Where’s the funny?

Saturday Night Live is off to a bad start this season. Not that last season or the one before that were much better.

Saturday Night Live is off to a bad start this season. Not that last season or the one before that were much better.

The funny has just been lacking lately, replaced by easy punch lines and dumb-funny skits with one-note jokes. Sure, sketch comedy shows can’t be “on” all the time, and SNL has gone through plenty of ups and downs in its 35 years on the air. But the rut it has been in lately is pretty deep.

What’s the problem?

The way sketch comedians come and go from SNL in small numbers (one or two rotating out every season), there is always a core group of seasoned regulars on the show. Right now, that includes the incomparable Kirsten Wigg, Obama-aping Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, master of impressions.

These three cast members in particular are showing up all over the place, getting gigs in big-screen comedies and guest starring elsewhere on TV. Wigg recently appeared in Adventureland and Whip It!, Hader in Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Armisen in episodes of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation.

So, not only is the cast full of talent, they are showing that talent off. Just not on Saturday night.

The weakest links in the cast are Kenan Thompson and Will Forte, both of whom lack versatility. Neither seems to be able to manipulate his voice or look enough like the people he is attempting to impersonate. Of course, these two are not the complete downfall of SNL. Thompson actually does a delightful Bill Cosby or Whoopi Goldberg, and Forte can always play a creep, if need be.

So, how have the hosts been?

Last week’s host, Drew Barrymore, was a champ, appearing in a number of skits and even trying on a Sharon Osbourne impression (which didn’t touch former cast member Amy Poehler’s take on the screeching wife). She gets major kudos for that, since hosts Ryan Reynolds and Megan Fox, in the weeks prior, were put to little use.

Even so, the guests aren’t the problem. SNL will never struggle to find A-list celebrities because the show, even in a slump, is still the ultimate promotion machine. The same goes for musical guests. U2, pop star anomaly Lady Gaga and Regina Spektor have all graced the SNL stage this season.

Since most of the hosts are actors, even if their skills are limited (ahem, Fox), the writers should be able to play their strengths, just like they should with the cast members. Lately, they haven’t been doing that.

It seems the problem is with the writers.

If an average of two skits in a whole episode genuinely make you laugh, who should take the blame? Not the cast member who does a hilarious Joe Biden (Jason Sudeikis), but the writers who don’t give that Biden anything funny to say.

This is a call to action for Seth Meyers, “Weekend Update” anchor and head writer of the show. Meyers: Did you learn nothing from your predecessor? Since previous head writer Tina Fey moved on from SNL several years ago, her show 30 Rock is the funniest thing on TV.

Fey finds humor in unexpected places—sometimes in the everyday, sometimes the absurd—not in harping on about the poor economy in underwritten opening sketches, which are supposed to set the tone for the whole show, or the completely unwarranted mocking of poet Maya Angelou (because rhyming is so hilarious?). Things like that aren’t clever, just easy.

SNL watchers are faithful. 35 years on the tube is no small feat. But if the show can’t make us laugh anymore, we might finally stop tuning into it.