The Joker movie is both creating controversy and busting the October box office. Yet, something isn’t really part of the cultural zeitgeist unless Saturday Night Live does a parody of it. Well, SNL’s Joker parody Grouch casts Stranger Things’ David Harbour as a tortured man who decides to paint himself green and live in a trash can. A pitch-perfect parody of Joker, SNL’s Grouch uses many of the same New York City locations used in the film. We see Harbour’s Oscar dancing on the staircase from the film. A frighteningly realistic Ernie and Bert are mugged in an alley that also was featured in the film. They even get the sets for Joker’s apartment and social worker’s office so right that you have to wonder if they didn’t film this alongside the movie.
Is It Just Us or Does Grouch Actually Look Interesting?
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SNL can be hit-or-miss when it comes to their sketches. The nature of developing a 90-minute original comedy show each week means that not every bit will be a winner. Yet, Grouch is kind of a masterpiece. Like Joker, they take familiar characters and place them in a different setting, playing both on nostalgia and the cinematic style of the Todd Phillips’ film. Beloved Muppets like Prairie Dawn, Big Bird, and Mr. Snuffleupagus appear, respectively, as sex workers and a pimp. Guy Smiley, Sesame Street’s resident newscaster, also makes an appearance reporting from ABCDEFG News. Cookie Monster, naturally, is homeless and hungry. On its face it’s all very silly and makes for great humor. But SNL’s Grouch parody may go a little deeper in satirizing what people love about Joker.
Perhaps it is a credit to Harbour’s commitment to the bit, but his very grouchy take on Oscar feels tonally similar to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Joker. Both are guys both disgusted and ostracized by society. Yet, instead of going on a killing spree, Oscar just paints his face green and climbs inside a trash can. What this suggests is that you can take any nostalgic property, shoot it in a muted color palette, and it feels like the kind of despair-laden cinema that directors like Martin Scorsese like better than Marvel Movies. The eerie string arrangement scoring the fake trailer sounds a lot like the Joker score, until you realize it’s the Sesame Street theme song.
This also says something about our desire to take whimsical, hopeful stories and make them “gritty” and “dark” in the name of making them “high art.” But, it’s also hysterically funny.
Watch SNL’s Joker parody, Grouch below!
What do you think? Does SNL’s Joker parody make Oscar the Grouch seem like the anti-hero we deserve? Share your reactions to it or the Joker in the comments below.
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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.