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Comedic riches lie in Trump's willingness to fire on himself
Donald Trump hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, and while he didn't make anybody forget about Phil Hartman, or even Jon Lovitz, the developer-turned-reality-TV star acquitted himself well enough to avoid a trip to the comedy boardroom.
He did it mostly by being willing to make fun of the Trump luxe image, in one sketch asking a cast member playing Trump, "Who did your decorating, Saddam Hussein?" and then saying, "My hair's supposed to look like this, I'm a janitor."
Asked to host because his "The Apprentice" is the surprise hit of the television season (and an NBC show to boot), Trump seemed marginally looser while blatantly reading cue cards with the rest of the "SNL" gang than he does pretending to be real on his "reality" show.
He also did a much better Donald Trump caricature, just by being himself, than "SNL" master impersonator Darrell Hammond pulled off in a couple of stabs at it. Hammond's version of Trump came off like Chris Matthews under gastrointestinal duress.
But The Donald is certainly not a natural actor, no matter how hammy he may be in his public persona. Trump as the pitchman Saturday for Trump's House of Wings chicken restaurant could be used in an infomercial school how-not-to video. The yellow suit was funny, though.
Trump as a dad withholding affection from his son on the cable-access show "Fathers & Sons" was probably his best work. This relative triumph was the only time -- during a show that used him heavily -- that he wasn't playing himself or close to it.
He also did a fine job introducing the musical guest, reggae legends Toots and the Maytals and saying so long at the end.
And you've got to like any host who can inspire the local furniture company advertising during "SNL" (Walter E. Smithe) to try its own "Apprentice" parody.
"SNL's" writers seemed to get the self-inflated essence of Trump and "The Apprentice," though they were most inspired in lampooning another NBC "reality" show (an ad for "Fear Factor Junior," with kids). Only one Trump/"Apprentice" sketch really nailed the man or the show.
The opening scene of Trump and his "Apprentice" cohorts having to fire a "Saturday Night Live" cast member was a clever idea (Amy Poehler: "I didn't come on `SNL' to make friends. I came to win.") but more about "SNL" than "The Apprentice."
And the Weekend Update opening amid cheesy Trump glitz, faux marble and a fountain, was dead on. Ditto for Maya Rudolph's brief impersonation of "Apprentice" contestant-from-Hades Omarosa.
But the one that sparkled was the re-imagining of "The Prince and the Pauper."
Hammond, as Trump, is unhappy in his riches. Not even firing a little girl brings him pleasure anymore. But the janitor (Trump), he notices, looks just like him. Amid comments about the hair and the decorating, he proposes they change places for a month. And as soon as the janitor takes the throne, he has the original prince killed.
Seamlessly melding pop culture, literature and the guest host's image -- and having an actual ending rather than just a stopping point -- it was a reminder of why people keep watching "SNL," in spite of everything.