Comedy requires truth to be effective. Cecily Strong understands this.
The longtime “Saturday Night Live” cast member proved it during a recent segment on the storied NBC program’s “Weekend Update” section, which mimics an evening news broadcast. She appeared as a fictional talking head named Goober the Clown to discuss abortion.
Specifically, hers. “I had an abortion before my 23rd birthday,” she said, while squirting fellow cast member and head writer Colin Jost in the face with a flower clipped to her outfit’s lapel. He joked that she appeared to want to discuss the procedure, to which she responded, “Well actually, I really don’t. But people keep bringing it up, so I gotta keep talking about freakin’ abortion!”
“I wish I didn’t have to do this, because the abortion I had at 23 is my personal clown business,” Strong added, while trying — and failing — to make a balloon animal. “But that’s all some people in this country want to discuss, all the time, even though clown abortion was legalized in Clown v. Wade in 1973.”
The sketch aired days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding SB 8, an especially prohibitive new Texas law which essentially bans abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy and deputizes residents to turn in citizens who receive, administer or otherwise help with the procedure. It was the latest in a stream of statewide measures signed into law throughout the U.S. that have sought to significantly inhibit abortion access.
Whole Woman’s Health, the abortion clinic arguing against the measure before the Supreme Court, says that “the impact of the last two months [since SB 8 was enacted] cannot be overstated.” In a statement, president and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said that “Whole Woman’s Health staff and doctors have been forced to deny abortion care to people who come to us for care we are skilled and trained to provide. Our staff have been forced to turn away patients who are their neighbors in their own communities. And Texans have been forced to remain pregnant against their will or to leave the state to get care that Whole Woman’s Health should be able to provide right here at home.”
Strong’s intent, it seemed, was to humanize the subject in a new way. To that aim, her character spent much of her segment toggling between highlighting facts regarding how common the procedure is, noting that one needn’t have become pregnant by way of an attack to merit having an abortion, and sharing anecdotes regarding the relief she’s felt over the years hearing from those who have also had abortions — all while continually using the word “clown” as a substitute for women and others who need abortions.
It proved especially effective when spotlighting the life-and-death nature of abortion access, as she cautioned Americans against a return to people seeking out dangerous, unregulated procedures that would harm or kill them — resulting in, as she put it, “a bunch of clowns in a dark alley.”
Strong’s sketch was more than just a commentary on the importance of safe, legal access to the medical procedure, though. It also took on our continued discomfort around discussing abortion on a societal level, even as such prohibitive legislation is debated and often enacted. She exemplified this by calling out the ridiculous nature of having to dress like a clown to make the subject “more palatable” to viewers — before making her bowtie spin in rapid circles.
Her truth, she said — in a high-pitched voice after sucking helium out of a balloon — is that “I wouldn’t be a clown on TV here today if it weren’t for the abortion I had the day before my 23rd birthday.”
Not all viewers will agree with her sentiments. But as a clown speaking on behalf of other clowns, she makes an undeniably powerful statement.