Maybe it’s because we’re still trying to process how Donald Trump could be a leading GOP Presidential candidate in the first place, but his appearance as host of Saturday Night Live this weekend was nothing short of baffling.
In spite of hundreds of protesters gathering outside of 30 Rock a few hours before broadcast, the show went on as scheduled, giving a (nearly) unprecedented platform to a current Presidential candidate who has unapologetically spouted racist diatribes toward immigrants throughout his campaign. Although he only appeared on screen for a total of 12 minutes, according to Variety, the episode got SNL its highest ratings in years. Earlier reviews have been justifiably critical, with phrases like “overhyped bummer” and “black hole of comedic anti-matter,” being thrown around. But it’s hard to say if this was more embarrassing for Trump, who is currently fallen to #2 as Ben Carson leads the polls, or SNL.
On one hand, SNL went for a ratings win during a sweeps month, and who can blame them for doing that? On the other hand, they might have lost some loyal viewers because of it (or, just John Leguizamo). You want to give props to SNL for approaching the episode with as much self-awareness as possible, using meta jokes and the Larry David drop-in to comment on the controversy as it was fueling it. But in reality, the repeated breaking of the fourth wall was a confusing and insecure way to handle such a lofty choice. You can tell that some exceptions and decisions were made around Trump’s image, schedule and campaign strategy that have nothing to do with comedy.
Some people tuned in for a shitshow, and it’s true that all the sketches featuring him were the most groan-worthy, but Trump himself got through it pretty spotlessly. Sure, there were a few biting jokes made about him on Weekend Update, but even Michael Che’s direct call-out of his racist nostalgia didn’t feel tantamount to the stage time Trump was getting. Jokes about his ego, mean tweets and feelings toward Mexico didn’t take him to task but instead reinforced his brand. The entire episode felt a bit like thinly veiled sponsored content – not that SNL is endorsing him for President – but they are willing to support his brand and attempt to humanize someone who doesn’t deserve it.
But it wasn’t all bad: “Bad Girls” won my heart. We got our second dose of Larry David as Bernie Sanders. We had two cast alum drop-ins and the return of one of my favorite Update characters, Drunk Uncle. So, with that in mind, let’s get into what was undoubtedly one of the most bizarre SNL episodes of all time.
MSNBC Forum Cold Open
With it being barely 24 hours since the MSNBC Democratic forum happened (and how many people stayed home on a Friday night to watch it?) more people probably saw SNL’s version of the event than the real one. But in Season 41, any excuse to have Kate McKinnon do Hillary Clinton will be taken. Cecily Strong dusted off her Rachel Maddow impression and explained right up top: “In case you’re wondering what a forum is, it’s a debate that no one watches.” After a very brief chat with Martin O’Malley (Taran Killam), out came Hillary (McKinnon) to hilariously slip in and out of Southern and New York accents and explain why she’s both an introvert and an extrovert. But the scene was stolen yet again by Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, who – although referring to the forum and not Trump hosting SNL – asked the question most of the audience was probably thinking as the episode began: “Why are we even doing this?” His description of angrily kayaking across rivers, his 40-year-old grandchildren, and please for people to send him “middle-class” coins (“That’s right, I’m Bernie Sanders, and I want your vacuum pennies”) were a welcome distraction before the Trump storm hit land. Oh, and it’s about time someone called out debate cams for their jarring close-ups on unsuspecting black audience members. Jay Pharoah’s reaction FTW.
