HONOLULU — Hawaii’s lieutenant governor and some in the state’s tourism industry aren’t laughing over a “Saturday Night Live” skit they fear could deter people from visiting the islands.
The four-minute skit, an exaggerated portrayal of how annoying and frustrating it can be to deal with tourists, depicts a pair of disgruntled locals who sing and dance for mainland visitors.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona said he’s worried the skit might hurt the state’s biggest industry and plans to send a letter in protest to Lorne Michaels, the NBC program’s executive producer.
The skit “went too far in its negative depiction of Hawaii’s native people and tourism industry,” Aiona said. He added he wouldn’t let “such distortions go unchecked” when the economy is doing so poorly.
The sketch features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who lived in Hawaii for a year in high school, and SNL comedian Fred Armisen as poorly paid entertainers serenading U.S. mainlanders at a restaurant. Wearing grass skirts, the two make the rounds of dinner tables while performing sloppy imitations of Hawaiian music and the hula.
When a woman gushes about being in Hawaii for her honeymoon, telling the entertainers “it must be fun working here,” they respond sarcastically.
“Yeah, it’s great. They make us wear grass skirts,” Armisen says. “We make $7 an hour. It’s a dream job.”
Johnson tells one visitor: “It’s a fun fact about Hawaii. Our biggest export is coffee. And our biggest import is fat white tourists!”
He later deliberately knocks over the drinks of a customer who points to the flower lei around his neck and makes a lame joke about getting “lei-ed.”
Broadcast last weekend, the clip has since become one of the most popular clips on Hulu.com, a video site started by NBC Universal and News Corp.
The state’s tourism liaison echoed Aiona’s protest, telling The Honolulu Advertiser “it’s offensive.”
“Anything that pokes fun, or puts us in a bad light, our culture, the (Native) Hawaiian culture, that affects all of us,” Marsha Wienert said. “It’s distasteful, in my opinion. I find it very offensive.”
The state is being battered by economic decline in the U.S. and in Asia. Tourism took a big hit in 2008, with a double-digit decline in the number of visitors coming to the islands.
But many others in the islands are laughing, or at least nodding knowingly.
“I thought it was extremely funny,” said Augie Tulba, a popular local standup comedian who performs under the name Augie T.
“We think that way but we won’t come out and say it,” he said.
Jonathan Osorio, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Center for Hawaiian Studies, said the skit accurately addressed how many in the islands work for low wages and how Hawaiian culture is sometimes packaged for tourist consumption without concern for its authenticity. It also accurately showed how many tourists who visit are ignorant of these realities, he said.
“I thought the skit was not uproariously funny but was very much true to life in expressing how many people in Hawaii actually live with tourism,” Osorio said.
“Saturday Night Live” has also drawn protest this season from advocates for the disabled for its parodies of New York Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind.
SNL’s “Hawaiian Hotel”: http://sn.im/dn8zl