Saturday Night Live is facing a ton of backlash for a recent sketch that appeared to make light of the ongoing defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
If you tuned into the NBC comedy show over the weekend, you may recall that the episode opened with a sketch that focused primarily on a number of claims from inside Depp and Heard’s courtroom battle — most notably, accusations that Heard defecated on their shared bed after a dispute in 2016.
Before we get into it, here’s a brief overview of what’s actually happening in court right now, and why it certainly isn’t something to be laughed about.
For context, Depp sued Heard for defamation over an op-ed she penned for the Washington Post back in 2018, where she claimed to be “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The piece was headlined: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
At no point in the article did Heard ever name Depp specifically; however — given that she had previously accused him of being “verbally and physically abusive” after their divorce in 2016 — Depp’s attorneys said that she indirectly framed him as an abuser and damaged his career as a result.
The $50 million defamation lawsuit was filed in 2019 in Virginia — where the Washington Post is physically published — with Depp saying that Heard’s allegations are completely false. In the legal filing, Depp’s team said the claims are part of an “elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career,” adding that she “is not a victim of domestic abuse,” but a “perpetrator.”
In response, Heard then filed a $100 million defamation counterclaim of her own — which brings us to this year, where the trial officially got underway in Fairfax, Virginia, on April 11, with every moment being broadcast live across the world.
As Depp and Heard gave separate testimonies over the course of the past month, both parties described in detail instances of alleged abuse against the other.
A clinical psychologist and marriage counselor who worked with the former couple also testified that they engaged in “mutual abuse,” though this term has garnered criticism online for failing to recognize bullying and inherent power imbalances.
However, as the trial played out both in court and across TV screens and social media outlets, Depp’s claim that Heard once defecated on their bed as a form of revenge attracted an overwhelming amount of attention.
During his testimony, Depp alleged that “fecal matter” was found on his side of the bed after he told Heard that he was leaving her. He claims that the dispute was prompted by an argument that came after a dinner party for Heard’s 30th birthday on April 21, 2016.
Recounting the incident, the actor said that his security guard, Sean Bett, sent him a photograph of his and Heard’s bed after he had suggested going back to their home to get some of his belongings.
He says that Heard tried to “blame it on the dogs,” which he said was untrue.
And though the alleged incident has not been confirmed, the public quickly latched onto Depp’s claim, with jokes revolving around “Amber Turd” and #MePoo trending across social media for days.
The sketch show’s most recent episode — fronted by guest host Selena Gomez — tackled the ongoing courtroom battle, parodying Depp’s testimony and his claims that Heard defecated in their bed.
The sketch opens with Kate McKinnon as an MSNBC reporter who introduces coverage of the “Johnny Depp / Amber Heard Cuckoo Trial.”
“With all the problems in the world, isn't it nice to have a news story we can all collectively watch and say, ‘Glad it ain't me?’” she announces, before the scene moves into the courtroom.
Seated at the witness stand, Kyle Mooney impersonates Depp as he is questioned by his lawyer, played by Aidy Bryant. The lawyer presents new video evidence to the court, depicting Depp’s house staff discovering the “fecal matter.”
When the evidence is objected to, Cecily Strong as the judge appears to comment on the unprecedented social media response to the case, responding: “I’ll allow it, because it does sound fun — and this trial is for fun.”
The camera then cuts to a clip of Kenan Thompson as Depp’s property manager stumbling upon the “dookie,” looking around and saying, “Damn, it smell like boo-boo in here!” He also makes reference to the alleged 2015 incident when Depp’s finger was severed, adding: “You know she cut that joker's finger off? If I'm lying, I'm flying.”
Jumping back to the courtroom scene, the video evidence is objected to once again, prompting Cecily’s judge to say she’d like to continue watching the footage “because it’s funny.”
Kenan’s character is later joined by three other members of house staff — played by Ego Nwodim, Melissa Villaseñor, and Chris Redd — while they continue to speculate about who left the mess, take pictures, and compare it to the poop emoji.
Back on the witness stand, Kyle as Depp is asked if he is finding the case “amusing,” to which he responds with a laugh: “A little, yes.”
