Commentary: Joe Biden won the election, but Jim Carrey’s impression of him is ‘SNL’ fans’ loss
The election is over, at least for 80% of Americans polled or anyone who can count past 270. We’ve celebrated and/or mourned the outcome. Now we must address the toughest challenge facing our country: How do we have a peaceful transition of power without setting off a national crisis?
I’m talking, of course, about the fate of “Saturday Night Live.” To borrow a line from President-elect Joe Biden, how can I say this tactfully? The late-night institution, with its rich history of presidential impersonations dating all the way back to Dan Aykroyd’s hilarious portrayal of Richard Nixon, is struggling to meet the challenges of a post-Trump presidency.
For the record:
1:09 p.m. Nov. 13, 2020A previous version of this article misstated the name of an actor who played Jimmy Carter on “SNL.” It was Dan Aykroyd, not Bill Murray.
The show that so brilliantly portrayed a philandering, fast food-loving Bill Clinton (courtesy of Phil Hartman) and an in-over-his-head George W. Bush (via Will Ferrell) is now struggling to find its comedic footing in time to greet the forthcoming administration, even with the usually formidable talent of Jim Carrey in its arsenal.
Despite the aviator glasses, silver hair and “here’s the deal” phraseology, the gregarious Carrey has had a hard time exploiting Biden’s demeanor on the national stage this year — deliberate, controlled and understated. The exaggerated expressions that made the actor perfect for “The Mask” or “The Truman Show” — better suited to the sly yet expansive Biden of the Obama administration — have made it difficult for him to embody the former vice president and six-term senator from Delaware. Saturday’s election-win sketch revealed Carrey has gotten better at mastering Biden’s cadence, open hand gestures and grin, but we’re still a long way from a decisive victory.
Four years after helping ‘SNL’ fans process Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Donald Trump, Dave Chappelle returns to offer an incisive monologue.
Not all national crises are constitutional: If Kevin Nealon, Jason Sudeikis, John Mulaney and Woody Harrelson aren’t available to reprise their Biden impressions, the pressure is on the “Kidding” star — a brilliant comic mind who launched his career as a sketch performer on “In Living Color” — to whip his imitation into shape in time for Inauguration Day.
Let’s face it, terrible leaders make for great comedy, which is why “SNL” is about the only thing that got better between 2016 and now.
Alec Baldwin arrived to a wealth of material when he took on the role of the 45th president. The hair, the scowl, the unhinged tirades, the disconcerting snuffs of air through the nose: Trump was a veritable gold mine of comedic riches, and he came with an equally colorful cast of characters.
Melissa McCarthy delivered one of the best parodies of any White House in “SNL” history with her version of the red-faced, gum-chomping, fact-bending Sean Spicer. Matt Damon was a perfectly creepy and weepy Brett Kavanaugh. Brad Pitt playing Dr. Anthony Fauci was comedy enough before he even opened his mouth.
Maya Rudolph’s Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is promising. Like the real deal, she takes charge when she enters the scene, commanding everyone, Shape up! Rudolph is an “SNL” alumna, just as Tina Fey was when she returned in 2008 to play her unforgettable Sarah “I can see Russia from my house!” Palin. Rudolph hit the ground running back during the primaries, long before Biden selected Harris as his running mate or the pair delivered their rousing victory speeches on Saturday night.
Calling on celebrity ringers to lampoon Washington leaders — Larry David transformed into Bernie Sanders, Robert De Niro became Robert Mueller — wasn’t always a thing in “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels’ universe.
Maya Rudolph, cast as Sen. Kamala Harris on “Saturday Night Live,” has been among the show’s most exuberant, can-do players — qualities that resonate with Harris’ own.
Cast member Kate McKinnon slayed as Kellyanne Conway, Jeff Sessions and Trump foe Hillary Clinton (played during the 2008 campaign by Amy Poehler). Beck Bennett’s Mike Pence and his shirtless Putin are some of the best “SNL” characters of Trump’s term. Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush sounded more like Bush than Poppy himself: “Got to be prudent!” And Akyroyd, who also played Jimmy Carter, didn’t even bother to look like the peanut farmer POTUS, which was part of the gag.
What’s good for the country isn’t necessarily good for its most venerable sketch comedy show. Imperiled leaders come loaded with more gaffes and missteps to lean on, which is one reason why “SNL” had such a problem satirizing the squeaky clean Obama, played during his first term by Fred Armisen and then by Jay Pharoah. The Biden that Carrey’s responsible for sending up is about as earnest, which may be useful for the real world but is less so within the walls of 30 Rock.
We sure could use a Janet Reno dance party (another Ferrell classic) right about now, or Gerald Ford sneezing into his tie and tripping down stairs courtesy of Chevy Chase.
For the health of the show, of course. Not the peril of our democracy.
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