Saturday Night Live Presidential Candidate Imitations Gain Student Approval

By Analeigh Hughes
For Unwind magazine

Gov. Sarah Palin once said, “I can see Russia from my house!” -sort of.

Many people associate this quote with the former governor of Alaska who rose to fame when she was Sen. John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

In reality, the quote said by Sarah Palin was actually: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”

Tina Fey, writer and actress on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), was actually the person who stated that she could see Alaska from her house while parodying Palin.

However, Fey’s spot-on impersonation of Palin was so believable that it led people to associate that quote with the vice presidential candidate herself.

This is just one of many examples of how SNL’s satire of presidential elections has actually impacted the election and society’s views of the candidates. SNL’s candid, often unapologetic, view of current events is a breath of fresh air when politics get complicated.

Photo by Michael Placanica

“I think a lot of people look forward to SNL because they say what we’re all thinking,” said Kira Barrett, a freshman journalism major. “I’ve even heard some people say they watch the debate purely so they can understand the SNL parody.”

With the hype of presidential candidates being announced also comes the hype of finding out who SNL will cast to portray the candidates in the subsequent skits.

These comedians often become forever recognized for this role, and landing the role of a candidate often becomes a comedian’s claim to fame, such as Kate McKinnon, sketch comedian and actress, portraying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Lorne Michaels, producer and creator of “Saturday Night Live,” has been known to bring former cast members and celebrities on the show just to portray a character he feels they resemble, such as Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin.

For this election, he brought in Larry David, a creator of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” to play Sen. Bernie Sanders, and more recently he chose Alec Baldwin, actor in the NBC show “30 Rock,” to portray Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Photo by Michael Placanica

“I really like Alec Baldwin because he does a good job of portraying Trump,” said Julia Roach, a freshman communication and theater major. “I don’t know how he does it, he’s just a really good actor.”

SNL parodies of the campaign trail are popular not only because of their accuracy in portraying the candidates, but because of the ideas that are brought up in their satire. In the skits, the political characters often say things that their real-life counterparts would never say while campaigning, even though audiences may suspect that it’s what they’re thinking.

A perfect example of this is the cold open skit where Clinton (portrayed by McKinnon), sings “I Can’t Make You Love Me” after realizing that she has been unable to win over young voters.

Also, the comedic over-exaggerations of the actors can cause people to realize things they didn’t notice when watching the actual candidates. An example of this is when Trump -portrayed by Baldwin- circled Clinton like a shark during their spoof on the presidential debate.

Some may mistake SNL’s comedy as bias toward specific parties and candidates. However, they make sure to satirize all the candidates, even if it’s not in every episode.

“Viewers should simply take it as what it is- a lighthearted, amusing show that isn’t and was never meant to be political,” said Arielle Vertsman, a freshman government and politics major. “Any bias thrown in, although obvious, isn’t really insightful or perceptive. It’s just put in for laughs.”

Photo by Michael Placanica

Satire is meant to bring issues in society to light in a comedic way, and “Saturday Night Live” has and will continue to successfully do that.

No matter what party, candidate or views fans support, SNL has brought America together for the past 41 years. Through the ups and downs our country has faced, we can always count on it to make us laugh until we cry, but more importantly to really make us think.


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