Ceciliy’s judge then pulls out a glass of wine and replies, “so am I,” adding: “You’re bad, Captain Jack.”
And after the house staff then joke about how much they “hate” their jobs, the judge concludes by saying: “I believe Mr. Depp's story. But on the other hand, your constant little smirk lets me know this is not the first woman you've made so mad, she pooped in your bed.”
Kyle as Depp then closes the sketch, replying: “I guess I have been known to be a full nightmare,” before the full cast leaps into frame and bursts into their usual “Live from New York” introduction.
Though the court case has been going on for over a month now, this marks the first time that SNL has attempted to parody Depp and Heard’s ongoing defamation suit. And, as was perhaps to be expected, the sketch didn’t go down all that well with viewers.
Among the commentary, a lot of viewers felt that it was “insensitive” to make light of a defamation case that centers on serious topics like domestic and sexual abuse, particularly while the litigation is still ongoing.
“@nbcsnl so y’all saw a case involving testimonies about domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual assault, emotional trauma, mental illness, and medical emergencies including people losing actual body parts… and your first thought was ‘this would be a funny sketch for our comedy show!’” one person tweeted.
“@nbcsnl the amount of people involved in snl and nobody thought ‘hey maybe this should be off limits’ ???” echoed another.
"It's inexcusable to make light of domestic violence in this way," added someone else before they highlighted that Depp's house staff were portrayed by Black and Latinx cast members. "This is so racist and insensitive. What year is this from again?"
Others were quick to highlight that making light of the ongoing court case could be incredibly harmful for many survivors of abuse — particularly given how important it is to create a culture in which those who come forward feel safe and seen and not at risk of being mocked or ridiculed.
“Regardless of your thoughts on amber/johnny, making an SNL skit out of an ongoing domestic violence trial is weird as hell and does nothing to support victims of violence,” someone said.
“This is fucking weird. Regardless if you support any of the two in this trial to any extent, it's bizarre how one of the most publicized domestic abuses [cases] ever is being spun into a really shit joke,” another wrote, adding that the public response to the trial is hindering our conversations about abuse. “This doesn't help victims of abuse at all, and just makes it harder to discuss.”
Vanity Fair reported that Court TV has doubled its daytime ratings since it began broadcasting the trial. And in the weeks since the court case started, social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter have been flooded with memes and videos centered on the trial — many casting Heard as an abuser and Depp as a victim.
Elsewhere, TikTok creators have even turned audio clips from the testimonies into trending soundbites, garnering huge audiences and widespread criticism.
Overall, a lot of SNL viewers felt that the writers’ handling of such sensitive and often triggering subject matter was indicative of the wider public response to the trial, which many feel has been sensationalized and treated similarly to a reality show drama or sporting event.
“The grotesque SNL skit ‘parodying’ the Depp v heard trial is a direct result of the behavior of Depp supporters on the internet,” someone wrote, referring to the outpouring of support for Johnny in the earlier weeks of the trial. "This phenomenon of openly mocking & sensationalising domestic violence & s*xual assault on social media is bleeding into every cultural space possible."
“It doesn't matter who you believe in this case, a domestic abuse trial should not have been turned into a public show and then used as a skit, people are treating it as if it was a public show,” someone else added.
Another Twitter user highlighted that the overall premise of the SNL sketch hinged on the underlying attitude on social media that seems to view the Depp/Heard case purely as public amusement.
“I realize we have much bigger fish to fry today, but SNL's cold open made fun of the Depp/Heard defamation trial and it repeated false claims that Heard cut off Depp's finger and defecated in his bed. The premise of the sketch was that the trial is ‘fun’ and for public amusement,” they wrote.
Elsewhere, a subsequent viewer described the sketch as a “perfect” representation of the problematic public response to the trial.
“This is just a perfect example of how this case is being treated like entertainment and not a domestic violence case,” they added. “This case absolutely never should’ve been available for public viewing. People are treating this like it’s the super bowl, something to fangirl over.”
BuzzFeed News has reached out to a representative for NBC and SNL for comment.