By: Brenden Gallagher
This hasn’t been Saturday Night Live’s proudest election season. Though they got Larry David to do a kickass Bernie Sanders and Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton is impressive, the general feeling is that SNL bungled things with Donald Trump. After asking Trump to host, the show’s attacks on him, including the funny “Racists for Trump” parody ad feel like too little too late. Part of the problem is that Trump is essentially already a parody of himself. The other issue is that the mainstream media, including SNL, have been so willing to give the bigoted, intellectually challenged candidate a megaphone, provided they get a ratings boost in return. Even if they take shots at him here and there, these programs willfully aided in his rise to prominence. Let’s remember some better political times for the venerable sketch show with The Best SNL Political Sketches of All Time.
Ask President Carter
If you’ve ever listened to one of those call-in radio shows, you’ve probably been annoyed by one of the callers. At least one in three questions falls somewhere on the range between unproductive and completely crazy. In “Ask President Carter,” Dan Aykroyd imagines what it would be like if American citizens were allowed to call into the President unscreened. From a young guy on a bad trip who is encouraged to listen to the Allman Brothers to a woman facing routine work problems, things turn out pretty much exactly as you might expect.
Katie Couric Interviews Sarah Palin
Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin is one of the greatest political impressions in Saturday Night Live’s history. Playing opposite Amy Poehler’s sedated Katie Couric, Fey played the part of Palin as a clueless New York tourist. Her lines about happening into a porn theater in Times Square and racially profiling a cab driver sound a lot like any Midwestern mother who hasn’t gotten out of Iowa since the 80s who happened to get tickets to Hamilton. From there, Fey took shots at Palin’s claims about seeing Russia from her house and bringing jobs back from overseas.
A Message From President Ford
Before he was known as a has-been full of racist tirades, Chevy Chase was one of America’s best young comedians. He was the star during the early years of SNL, and one of his most beloved characters was his portrayal of Gerald Ford. He played President Ford as a buffoonish klutz, who confuses himself, bumps on furniture, and has trouble even answering the phone. Though Ford is one of the most unremarkable presidents in recent memory, Chase’s physical portrayal of the ex-president endures to this day.
No one wants to lose the presidential race, and no one lost it quite like Al Gore did in 2000. In 2006, Al Gore proved for yet another time that he’s a good sport. He appeared in the sketch “Parrallel Universe” in which he is the President of the U.S. in another dimension. In this world, the U.S. has universal healthcare and cars run on trash. Part liberal fever dream and part regretful sour grapes, the sketch is at equally scathing to the then-current (George W. Bush) regime and to the people who sit around and wistfully imagine “what if?”
George Bush Debate
Jon Lovitz’s only line in this sketch is one of the most beloved in SNL political history. After Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush drones on for a minute and a half, repeating buzzword after platitude after buzzword, Lovitz, as Michael Dukakis says simply, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
In this quick-hitting digital short, Saturday Night Live endeavors to answer the question we’ve all asked at one point or another: “who are these undecided voters?” SNL delivers a decisive answer: they are idiots.
George Bush Sr.’s Debate Advice for George W. Bush
Prior to a big George W. Bush vs. Al Gore debate, Dana Carvey reprised his role as George H.W. Bush to give “advice” to Will Ferrell’s W. Though recent years haven’t been as kind to Dana Carvey, as he fell into terrible movies like Master of Disguise, there was a time when Carvey was celebrated as one of the country’s best impressionists. When he returned to SNL in 2000, it was like he hadn’t skipped a beat. While Ferrell has gone on to become one of the biggest comedy stars ever in over the top roles, in this sketch he showed that he is just as capable of playing more nuanced comic roles where he shares the spotlight.
Weekend Update, James Carville: Gun Control
Stefon is probably Bill Hader’s most beloved “Weekend Update” character, but he made some other memorable appearances on the segment during his tenure at SNL. On several occasions, Hader brought his considerable impression skills into the political arena. Totally nailing the Ragin’ Cajun’s distinctive Louisiana drawl, Hader played liberal pundit James Carville as he took aim at the Tea Party, comparing them to deadbeat parents and a family reunion made up entirely of weird uncles.
Clinton/McDonalds Cold Open
Though the joke is simple (Bill Clinton liked to eat fast food), Phil Hartman’s comedic charisma shines though in this sketch. While he visited with constituents and made stump speeches he seamlessly found a way to consume as much McDonald’s as possible. The sketch moves breezily through in its over five minute run time, and reminds us just how charismatic both Hartman and Clinton were in their prime.
Hillary Clinton Bar Talk
Though this election season has been weak by SNL standards, there have been some bright spots. Larry David’s Bernie Sanders has gotten the lion’s share of media attention, Kate McKinnon’s “Bar Talk” with the actual Hillary Clinton is one of the best political bits that the show has done in years. You can tell that McKinnon and the writers have a fondness for Hillary, but they also take the opportunity to criticize her from the left. McKinnon and Hillary go back and forth about if Clinton could have supported gay marriage sooner or come up out against the Keystone Pipeline earlier in the process, but the proceedings feel more like gently ribbing than a harsh rebuke.
Democratic Debate Cold Open
Though they never had a chance, this year’s three also-ran Democratic candidates Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and Martin O’Malley are perfect comedic fodder. Though all three were portrayed well, and McKinnon’s Clinton was as great as ever, Larry David is a natural as Senator Sanders. It’s all almost enough to make you miss Jim Webb.
GOP Debate Cold Open
In all the attention paid to Larry David’s Bernie Sanders impression, another veteran’s return to SNL was overlooked. Darrell Hammond may be the greatest impressionist in the show’s history, and his well honed Donald Trump got some dusting off this election season. On NBC’s website, you can watch sketches in which Hammond played Trump as far back as 2004. Hammond’s years perfecting the Trump impression have paid off. In this sketch where Trump easily dispatches the weak Republican field, he shines.