SNL: Why Alec Baldwin’s Latest Trump Impression Was His Most Diabolical Yet – Vanity Fair
When veteran host and Donald Trump impersonator-in-chief Alec Baldwin took the Studio 8h stage Saturday night, S.N.L. fans were eager to see what he’d do with, potentially, a full 90 minutes to bedevil our reactionary, thin-skinned president. And true to form, Baldwin and the S.N.L. writers cleverly started needling the president long before Trump’s orange wig came out of the box.
The episode began, unexpectedly, with a return appearance from Melissa McCarthy in the cold open. The surprise in that sketch was not her presence—how could the actress stay away after her boisterously physical take on Sean Spicer tore through the internet and spilled into the halls of the White House last week? More notable, however, was an absence: Baldwin’s Trump was nowhere to be seen.
Once McCarthy had her chance to shine, Baldwin had to come bounding out on stage for his monologue. Here, surely, the Trump jokes would start. But no. Other than a coy reference (“I know you’ve seen a lot of me this season”), Baldwin kept the monologue Trump- and, in fact, politics-free, focusing instead on his 27-year history hosting Saturday Night Live.
If viewers at home (or in Mar-a-Lago) were shivering with anticipation and wondering when Baldwin was going to go full Trump, they had a ways to wait. The show didn’t stay apolitical—far from it. In fact, a very clever Cheeto (!!!) ad pitch sketch paid homage to the way that social issues have invaded every angle of our lives in the Trump era. It was a nod to both the viral, controversial lumber ad that made headlines during the Super Bowl and a callback to an early 2014 hit about political awareness taken a step too far from now-head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, “The Dudleys.”
There was also, of course, some expected political humor in “Weekend Update.” But viewers (and presidents) would have to wait until after the fake news segment—a full hour into the show—before getting their first glimpse of Baldwin’s Trump. A solid enough sketch called “Trump People’s Court” mocked the president’s dust up with the 9th Circuit Court earlier in the week.
By saving Baldwin’s Trump for the back half of the show, the S.N.L. writers ensured that viewers—even those who hold the most powerful seat in the land—were basically frothing with impatience. They had to tune in to almost the entire episode before they could get the Trump sketch they were anticipating—rather than checking out after the cold open. That’s some crafty programming.
And once the Trump floodgates were open, S.N.L. didn’t waste much time giving the people what the they wanted. After an appearance from S.N.L. alum and 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan as one of Beyoncé’s twins, the show delivered not one, but three Trumps. If the president reportedly hated seeing a woman play press secretary Sean Spicer, how do you think he reacted to seeing a black woman playing Trump himself? Leslie Jones (and, briefly, Vanessa Bayer) slipped into orange wigs of their own for a cute sketch that was more about power plays at 30 Rockefeller Plaza than it was about the various figures jockeying for control of the White House.
All in all, it was a very clever approach for show that had the potential to kill the S.N.L. audience’s thirst for Baldwin as Trump. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing—but this weekend, S.N.L. figured out how to keep its fans (and the president) on the hook and coming back for more.
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