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The Story Behind Larry David Playing Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live - Season 41
Larry David as Bernie Sanders. Photo: NBC

As Bernie Sanders’s profile grew over the past couple years, so, too, did the number of people saying he reminded them of Larry David. It makes sense, considering the hair, the glasses, the volume, and the, well, Jewishness. That’s why, when David first appeared as Sanders on Saturday Night Live, during the Tracy Morgan–hosted October 17 episode, the response was rapturous. Everyone agreed David was perfect, if not pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Last week, after talking about the recent “Screen Guild Awards” sketch, SNL co–head writer Rob Klein answered a few questions about how Larry as Bernie came to be, and what it was like in the room where it happened.

Larry David playing Bernie Sanders seems so obvious that it almost feels destined. How did it actually come together?
We knew Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider were going to write the debate sketch. They write the Hillary pieces, which they do so well, and while we were watching the real debate, Sarah said, “Larry David should really play Bernie Sanders.”

At the same time, Lorne was at dinner with Tracy [Morgan], who was hosting that week. While the debate was happening, someone at dinner said to Lorne, “Hey, you should really get Larry David to play Bernie Sanders. It’s like the same guy.”

Then Lorne came back from dinner and got a phone call from Larry’s agent saying that Larry David wanted to play Bernie Sanders.

It was a case of massive parallel thinking, including the thinking of Larry David himself.

That’s crazy.
I was really surprised. It was awesome. We were all there in a late-night meeting, and within, like, ten minutes, it went from “Oh, that would be so funny if it were Larry David” to “Larry David is on the phone with Lorne making a hotel reservation.” It was pretty great.

That’s why you work at Saturday Night Live.
It was like with Tina and Palin in 2008. It was just undeniable.

After Larry was onboard, how did Sarah and Chris approach writing him as Bernie?
It was a nice balance, where they were pulling out moments from the debate to talk about and gathering facts about Bernie Sanders — like how crappy his website was — and then also getting in some of the Larry David persona, which feels like it also overlaps with the Bernie Sanders persona. It’s a mixture.

What do you think is the hook of the impression? Is there one thing about Bernie that Larry builds out from?
I can’t speak too much for Larry, but I did see him watching the event with Hillary and Bernie in Maryland. People were hanging out in the room while he was watching it, and I remember thinking it was funny: You think he could just play himself and it would work — he is the hook itself — but he was very attentive, and watching and mimicking [Sanders’s] body language. He was really getting into the subtleties of Bernie Sanders’s voice and mannerisms. He could have been lazy about it and it would have worked incredibly well, but he was all over it. Is there a particular mannerism? Maybe shouting?

He’s obviously Larry David; does he give feedback with the script, or is he there to be an actor?
You’d have to ask Sarah and Chris to be sure — I believe he had some funny suggestions, but was also very game to do what we had for him.

What was it like in the studio when Larry first appeared in that sketch?
It was immediately so exciting. For a lot of the audience, and us at the show, it was like seeing a dream come true. From the moment he was on the stage, it was like we had already won, and then the script itself was so good that it gave it a whole extra level of intelligence.

My first year was the strike season, and then Sarah Palin was the next fall after that, so I had zero appreciation for just how good it was. I knew it was good, but I maybe didn’t appreciate that it was historically good. I assumed this is probably how everything is all the time. But it’s not, even if you write the perfect script and the actor plays it perfectly.

Sometimes there’s that extra element, when the sketch is about a person that everyone’s talking about and there’s a perfect actor to play them, and that actor happens to be one of the funniest people in the world. It’s just not the kind of thing that happens every year. It was super exciting to have Larry David there. Even just during rehearsal, you could tell it was gonna be very special.

How SNL Got Larry David to Play Bernie Sanders