Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

A Critique of SNL’s Recent “Ladies Billiards” Skit: “Tampax to the Max Tournament of Champions”

October 13th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Heather Dillaway, Wayne State University



Trying to find a reason to stay up late this past Saturday night, I found myself watching Saturday Night Live for a few minutes. Unfortunately I tuned in right before a skit called “Tampax to the Max,” a skit within which two male SNL actors played sports announcers for a “Ladies’ Billiards” competition. Drew Barrymore and SNL’s Kristen Wiig played the two billiards players, but the skit wasn’t really about the billiards tournament at all. The skit was written specifically to highlight Tampax as a sponsor of the billiards event and, therefore, the skit was filled with superfluous tampon jokes and random interjections of the word “Tampax” (which, of course, brought the most laughs for the skit). Putting all other comments aside about the perpetuation of gender inequality in sports as well as all of my feelings about how ridiculous Drew Barrymore and her SNL counterpart (Kristen Wiig) were made to look in this skit, I think that we cannot just sit by and let this skit air without commenting about the place of menstrual products (and, by default, menstruation itself) within it. On one hand, this skit was simply a way for some SNL writer to air some really bad Tampax jokes and allow male actors on SNL to get a chance to say “Tampax” as many times as they could within one skit. In this context, perhaps some could characterize this skit as harmless. Yet, on the other hand, menstruation and women’s activities surrounding menstruation become a complete joke in this skit as a result. The inferences made about the connections between menstrual products and women’s sports are strange (Is Tampax what everyone thinks about when they watch women’s sports events? And are the sponsors more important than the actual sports event, if it is a female sports event? And is it more fun to think about women’s menstruation than to watch women compete?).  The fact that the billiard players’ place within the skit becomes shadowed by their menstrual products is maddening, however. The skit makes clear that women’s involvement in billiards (perhaps sports in general?) is unimportant but their use of menstrual products is much more interesting to men…

While I understand that SNL makes light of all different kinds of bodily processes (and that IS funny at times), the underlying equations of women with their reproductive processes and the laughs gotten from the pure mention of Tampax in this skit are disturbing. As I watched this skit, I couldn’t help thinking about why we haven’t moved on from laughing about menstruation and menstrual products.  As we all know, jokes often let us know exactly how unequal the world is and, in my opinion, letting male SNL actors just get a chance to make some random Tampax jokes in a skit is not doing women or reproduction or menstruation any good at all. Does menstruation become any more positive or any more well understood because of this skit? I don’t think so. I was offended by this skit, and would be interested to hear if I was the only one who was….

15 responses to “A Critique of SNL’s Recent “Ladies Billiards” Skit: “Tampax to the Max Tournament of Champions””

  1. Giovanna Chesler says:

    What I find compelling and problematic about this skit, aside from the lousy writing and tired jokes, are the critiques of female athletics and the stereotypical and degrading images of butch lesbians. These billiards players barely know how to hold their sticks aside from positioning them as a phallus during their introductions! And the announcers set to support and comment on the game at hand are utter dimwits, adding emphasis to the misnomer that women’s athletics deserves little attention.

    In thinking this bit through though, I had to consider NBC’s Sunday Night Wrap Up of NFL activity brought to you by Viagra! In too-good-to-be-true-but-it-is form “Viagra,” the sponsor, must be slipped into the commentary throughout the broadcast. Its logo frames the re-cap of football’s uber-masculine action. In this light, the SNL Tampax skit critiques the sponsorship of male sporting events more than it does female athletics.

    Which leaves us with your point, Heather; this is dusty writing. Bone up on your menstrual humor, people! You have some catching up to do.

  2. Greg says:

    Wow man, get over it. It’s a joke and if you don’t like something on TV the best thing you can do is turn the channel. Judging by the response that skit got, I’d say it was better than you gave it credit. Don’t read too deep into a skit performed on late night TV or you’ll continue to live a sad depressed life. Must suck to be as “deeply intellectual” as you that you huh…

  3. Pete Twinkle says:

    I agree with Greg.. Best color man in the biz right there, Greg Stink…. And speaking of best in the biz…

  4. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Of course I can change the channel – or even turn off the TV – when I see something I don’t like. Believe me, boys, I do so rather frequently. But how do I get EVERYONE ELSE to turn off the TV if I don’t share my analysis?