Donald Trump Monologue
Echoing Bernie Sanders in the cold open, Trump kicked off his controversial stint as host by attempting to answer the question, “Why are you hosting Saturday Night Live?” While the real answer is far more depressing than any diehard comedy fan would want to accept, Trump simply said, “I have really nothing better to do,” and we were off. Like most political figures on the show, he immediately attempted to humanize himself, made fun of his inflated ego and ongoing feud with Rosie O’Donnell (whom Aidy Bryant is NOT) and said the other reason he’s there is because he knows how to take a joke (funny, considering it seems the entire episode seemed like it was done entirely on his terms). Current and former Trump impersonators Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond joined Trump on stage, both with significantly better-looking Trump hairdos than the man himself, I might add, and they shared some banter. But the highlight of the monologue and, let’s face it, the entire episode, was Larry David reappearing, as himself, to yell out “You’re a racist!” for $5,000. As you might have heard, Hispanic advocacy group Stop Racism PAC really did offer that much money to anyone who would interrupt the show by calling Trump a racist. Not only is David actually getting the money, but this also allowed SNL to get out ahead of any potential (real) interruption, whether they deserved to do so or not.
White House 2018
After seeing the second Larry David cameo in the first 20 minutes of the show, you might have been thinking, as I was, “Hey, maybe this won’t be a huge disaster after all?” but no, we were just getting started. The second sketch of the night cuts right to Trump in the White House, two years into a Presidential term. Cecily Strong reprised her Melania Trump impression, which is still amazing, but wasn’t enough to stop the runaway train to Crazytown that was this sketch. Cabinet members Kenan Thompson, Kyle Mooney, and Bobby Moynihan tout President Trump’s many achievements (“Everyone loves the new laws you tweeted!”) and we find out that both Omarosa (Sasheer Zamata) and Trump’s daughter Ivanka (the real one – however her walk-on got zero acknowledgment from the audience) are on staff. Beck Bennett shows up as the President of Mexico and proceeds to joke with Trump (who was just semi-seriously called a racist on live national television) about changing Telemundo to English and other things that would be funnier if Trump wasn’t actually a bigot. But things really unravel when Trump breaks the fourth wall, addresses the camera and endorses Melonia for First Lady. If you weren’t left sitting back in your chair, wondering what the hell just happened, you were watching another show.
This. Yes. Not only did “Bad Girls” provide a brief respite from Trumpmania, but added yet another stellar music video to the ladies of SNL’s repertoire. Like “Back Home Ballers” and “(Do It On My) Twin Bed” before it, this M.I.A.-esque parody has both a catchy chorus (“Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well”) and a hilarious premise. What makes a girl a bad girl? Using your free water cup for lemonade, taking the elevator to the second floor, and not putting stuff in the supermarket back where it’s supposed to go, among other things. But you must tip. Always tip.
Okay, now back to the (unfortunate) main event. Once again, Trump breaks the fourth wall to announce that he won’t be appearing in the sketch because he was too busy – or, as he says just seconds later – “And I just didn’t want to rehearse.” So, he’ll live-tweet it! Whether this was supposed to make the audience wonder, “Ooh! What shenanigans are about to ensue?” is unclear, but what follows is an obviously premise-heavy, meta-in-a-bad-way sketch where the cast pretends to be doing a sketch about a couple (Taran Killam and Cecily Strong) having dinner in Italy, but are actually playing themselves reacting to Trump’s nasty tweets. While this was probably a writer’s room favorite because it allowed the cast to show (what has to be) some of their true feelings about Trump being on the show, it was awkward to watch. It also tried too hard to reinforce the unbelievable theme of the episode, that Trump is really a “nice guy.” Kate McKinnon’s Italian, husband-hating restaurateur character provided some much-needed chuckles (as well as Vanessa Bayer’s bucktoothed little accordion boy) before we’re brought back to reality by with a joke about Trump’s nonsensical investigation into President Obama’s birth certificate. Yeah, that’s the guy who’s running for President. Thank God for Leslie Jones, who comes in at the last minute to rail against Trump for tweeting, “And I love the blacks.”
