However much your interest in it may rise and fall, and regardless of the ratings coming in, Saturday Night Live is the standard bearer for sketch comedy and politics is at its base. Lampooning the powerful and mocking the supposedly mighty is the long-running satirical show’s bread and butter, and the current and past season demonstrated that wonderfully and without falter.
Since the first season, when Chevy Chase offered a great impression of President Gerald Ford—though perhaps it wasn’t so much an impression as it was Chase bumbling and goofing behind the Resolute desk—Saturday Night Live has made farces of Presidents and politicos to no end.
Here we look back upon some of the funniest and most memorable political sketches in the show’s history, of which there are many.
Newt Gingrich Passing Laws
The first and by far best impersonation of the House Leader, former Presidential candidate, and man whose first name seems to indicate the texture of his skin, was performed by Chris Farley. The comedian stretched his characterization of Gingrich to the greatest lengths possible; Farley’s Speaker was efficient, boisterous, and intense, not unlike Farley himself. In true commitment to the joke, Farley once made a trip to D.C. and was welcomed on the House floor as Newt, and proceeded to give a speech and talk to the real Newt.
First Presidential Debate: Al Gore and George W. Bush
A sketch about the first Presidential debate of 2000 perfectly distilled the superfluous and frustrating nature of such events, featuring exaggerated versions of the stupidity and cautious nature of the two candidates. Daryl Hammond and Will Ferrell were Gore and Bush respectively, and as in the actual debate, the sketch played with the terms and phrases that had been driven home in preparation. There is also something blissfully nostalgic about this skit. It’s not so far in the past that we can’t remember these moments, but it also belongs to such a different era in American politics and world affairs.
Lest we forget the delightful mockery of those debate buzzwords ‘lockbox’ and ’strategery.’
Katie Couric Interviews Sarah Palin
Various components go into creating a compelling impersonation of a political figure. Obviously looks have something to do with it, but there is also the voice, the posture, and the specific characteristics a comedian chooses to exaggerate. When it came to Sarah Palin, Tina Fey was perfect in a way that we didn’t know could exist before. While looking exactly like the former Vice Presidential nominee, Fey also nailed the voice, gesticulation, and the general ignorant folksiness of Palin. It was astounding.
The first time Fey appeared as Palin, in a skit alongside Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton, was fantastic, though it was her second go that is most memorable. SNL decided to lampoon an interview that Palin did with Katie Couric, which seems especially hard to mock considering how poorly Palin performed. But sure enough, Fey and Poehler were up to the task, highlighting the ridiculous exchange perfectly. Quite deservedly, Fey won an Emmy for her return.
Bill Clinton Goes to McDonald’s
Bill Clinton provided a lot of fodder for SNL; there were so many facets of his character that were ripe for mocking. His personality, attitude, intellect, demeanor, and of course illicit extracurricular activities were wonderful fodder for satirists. It’s hard to find a sketch that incorporated all of the Clinton appeals and missteps better than this 1992 offering.
While making little progress on a jog, Clinton makes a pit stop at a McDonald’s, where he displays his noted southern charm and geopolitical intellect. He talks about policy and programs while chatting up customers, captivating all while also proceeding to eat everyone’s food. And of course there is a sex scandal joke, but there is also a hysterical metaphor for global aid. What’s also great is the amount of food Phil Hartman actually consumes during the sketch and that he even has to pause to get a drink, which definitely isn’t part of the script.
Everything During the 2016 Presidential Campaign
It’s hard to pick out the single best political parody the last season of SNL (and the last half of the previous season before that) has offered. It’s due in part to the fact that they were all so good and featured talented players, but also because they were all both visceral and vicious.
The 2016 election was devastating to many and divisive to all, and chaos has reigned ever since. Those mocking and covering politics have seen ratings go up, and for SNL, a pair of big name actors came in to lend their talents to the cause. Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer and Alec Baldwin as President Trump were revelations — biting, absurd, and spot on. And that’s saying a lot considering how regularly those two real life figures make fools of themselves without the help of comedians. And then, of course, lest we forget Larry David’s turn as Bernie Sanders and the incredible Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton. From the primaries to the debates, the press conferences to the oval office meetings, SNL hit a high mark in dissecting present day politics and offering at least some respite in the form of laughter.