    And, yes, the intellectual life has its challenges. But it sure beats a brainless life.

  5. Pete Twinkle says:

    Well Elizabeth, I want to try to help you out here.. This may be a new concept for you wrap your intellectual mind around, after all, we are just two dumb old, brainless men.. But have you ever considered not worrying about what everyone has on their television sets?? I mean, I can only speak for myself and maybe my colleague, Greg up there, but I know I sure as hell didn’t spend a whole bunch of my hard earned dollars on a television set to have someone tell me what I can and can’t watch on it.. Of course you’re welcome to freely speak your mind about whatever you feel like, hell, that’s what this country is all about.. AND the fine people over at SNL are allowed to speak their minds on what they believe to be comical.. Albeit they hold a larger forum than we can command, but I haven’t come across one your threads blasting SNL’s parodies on erectile disfunction commercials, or adult diapers yet eiter…

    The whole point behind Saturday Night Live is that it’s a satirical show.. It doesn’t try to be anything else.. It’s not like this is a sports program that tries to make it’s audience laugh.. It’s a comedy program that uses many avenues of satire to achieve an ultimate goal of jovial satisfaction.. And in this day in age in order to achieve that, the program has to be willing to create a subject out of controversial topics.. Sure they could have minimized the tampon punchline throughout the skit, and made billiards be the actual main subject, but when they do that, they become ESPN instead what they actually are — A COMEDY ROUTINE…

    SNL doesn’t put up a disclaimer at the beginning of each show telling us that every single person in America will enjoy every single skit on the show.. And they don’t do that for a reason, because they know that not everyone will enjoy every skit… And you know what, that’s okay, because it’s not the job of Saturday Night Live to keep you perfectly content for every Saturday night of your life..

    Take Greg’s advice, change the channel, and quit trying to stuff your ideals down the throats of all of us who don’t want to share them with you… It’s a five minute spoof on one of the most admittedly non-serious staples of American culture.. LET IT GO…

  6. Giovanna Chesler says:

    Invigoration for some comes through analysis of pop-culture and through the interrogation of the resonant impact of jokes on public consciousness. No amount of “get over it” will stop those of us interested in exposing connections between taboo, humor, shame and fear. Indeed, “get over it” statements suggest a fear of the unknown and acknowledge the potential power in an answer. By asking questions of humor (in this case, menstrual humor and the jokes that keep cycling back) and by examining the root of these (terrible) jokes, we work to avoid the brunt of them for many more years to come. Through analysis one works to diminish the power of a joke broadcast to hundreds of thousands of viewers.

    With “change the channel” comes the obvious retort – stop reading the blog. If it annoys you so and if you find no value in it, move on. However, if it has engaged you enough to respond at such length, perhaps there’s something of value here for you, even if you do not yet understand it.

  7. Chris Hitchcock says:

    Pete Twinkle says: “quit trying to stuff your ideals down the throats of all of us who don’t want to share them”

    Pete, have you noticed that this is the blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research? That might have something to do with why we’re not talking about erectile dysfunction or adult diapers. Your patronizing comments are way out of line. If you read the initial blog post, you’d notice that it was an analysis of the SNL skit, described discomfort and worked to understand it. It didn’t suggest that people campaign to change the skit, or protest, or anything, just looked at it, assessed personal reactions, and came to a conclusion about it.

    “Many a true word is spoken in jest.” There is a long tradition of feminists speaking out about the subtext of humour, and, as you say, SNL has a huge following, so when the writers think that just mentioning Tampax can get a laugh (and they’re right), it does seem worth noticing, thinking about, and maybe even writing a blog.

    I’d suggest, Pete, that you stop trying to shove *your* ideals down our throats. If you’re not interested in commentary about popular media articles about menstruation, then you’re probably not interested in Re:Cycling. And that’s ok.

  8. Pete Twinkle says:

    You know what, you’re absolutely right… See you guys in the funny papers..