Hotline Bling Parody
After that last sketch, this second music video parody of the night was a big improvement, but I still don’t know if I’ll recover from seeing Trump’s “tax guy” song and dance work. Even though “Hotline Bling” has been parodied to death on the Internet over the last two weeks (an eternity in Internet time), Jay Pharoah nailed his Drake impression as he defended the dad-like dance moves that we all know were meant to provoke this exact type of response. It’s worth it to see Beck Bennett, Taran Killam, and Bobby Moynihan get into it, plus a surprise drop-in by Martin Short as his signature SNL character Ed Grimley, who calls out Drake for copying his dance moves. A 30-year-old reference that probably went over a lot of “Hotline Bling” viewers’ heads? With everything else going on in this bizarre episode, I’ll take it.
As has been customary this season, Michael Che and Colin Jost kicked off Weekend Update with material about the 2016 election, making fun of Jeb Bush’s new slogan, Obama’s inability to handle Putin or China, and Ben Carson’s man faux pas. Seriously, did Trump write these jokes? Che makes one mild Trump joke before they turn it over to Leslie Jones to talk about changing gender roles (but mostly what she refers to as “man bitches”). She kills it, as usual, with insight into the eggplant emoji-as-penis trend and lines like, “Don’t send me vegetables, send me some meat!” and “I want it to be a mess down there!” Afterwards, Jost just barely does a joke about the #DumpTrump protest and Che gets in one good dig about his “negro senses” starting to tingle whenever Trump says he wants to make America “Great” again. One can only imagine the conversations that went on between Che and Trump last week, if they even spoke. Drunk Uncle takes us to the home stretch by claiming to be Trump’s #1 supporter (“It’s like I’M running for President!”) and offering up some new lines of millennial speak (“Is this Apple watch gender-neutral?”). He also says what’s probably the best description of Trump I’ve ever heard, even if it is a little too flattering: “He’s like a big, old, beautiful Monopoly Man.”
Now, back to Crazytown. In this sketch, Kenan Thompson introduces us to a jam band that consists of Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, Jay Pharoah, Cecily Strong, and Kate McKinnon, but most importantly, Donald Trump as “Gene Breads,” a disgruntled “laser harp” player. Need I say more? What starts out as sort of a reverse, less funny version of the classic “More Cowbell” sketch ends with Trump saying the phrase, “I’m about to rock this place down” before the sketch’s fake audience gets up and leaves, and the show’s real audience undoubtedly wished it could.
The dinner table format is an SNL staple that we don’t see as much of anymore. In this nearly Trump-less sketch, Beck Bennett plays a dad (of course) who won’t stop playing his own, karaoke-style covers of top 40 songs like “See You Again” and “Moves Like Jagger,” much to the embarrassment of his wife (Vanessa Bayer), daughter (Aidy Bryant), and her boyfriend (Pete Davidson). He’s hilariously embittered by the music industry and desperate for approval, which almost made this a harmless sketch, save for the Trump cameo that was shoehorned in at the end. I’m guessing that music rights prohibit this one from being online as a clip, but you can watch it in the full episode.
The most bizarre sketch of the night, if you can even call it a sketch, was this callback to Trump’s 2004 hosting gig when Toots and the Maytals performed as the musical guest. Kenan Thompson – the only current cast member who was around for Trump’s last hosting gig – plays Toots and does some banter with Trump that feels more like a promo that was rewritten into the show. After he makes up a Trump/Toots campaign song with Jay Pharoah playing steel drums, the barely two-minute sketch amazingly ends with Trump saying, “You know I carry a gun right?”
Pornstars: Donald Trump
At this point, if you were even still watching, congratulations on your incredible perseverance. The recurring (and often 10-to-1, it seems) porn star commercial sketch featuring Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong was updated to serve as a campaign ad for Donald “Tramp.” After a slew of their usual stupid-sexy puns and a drop in by Bobby Moynihan as “Ronald McDonald McTrump” (I mean… what?) the real Trump once again drops by to break the fourth wall, completely take the audience out of the moment and endorse himself for President. The last thing we see is a “Trump 2016” card on the screen. And just like that, it was over.
So shoot, what else?