women whose stories we don’t feel comfortable talking about. Think about it. Rufie the Date Rape Clown. Boobie the Breast Cancer Clown. Reese the Restraining Order Clown. Shari the Sharia Law Clown. Melanie the Menopause Clown. Penny the Gender Pay Gap Clown who only makes 80 cents for every dollar Bozo makes.
Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns.

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