  9. Heather Dillaway says:

    Well, as I read this, I am reminded of so many other conversations I’ve been in about things like this. In some ways, things never change. The key is trying to understand what it is like to have something about you defined FOR YOU. It is difficult to understand menstruation and the effects of jokes about menstruation if it is not your experience in the first place, so on some level I can understand these comments. Likewise, I could never understand a bodily experience that a man might have in full, as much as I might try. I could comment on it, but I think I might spend more time thinking about it before I commented. But, to give you a parallel to think about, so that you might be able latch on to the reason why this blog might be so important: Think about the one thing that you’ve been taught to hide about your body, that you’ve been taught to hide all of your life. There has to be something about your body that you’ve been taught to be embarassed about in your life time. Maybe that’s acne, warts, a birth mark, a not-so-shapely body part, an excessive gas problem in public, a disability, an invisible health problem like arthritis or migraines or depression, balding, etc. This list could go on and on and we’ve all had bodily things that we have had to hide at times. These things are defined negatively by others besides ourselves, and then joked about sometimes. For some groups (women, for instance), these jokes can occur more frequently. As much as we want to laugh along with everyone, these jokes hurt a little bit too. Then imagine that a natural bodily process that you have (like menstruation or erectile problems, for instance) is defined negatively by others and you don’t think it’s as negative as other people do. What do you do? You can stand idly by and just let everyone joke and say, sure, it’s just SNL humor. Or, you can react. You don’t have to be an intellectual to realize that jokes are sometimes part of the problem and that jokes can perpetuate things that maybe should not be perpetuated. And sometimes when we don’t experience something for ourselves, we forget that we can’t understand it as well as the person actually experiencing it. Men know a lot about menstruation, and can contribute to the conversation about it for sure, but maybe they can’t understand the extent to which a joke about menstruation might perpetuate gender inequality. It is important to talk about the downsides of jokes specifically because not everyone might understand why a joke might be damaging. I’m not always an advocate for political correctness, but I’m also not an advocate of continuing the status quo and continuing to think about menstruation as just a negative thing. So, I’d just ask that you please remember to think about who you are and why you’re reacting a certain way to this blog. Think about why you have such a strong reaction to this particular post. Think about the parallel experiences you might have, that might incite the same feelings in you. It’s not that I don’t think SNL isn’t funny. I DO think it is funny, and I watch it fairly frequently and laugh. But I get frustrated when I see things that perpetuate my own gender inequalities and negative definitions of my very normal bodily processes. And that means sometimes I feel the need to react in a small way to the jokes made. Blogs are made for people to air certain perspectives, and I respect the need to comment on them and contradict certain posts too. The nature of a blog is that everyone gets their opinion. But, in stating yours, please understand the reasons why the post was made in the first place, and think about a parallel bodily experience you might have that people might joke about. Do you really think kindly about every joke that’s made about it?

  10. Mike M says:

    The joke actually is about ESPN…circa 1989…as the time period the skit is portrayed in. These sporting events were the sort that ESPN would broadcast before they lured the NFL and the NBA. And yes, these events had sponsors like Tampax that sounded somewhat ridiculous when these ‘professional’ announcers referenced the sponsor in the same way they would for a Chevrolet or Budweiser sponsorship. That is really the joke. It also poked fun at sportscasters that didn’t really know squat about these non mainstream sports.

  11. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Thanks for that clarification, Mike. Although I still don’t find the repetition of names of femcare products funny, your comment helps me make sense of these skits. Would you mind if I re-posted your comment on our recent post about about SNL repeated the joke last weekend?

  12. Heather Dillaway says:

    I want to believe you, Mike. But, I’d be curious about which SNL viewers might actually know this?

  13. […] it was Tampax, and then it was Vagisil. But it’s good they didn’t leave out Summer’s Eve. And I expect […]

  14. David says:

    Mike M. is correct on all points. That is exactly the point of these skits.

    As for which SNL viewers would get the reference — anyone familiar with ESPN at the time. Like any reference, though, not everyone is going to pick up on it. If someone is not familiar with it and is sensitive about certain issues (and everyone is sensitive about something) I can see how it could be misinterpreted. That doesn’t mean it was intended to be offensive on that level, though.

    BTW, I found this thread after Googling “Pete Twinkle” and thought I’d throw in my two cents.

  15. […] But, honestly, what’s funny about repeating the names of feminine hygiene products? It wasn’t funny when SNL had their fake sportscasters say “Tampax” over and over a… in October, and repeating the same skit with Vagisil last weekend wasn’t funny […]

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