‘Saturday Night Live’s ‘Serial’ Parody Made the Podcast a Hit
Because America will never be in short supply of horrific murders, yet another Serial-produced podcast was recently released online, allowing people everywhere to enjoy more grisly detail-filled discussions of a brutal tragedy while doing their dishes or driving to Costco.
Of course, no Serial podcast has quite captured the zeitgeist like the original season, which recounted the case of Adnan Syed, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in 1999.
Weirdly, this decidedly serious podcast received a major boost thanks to the same show that gave us the Coneheads and 50-year-old Sally O’Malley. In December 2014, just months after Serial debuted, Saturday Night Live aired “Serial: The Christmas Surprise,” a parody of the podcast featuring Cecily Strong, memorably showcasing her pitch-perfect impression of host Sarah Koenig as she conducts an investigation into the mystery of Santa Claus.
Serial was already a hit podcast, but being featured on SNL was a whole other strata of cultural relevance for the series and podcasting in general. Producer Julie Snyder called the sketch “shocking,” stating that it seemed “really niche for Saturday Night Live,” adding, “I can only imagine like five percent of their audience just got that one.” Yeah, even the creators of Serial didn’t realize how big their show was before it showed up in a sketch featuring Kris Kringle and Amy Adams.
Clearly, Serial’s popularity didn’t begin with SNL, but the parody was irrefutable proof of the show’s mainstream impact. This was a big deal. Keep in mind that, back then, podcasting wasn’t what it is today. Reportedly the “number of monthly podcast listeners in America" nearly doubled between 2014 and 2019. Serial being parodied on SNL, as if it were a Hollywood movie or a network TV show, was a major boon for the format. After the sketch illustrated Serial’s pop-culture “clout,” people were reportedly “scrambling to up their investment in” narrative podcasting as a result.
But the sketch wasn’t without some controversy. Snyder claimed that Koenig found the parody “a little cringey” considering it was essentially poking fun at a “really sensitive case.” She makes a good point: SNL didn’t just transpose the Serial format onto an entirely fresh story; they incorporated elements from the real-life Syed case — which, again, involved the murder of a high school student — into a comedy bit about magical elves. The “Kris” character clearly patterned his speech after Syed’s phone calls with Koenig, and “Jingle” the elf was unquestionably a stand-in for Jay Wilds, the key witness in Syed’s trial.
But other than Koenig’s reservations, SNL seemingly skated by with no real blowback — although we can say the same for Best Buy’s social media guy.
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