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James Martin, S.J.May 10, 2010

Wait, you didn't see Betty White, the 88-year-old actress and comedian, hosting Saturday Night Live?  Then, pray, get thee to Hulu.  Or rather, just check out her SNL monologue above.  (Fast forward through the Lawrence Welk spot to 5:00 on this clip.)  Doubtless you've heard about the Facebook campaign that prompted producer Lorne Michaels to invite her on the show (Michaels had done so three times before, in the 1970s, 80s and 90s to no avail.)  As comedians say, she killed.  Bringing 60 years of show-biz chops to SNL, Betty White showed viewers (and cast members) why she's been in demand ever since her first TV show...in 1952. 

Still, what accounts for her amazing popularity?  What makes her so beloved that Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch and Molly Shannon would return to team with her on Saturday Night (and, clearly, write a few of her skits). 

A few suggestions:

1.) We respect anyone who has survived for so long, not gone nuts, and has kept her dignity more or less intact.  For Pete sakes, Entertainment Weekly ran a photo of her hosting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1965 with Lorne Greene.

2.) It's hard to hear the name "Betty White" and not think of a time when the country was a gentler place.  "Betty" is not going to go postal on you. 

3.) Sue Ann Nivens, the nymphomaniac cooking host, was the best part of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."  It reminds us of laughing in the 1970s.

4.) Rose Nylund, the relatively clueless senior citizen, was the best part of "Golden Girls."  It reminds us of laughing in the 1990s.

5.) She's game enough to go along with the inevitable old-people jokes (as in her Snickers Superbowl ad) and canny enough to know just how risque an old lady can go (cf: "The Proposal" and the offshoot "Funny or Die" video in which she says sweetly, "When Betty White says she wants a cup of coffee..." well, check it out here.)

6.) Her flutey, homey, grandmotherly voice, more suited to offering Snickerdoodles to grandkids, makes her salty language even more surprising.

7.) It's nice to know that Facebook is doing some good. 

8.) She doesn't seem to care what people think of her, and has apparently retained at least a modicum of humility.  "I'm so sick of the words "Betty White'," she said recently.

9.) She seems to enjoy herself, despite what must be (I assume) some physical limitations.

10.) Oh, one more thing: she's funny.

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Leo Zanchettin
11 years 7 months ago
I think Betty White's popularity strikes more deeply than her obvious talent. Her charm lies in her subversive power as well. She looks out at us with those sweet, twinkling eyes and that cotton-ball hairdo and tells us, ''Yep, I'm cute as a button, but salty as a sailor too.'' She tells us something we all know but are not always willing to admit-that somewhere deep down, we are all dirty old men and dirty old women, regardless of our biological age. We present an innocent front, but we know that something more sinister, more visceral, lurks within. Betty does us the favor of drawing back the curtain with such girlish charm, and gives us a few moments of vicarious release.
When George Burns or Groucho Marx did it, we dismissed it far more readily because they were, well, dirty old men. But when Betty does it, we go along for the ride because not only is she a woman but she's just so gosh-darned cute. She tells us that it's okay to have these little demons inside of us, so long as we keep them under control. And we do that by laughing at them together.
A patron saint for Betty? Probably Philip Neri. Definitely not Augustine!
11 years 7 months ago
OMG, I missed the show, thanks for sharing. Muffins! lol, only on SNL and brought to us by America. Thank you! How could anyone imagine this was crude???  
Michael Liddy
11 years 6 months ago
Ok. That was rude for taking off my comment but I will write it again. Fr. Martin - the SNL Bettie White show was not humorous - it was "let's make an old lady say bad words, dirty words, get her involved in sex jokes, including masturbation and incest, etc." How is that funny? Where do you draw the line?

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